Question from talent: ”One question that keeps arising in my group, BOSTON ACTORS (and to myself personally) is in regards to being sag eligible. If you’re sag eligible, are you still considered to be called in for sag auditions? Does it mean you’re less professional lingering between non-union and a union member. Would production lean towards hiring a union member in good standing over sag eligible talent? Of course the big question of when to join the union / how long to stay non-union for work always comes up.
Another question that comes up is in regards to resume. Should an actor (some without many film and tv credits) list theatre credits on their resume?
Another big question is in regards to bg and principal roles. If you confirm bg availability in New England, do you become known as a bg actor and not continue to be called in for speaking roles.“
LOTS to unpack here.
SAG Global Rule Number One is that if you ARE a member of SAG you can NOT under any circumstance work on a project that would fall under SAG jurisdiction that is NOT on a SAG contract. This goes for literally every kind of filmed project. Once you join SAG you can not work on anything that is not SAG.
SAG eligible means that you CAN join the union should you so choose at any time from there on out. You can audition for SAG and non SAG projects. You can be hired for SAG work or for non-SAG work. In order to join the union, you have to have worked on a union contract before, so the only way into the union is by doing union work.
When a project is SAG, casting has to make sure they have seen the appropriate SAG members for the audition, but it is also our job to make sure we see the best candidates for the role, so that often means pulling from the not yet SAG talent pool (non union). Being non union or being SAGe doesn’t typically factor in to whether we call you you in for SAG auditions, your acting ability and your “rightness” for a role are what factor in.
You aren’t lingering in some purgatory by being SAGe, casting people don’t see you as “less professional”, we recognize that everyone’s timeline, and everyone’s reasons for being a part of this industry are different, and that perhaps getting into the union isn’t your main goal. What most of us look for on a resume is experience. To see that you’ve been on set, you’ve had speaking roles in things, whether it’s some schlocky commercial or a serious piece of theater, it amounts to the same thing - time spent working on your craft. When it comes down to making booking choices, the director and producers typically have no idea whether you are union or not. Boston somehow got a weird idea in it’s head that you are supposed to slate your union status at the top of your audition, that’s not how NY or LA or anywhere else does it, and it’s not how i do it. None of my clients have any idea what your union status is when you audition and so it never factors into their choices. They choose who they think will best perform in the role, the way it should be. Also, there’s no way for casting to know if a member is “in good standing” before booking them. (Besides, half the time when people aren’t in good standing, it’s just they forgot to make their dues payment and owe the union money and have to pay up before they can be cleared to work). So TL;DR - no, someone won’t get hired JUST because they are a union member over someone who gave a better audition but isn’t a member yet.
You become SAGe after your first principal SAG role. That doesn’t mean you have to join at that moment. Some talent will decide that is the right move for them. Others decide to wait until something big comes along that will cover the initiation dues of joining the union. You are allowed two waivers (Taft Hartleys) before you HAVE to join the union, on filing of the second TH form you become a “Must Join”, which means on booking your next SAG job you have to join the union. On lower paying projects, i often will skip the “must joins”, so that they aren’t being forced to take a job that will ultimately cost them money because the joining fee outweighs the paycheck. That’s THE ONLY time it might factor into you getting a call.
When asked what i personally think as a casting director about joining the union, i often tell actors to wait until they have enough experience under their belt to really compete and stand a chance of booking the jobs they want to audition for. If one of your first gigs is SAG, maybe hold off until you’ve booked and performed in a bunch of non union projects before making the leap into the SAG pool. It’s a personal choice for each actor to make about if and when they are ready to make that step.
ALWAYS list theater credits! Many things, like commercials, are difficult to list on a resume (and honestly you should just be writing “conflicts upon request” so that if the Rockland Trust people are looking at your resume and see Bank of America they don’t just pass on you!) so having things like theater credits can really help. If i see a ton of theater on a resume, I KNOW that person can act. If you’re AEA or AEAe, always include that! It’s much more difficult to work your way into AEA than SAG. SAG you can become a member by doing background work. AEA you have to earn enough hours on qualifying productions, and it’s a lot of hours if i recall correctly. AEA means way more on a resume to me than SAG. Theater takes weeks of rehearsals and is usually a grueling performing schedule, if you can handle that, you can handle a 1 day commercial booking.
Just because you WILL work background doesn’t necessarily mean you’re only a background actor. There definitely are “perennial extras” in Boston, people who only work as background, and that’s because they aren’t strong enough actors to actually book principal work. Just because someone IS SAG doesn’t make them a better actor. However, if you’re putting background work on your resume, someone in casting is going to look at that and think that you are not capable of booking other work. We all need to eat, we all are in this business to make money, not to get rich (lord knows none of us are going to do that) but to make a living. Background work can be lucrative, especially if you’re looking to meet the quota you need to qualify for health benefits etc in the union. There’s no shame and nothing wrong with doing background work. Some bucks is better than no bucks, right? It’s better to be making that $250 working background than sitting at your house making nothing yeah?