Guest Dilettante, Darling Douchette: To Union or Not To Union…

Alright. Savvy actors, crap even non-savvy ones, know about the unions.  SAG, Aftra, Equity. I get chills just typing it.  It’s like the golden gates leading to the pearly afterlife of the craft.  It means money, and health insurance, and respect.

The downside; unless you live in LA, New York or even P-town, there just aren’t a lot of union jobs.  Especially in Seattle. And if a large film does happen to come here from LA, the bastards cast it almost entirely out of LA.  Then you hear all the other non union actors talk about how bad it is to join.  Because it means you can no longer work in this town.  Because all we have is non union gigs.

On the other hand, all the union folks are raving about being in the union. They get to audition for the union projects that come through (SAG commercials and films), get cast in the good-paying plays (at Seattle Children’s Theater, The 5th Ave, Seattle Rep).  And to be honest, the actors in the union seem to do this for a living.  Like, they have no back up career (emphasis on career, not job).  This is their life.

So it raises the question: How do I make a living at this if I’m not willing to join?  Which is exactly what I find myself asking.  If I want to do this for the rest of my life and make money, do I need to join a union?

For me, the answer is yes.  In the last 3 years I’ve booked 4 non-union corporate gigs.  Holy BALLS I’m on fire!! Not really.  I got a whopping $1850.  And it’s not for lack of auditions, or even callbacks for that matter.  Usually I lose the part because I’m the wrong ethnicity.  So in actuality I’d be sacrificing about 2 jobs a year.  Big whoop.

How bout film?  I’ve done quite a few indies.  Most of them paid, miraculously.  And most recently, I’ve been doing SAG low budget ones.  These allow SAG and non union actors to work on the project, even if it’s not paying the normal SAG rate.  So while I might  be missing out on films that some guy and his best friend wrote and then shot in his backyard on his mom’s camcorder and cooked Red Baron pizzas for lunch and dinner, I think I’ll manage.

So, now I’ve decided (against everybody else’s advice) to make joining a union a goal.  How do I it?

1. First off, I tell my agent.  And I tell her I want to tag team this goal.  I need her help to push me into the union auditions. You and your agent are business partners.  Don’t forget it.

2. There’s a little trick right now you can do.  It involves creating your own project, making it a SAG low budget, casting yourself and voila.  You’re now SAG eligible.  There is, of course, more to it.  But the fact that it’s possible is fantastic. More info on that as I do some digging.

*Oh and by the way, I’m not capitalizing SAG for extra emphasis (which usually is        really douchey to do in a post).  It’s an acronym for Screen Actor’s Guild.  I’m too lazy to put in all the periods and if I kept writing ‘sag’, well that’d be a whole other thing entirely.

3. I can get an agent out of Portland.  With 2 network television shows (Leverage, Grimm), and a lot more commercials, getting a spot on one of them is a fast track to joining Aftra or SAG.  Which by the way, you can buy your way into. But most of us barely have enough money for friggen gas, let alone a grand for a union.  So booking a bit part on Leverage will pay you well and get you in.  Awesome sauce.

4. Joining equity.  I have zero idea how becoming equity helps your career.  I’m guessing it means you get guaranteed paid work when you book a play.  Anyone care to pipe in?  Would love some feedback on this.

5. Oh- and a quick fifthly (and don’t tell any union reps I said this or I’ll deny it), if once you’re union and you are getting zero work, you can go…..Fi-Core.  Dun Dun Duuuunnnn.  Here’s a link to explain that one http://www.ficore.com/  Basically it allows union actors to do both union and non-union jobs.


Still not convinced?  Try this on for size.  Are you a hobbyist or a careerist (stole that from another blog)?  Do you love your day job and just do acting for fun?  Stay non union.  Or…….do you dream of quitting your shitty day job and flitting around on a set making lots of money pretending to be someone else?  Now, that’s what I’m talking about.  Joining the union is the next logical step.  Take that you naysayers.


  1. Interesting piece that addresses something many actors are dealing with. You make a good case for joining SAG and also address the reasons a person might not want to. If you’re serious about being an actor, it’s a big Yes, an Absolute Yes.

  2. Basil Harris seriously needs to write something on this site. He’s my guru on all things union. Great article, Douchette!

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