Thursday, October 9, 2008

Union membership: Prestige by assocation? Hardly.

I was happy to hear back from Michael, an actor who first wrote me several weeks ago in response to my Blog comments on the latest episode in the ongoing industry drama that has become, as I call it, “the AFTRA SAG dilemma."

Michael and I corresponded about the consequences of union actors filing for Financial Core Status. I posed several questions back to him in my response (which you can read in the Blog entry).

Michael wrote me again with some key questions that I wanted to share with you, along with my response to him.

Michael wrote:
"I joined AFTRA thinking it would make it easier for me to get into SAG, get more legit auditions, and make me more noticeable to agents when blindly submitting (or from seminars, etc.). But now I see little to no opportunities for union as of now, and I still want to do student films, indie projects, etc. I mean, as you said, there's no real way they would know unless I am a recognizable face (in which case, I'll probably be doing union projects anyway). Thanks for the heads up. So, it is still ok to do non-union work as of now, right? Also, any advice on getting an agent and/or into SAG so I can get more legit auditions?"
I responded:
"Your reasons for joining AFTRA are/were honorable —as they are for so many others who join thinking (or expecting) the same thing. It’s a tough call, really. A couple of years ago, when it looked like AFTRA and SAG might actually merge, lots of actors who couldn’t (yet) qualify to join SAG raced to join AFTRA thinking that when the (expected) merger happened, they would automatically become members of the “new” union that covered all forms of the (acting) business. Alas, that wasn’t to be the case. When the vote was taken, it wasn’t meant to be (yet). Ultimately, given this new landscape, a merger might not only be inevitable, but be the only way both unions can move ahead and survive (and thrive). As soon as they both stop playing politics and leave their egos at the door, we might see them both actually start being in the business, again, of truly representing the best interests of all true career actors.

I can’t tell you that it’s (still) okay for you to do non-union work; the union rules are the union rules. But, having said that, I think you will be unscathed from the experience, should you choose to return to it.

Lastly, there are many agents (and managers) in this new landscape who do, indeed, represent non-SAG talent. No one was born with a SAG card. SAG cards, like careers, have to be earned. Good agents (and managers) recognize that they can develop good actors into great clients and let them earn their union status on the way, when it’s the right time/right place."
I hope that this perspective is helpful to any of you in a similar situation to Michael’s.

Always ask questions; always seek as much advice as you can. Then, weigh your options and make the choice or choices that make sense for you. Often times, circumstances dictate direction. You're in this business for a career, not just a job. Always consider your options from a "bigger picture" perspective, as well as for the short-term -- and always proceed as a smart, informed actor.

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