Monday, March 21, 2011

Tools of the Trade: Getting Your SAG Card, Part 2

To SAG or not to SAG. That is the question every actor faces after finally securing their SAG eligibility. Sure, joining SAG is what they’ve been working toward, but stepping over the line into union-land is a whole separate decision to be faced with careful consideration.

Take this message I received in response to my earlier post about getting your SAG card:
I just read your post about getting a SAG card. My question is...what next? My girlfriend recently joined SAG after landing a small part in a feature and she is unsure how to proceed. The local SAG office hasn't been much help. She has her info with some of the local talent shop type places, but does not have a full blown agent etc. ANY suggestions, advice or encouragement I can pass her way would be appreciated. She doesn't expect to become a movie star, but would like to make enough money to at least pay for her dues!
– Matt from Detroit
Thanks for reaching out, Matt! Your girlfriend is in a tricky spot – being a SAG actor in a regional market is a challenge because the opportunities are fewer and farther between. Though if you’re reading this post in New York or Los Angeles, the same advice applies...

Once you join SAG, you can no longer accept non-union work. No exceptions. And SAG doesn’t take any responsibility for finding actors work. They have their hands full trying to keep the studios from ripping us off. So becoming SAG means your world of job opportunities is suddenly completely different.

Whatever made you eligible doesn’t expire, so you should wait until you’re offered another SAG job to actually join. Save up for the mondo initiation fee and put “SAG Eligible” on your resume so producers know they can use you if they want. That way you can still accept non-union work and audition for SAG projects at the same time.

But if you’ve already taken the leap like Matt’s girlfriend, there are several things you can do to start securing paid gigs for yourself:
  • Consider background work if you haven’t before. Having your SAG card means that a day on a film will pay $139 for 8 hours – more than twice as much as it did when you were non-union. Plus they have to feed you hot food – a nice perk. If you can find commercial background work, even better – that SAG minimum is $323. In a regional market like Detroit, review production listings on to find films being shot on location in your area. Keep your eyes peeled in your local paper for extras casting calls. If they need to upgrade anyone to a speaking part, the SAG actors on set will likely get preference.

  • Don’t be closed to working for free. Student films and independent projects can offer set experience and introduce you to other actors who work in the area and know where the jobs are. They’re also a great way to gather footage for your demo reel, which is quickly becoming a necessity for working actors.

  • Get to know your state film office. Each film office’s Web site will not only list casting opportunities but give information about upcoming major productions that are filming in the area. Michigan is a booming production state, so look for opportunities on the Michigan Film Office web site. I also found this Michigan Acting resource that should have current opportunities.

  • Get yourself on Actors Access and start submitting yourself every day. It’s free to join and $2 for each submission, though I suggest getting the yearly Showfax subscription for $68 to get unlimited submissions. Actors Access lists opportunities in several regional markets, including Chicago/Midwest.

  • Look for opportunities in larger regional markets close by. When I lived in Boston, I knew several SAG actors who had voicemail numbers in New York City so they could pretend to be local actors available for work there. It was always a risk in case you were called for same day auditions, but for the most part they had at least a day’s notice before they had to get in their cars and drive down. I know there are San Francisco actors that have LA phone numbers. For Detroit, it might be worth getting a Chicago phone number through Google Voice. You can always put yourself on tape for auditions if you’re not able to drive all the way there.
Finally, keep at it and don’t lose faith! The good thing about regional markets is that they’re small and easy to navigate. Each job will introduce you to more people that know what the deal is in your area. You may not need an agent at all if you have a good network of actor friends to help you find the opportunities.

If you’re an actor in a regional market or have any other advice to offer, please leave it below. Break a leg!


  1. I have a question, so non-union actors are not allowed to audition for SAG projects at all??
    If no, then how can one secure a union gig to even apply for a SAG membership?

  2. Thanks for your question, Anjelika! There's no rule against non-union actors auditioning for SAG projects, but most producers of SAG projects in TV and film tend not to see non-union actors because -

    1) Using a non-union actor instead of a SAG actor means they might have to pay a fee to SAG.

    2) Even if a producer is willing to pay the fee, it means a bunch of Taft-Hartley paperwork, and most producers don't have the time to deal with it, especially in television.

    That said, it's not completely unheard of for non-union actors to audition for SAG projects. It happens a lot in commercials or in TV/Film when they're looking for a special skill or talent.

    Check out my previous blog post about getting your SAG card for more -

    And let me know if you have follow-up questions! :)

  3. Thank you so much Teresa! Looking forward to your tweets :-)