I have two children, ages 8 and 10. My daughters have only done background work for the past two years. They accumulated waivers, and I was misinformed and told to join the Screen Actors Guild, which I did. They enjoy the business so far and have started to study acting.
When the kids read for a personal manager, he was quick to point out that they lack the auditioning expertise that a seasoned SAG kid who's been in the business for many years would have. He advised me to have them continue to study at workshops in the city with known people and to consider going the financial-core route. He thinks the only way my kids will be considered for principal work is if they are going out for nonunion jobs. But in researching fi-core on the Internet, I found claims that there are many producers and casting directors who will never hire anyone who is fi-core.
Since joining SAG, the girls have been getting many calls for commercial background work, which they were never requested to do before joining. Although this is not principal work, it is respectable and has its monetary benefits. I guess in time, with experience and many classes, they might be more seriously considered by a manager or agent.
via the Internet
The manager is right: Your kids could be considered for more work if you gamed the system. Sorry, but that's how I see fi-core. It's no shock that you've found online reports of disdain for fi-core. Many in Hollywood are strongly opposed to its use and abuse.
Financial core, or fi-core, is a status that a worker in any union can elect to take. Basically, it renders you a dues-paying nonmember. It's meant to offer protections to workers who, for example, don't want to affiliate with union-supported political campaigns they oppose. In the acting community, unfortunately, it's used largely as a loophole to allow performers to work SAG and nonunion gigs.
The strength of any union comes from the agreement of its members to uphold the union's basic tenets. In SAG, declining nonunion work is a paramount parameter. It's Global Rule One, for goodness' sake. Here it is, for anyone who's confused, directly from the SAG constitution: "No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect."
Why would we as union actors be so strict with ourselves about what work we accept? We have to be. Actors love acting, and many of us would be willing to do a great role for free. Producers know this, and it makes for a pretty sketchy bargaining situation. I can imagine the conversation now:
Producer: "Oh, you don't want to play Joan of Arc for 25 cents a day and a rhubarb pie? That's fine; we'll go to our second choice."
Me: "Um, no, that's fine! I love pie!"
We're also in one of the most competitive businesses on the planet, and producers know that many hungry actors are willing to go without perks—let alone basic health and safety protections and reasonable pay—in order to get gigs. Again, I can see it perfectly:
Me: "I'd really prefer not to be covered in live bees. Can't they fake that or do it in post?"
Producer: "Too expensive. Either get into the bee cage or we'll call in someone who will."
Me: "Okay, well, can we have the medic standing by?"
I could continue coming up with nutty examples, but suffice to say that, thankfully, our unions keep us from dealing with such issues on a case-by-case basis. Instead, we all benefit from basic minimums in terms of pay and safety in exchange for giving up work that doesn't meet those minimums. Because many of the most qualified performers have agreed not to work for less than SAG minimums, producers are pressured to offer compensation and protections at those levels. They don't do it out of the kindness of their hearts.
Here's where gaming the system comes in. The manager advised your kids to go fi-core because if they do, they will be able to get the union's protections on SAG jobs while still competing for work that declines to meet SAG's requirements. Your kids—and the manager, of course—would benefit from SAG's collective-bargaining agreements without all those pesky union rules. Meanwhile, most SAG members would continue to uphold their agreements to the union and each other, thereby keeping your children's protections and minimums intact. Double score for you and the manager—and phooey on everyone else!
I think it's pretty clear where I come down on the fi-core thing, but to help enlighten you in regard to child performers, I turned to Anne Henry, co-founder of BizParentz, a nonprofit organization that helps parents of child performers navigate the entertainment industry.
"Wow," she began in an email on the topic, "Pandora's box there. This was such a hot issue years ago that BizParentz wrote an article about it on our website in 2007." Here's the link:
"Kids, just like adults," she continued, "can grow their career in a nonunion world. They simply shouldn't join the union until they are ready for a professional career. It's the same advice we give adults. Additionally, union kids pay the same union dues as adults and get paid the same minimum pay as adults. There just isn't a reason to give them special dispensation. There are literally thousands of kids who have significant careers—far better résumés than most adults. There are plenty of union professional kids to fill all the available roles in union productions. SAG doesn't need to give any special consideration to kids to work both sides of the fence."
Many adult actors find themselves in the same situation as your children, and I'll give you the advice I offer to them: Do all the work you can. Many student and low-budget films shoot under special SAG agreements, so being union won't keep you from acting in them for credit, copy, and experience—and right now that's what you need. A SAG low-budget indie or student-agreement project may do more for your kids' careers than a nonunion commercial; it just won't make you or the manager any money. Fortunately, your family is already benefiting from SAG pay on background work, so perhaps that eases the financial sting. As for training, pursue it, and not just in workshops. Find your children a fun, reputable teacher. Unlike some adult actors, your kids have all the time in the world to grow—as artists and careerists. As long as they are enjoying the process, they're winning.
Let's end on a positive note, provided by Henry: "Most kids are very proud of their SAG cards. Like adults, all the kid actors with significant careers are SAG. It's just a fact. If you want this for a career, you will join the union eventually, and attaining that status is something most kid actors are proud of."
Any questions or comments for The Working Actor? Please email Jackie and Michael at firstname.lastname@example.org.