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The Working Actor

Join a Union or Stock Up on Credits

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Join a Union or Stock Up on Credits
Photo Source: Thomas Pitilli

Member When?

Dear Michael:
I’ve been doing some background work lately to bring in a bit of extra cash. On some of these jobs it’s been possible to get SAG-AFTRA waivers, and I’m wondering if it’s a good idea to join the union through background work. I’ve heard two schools of thought: One says that it’s an easy way to start going out for union projects immediately, and that it’s easier to get representation if you’re a union member; but another says that if you join without any credits for speaking roles, all you’re doing is depriving yourself of nonunion opportunities that you could have used to build up your résumé and reel. What do you think? I’m just starting out, and I don’t have much film experience yet.

—Emma

Dear Emma:
Both of the opinions you’ve laid out are valid. I don’t say that to be noncommittal or agreeable. They really are. Both have logic. Both make good points. Whichever path you choose is going to make certain opportunities unavailable, so make your peace with that up front. Short of cloning, that’s an unavoidable byproduct of this decision.

If you’re asking what I’d do, I’d take the vouchers and work toward getting my card. Opportunities to do that don’t come along every day, and many professional-level actors find themselves in the frustrating position of not being able to join the union. I agree that agents would mostly prefer to have SAG clients, and since you know membership is an eventual goal for you, it makes sense to join if you can. That might mean it’ll take a good while for you to start getting work—once you cross over that line, you’ll be in the “big pond.” But I think it’ll be worth it in the long run.

Now, that’s just my opinion, and since I’m a Gemini, I always have two of them. In fact, I could easily argue the other case. (With the prevalence of nonunion film work, you could be in a better position to build your résumé by not joining just yet. Don’t get me started. I might change my mind in the middle of my own column! See how it is?)

If you’re lucky, circumstances will indicate a direction. If not, choose whichever of these two unpredictable options seems to make sense and own that decision, knowing that there really isn’t a reliable right answer. Not to go all Deepak on you, but as long as you’re moving forward, you’re on the right path.

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