How To Get Into An Actors Union?

How To Get Into An Actors Union?

The actor’s union is the largest union organization for professional actors. The purpose of its formation is to provide Safe, excellent working conditions for its members, and competitive wages for its members to be hired and well taken care of once they are hired.

There are basically two essential Unions for professional actors; Actors’ Equity Association (AEA) and a merger of the Screen Actors’ Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artist (SAG/AFTRA). These Unions comprises of:

  • Theatre performers.
  • Stage managers.
  • Other industry professionals.

Before we proceed and show you how to get into an actor’s union;

Table of Contents

Everything You Need to Know About Actors Union

As you already know by now that, Actors Union is an organization comprising of actors, industry professionals, stage managers in the United States. So:

What Does It Mean To Be A Union Actor?

This is an actor who has agreed to work under a Union contract whether that Union is SAG/AFTRA, Actors’ Equity, or another acting union or guide. The contract sets the standards, minimum pays, safety, privacy, security, facilities, schedules, and all other aspects of the production that affects the actor clearly stated in the contract.

What Is The Difference Between Union And Non-union Actors?

If you are a Union actor, you cannot work non-union jobs. The ONLY way a Union actor is seen working a non-union job is if they are Financial core (FI-CORE) status. This is an option within SAG that allows an actor to work on both Union and Non-union jobs. You get the best of both worlds. A Union actor is protected by the Union if he gets into any trouble.

The non-union actor, on the other hand, is typically either just starting and don’t have enough credits to enter the union or they are acting as a hobby or just a certain project. They are not protected by any union, and the rules and contracts that bind the union actor do not apply to them.

They are left to fend for themselves when they get into trouble. Non-union actors can also be hired to do a union job under a union contract if they are exceptionally good with the requirement that the actor join the union after working under a specified number of contracts.

Is It Better To Be Sag Or Non-union?

Being a part of a Union has its own advantages and disadvantages. The same is true for those who are non-union members like new actors. It is critically important that as an actor, you do your own research, considering the pros and cons and ultimately make a decision that would be beneficial for you in the long run. Experienced and seasoned professionals in the industry will usually tell you how it is best for you to be a SAG because they got you covered if you run into any trouble. Also, it is often claimed that SAG jobs are of higher quality and pays better. So, if you are a talented-upcoming act and you belong to this category, it is in your best interest if you sail the waters of non-union first till you find your feet being experienced enough because SAG is a highly competitive ocean and if you join from the start, you may end up in a talent pool where you are in the way of your league.

Also, be made aware here that when you join SAG, you pledge your support to them only and not to accept any work relating to non-union. You are now brothers standing together fighting the same course for better working conditions and good pays for all of you collectively. It is equally important to note here that a SAG actor in any given country only functions within the confines of that country and does not go beyond that country.

Non-union work generally pays less but has a lot of job offers lined out, unlike in SAG, where the jobs are few because the actor’s fee is much higher. At the end of the day, when you summed up all the work that a non-union does, you will notice that they are all earning the same as their SAG counterpart.

You are on your own as a non-union. This is not to scare you, but it’s the truth. You will be taken advantage of by producers, being paid less than what is agreed on for the job, or even agents taking a far higher commission than is expected. You will be exploited, and there will be nobody as in a Union to stand with you, take up the issue and fight for you. Yet it is okay that everyone starts off in a non-union environment and grows from there as you find your footing gaining more experience so as to make comfortable income in a safe, lucrative work environment that only SAG can provide.

When Should You Join The Actors Unions?

Whether it is Equity or joining SAG-AFTRA, deciding when to join the actor’s union is an important step in becoming a professional actor. As far as the Union is concerned, go for it when the opportunity presents itself. Make sure you are mentally prepared for the high level of competition in the union market, and that you have done diligent research on what the union market entails and where you will fit in. Understand your own unique selling point as an actor vying for work in a union market, then go for it. By now those actors that started out doing non-union gig would have come to an understanding that they have little to no protection as touching your working hours, safety, reuse of your image, payments, e.t.c. You are completely exploited on all front, so when you get offered employment under a union contract, go for it. You are now in a big-league where the A-list stars you follow and admires belongs to. You are now among the best in the industry. You are completely covered here with a team of advocates that will fight that you get paid all that is due to you and that a safe working condition is provided to you. You give up your right to take the non-union role when you join the union.

Do Actors Have to Join a Union?

No, all actors are not required to join a union. In Hollywood, there is quite a bit of non-union work for Television, Film, and especially commercials, but the ones most actors desire and covet are the union projects; the big Television and Film gigs. You are required to join a union if you must work on these union-related projects. Also, a non-union member can work on a limited number of union projects through the Taft-Hartley Act and automatically become Union eligible. From there, under a certain time frame, you can work a certain number of projects before you must join. At this point, you have to join the Union to do any further work.

How To Get Into An Actors Union?

Here are a few main ways to get into an actor Union:

  • Get Hired on a Union Gig: Booking a gig that is covered under a collective bargaining agreement with the actor’s union is the most common way actors get their union calling cards. Producers through the Taft-Hartley Act can hire talented non-union actors who demonstrate exceptional skills that could not be found among union members. He then negotiates a contract with the Union, and the actors are employed for memberships under some specific stipulations. Actors must at least work three days for background and must complete a full day work for speaking roles. The actor then provides to his local Union office that he has met all the requirements using paid activity documents obtained from a payroll company. This action gets you in. It is wise to make extra copies of these documents so as to keep with you for records before submitting them to the Union.
  • Create Your own Content: You can make yourself a SAG-AFTRA if you have the budget to produce your own work and are capable of hiring other union actors to work on your project too. The Union runs a supplementary organization SAGIndie to provide the needed resources to potential producers like you. Also, SAG-AFTRA, New Media, Special New Media, Ultra-Low budget, Moderate low budget, and Short Project agreements cover original content for independent producers.
  • Be in a Sister union: After one year and one mainEquityact, members of other entertainment unions, equity, AGMA, ACTRA, or AGVA are eligible for union memberships under their affiliate union’s jurisdiction. Professional actors crossing over from music, opera, or even stage performance to the film are being encouraged by this rule to work for union as much as possible. If you belong to this category, you can set up appointments at your nearest union local office to discuss union membership.


As with any step in your career, timing is everything. You only have one chance to work after becoming a must join. So, when next you get a job booked, be ready to make available the initiation fee of three thousand dollars or go on a payment plan. Also note that as a rule, Union actors can only work on a production with a union contract in place, even overseas. The rest is the benefits that come from being a part of a union.


Firas Sameer, a movie director with several video productions for cinemas, festivals, TV commercials.. etc with several international awards and recognitions for his work.

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