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Monday, December 6, 2010

SAG, Waivers, Vouchers and Union joys..

I in no way claim to be an expert on any of this.  Afterall, survival job/creative income/web design..all that stuff.

There, that was my disclaimer.  So this post is inspired by numerous conversations with friends, colleagues, anyone and everyone about joining a union.   If something is wrong, please let me know and I'll adjust the info.

There are so many questions surrounding this union.  And all unions.  I'm hoping to use this as a way to clarify.

How do I join sag?

There are a few ways to join the union.  Its not like AFTRA where you can just buy in. Nor is it like other workers unions where you have to be nominated by a member.  No no no. SAG makes you earn your member ship.  The first way, and way most people join is buy earning vouchers.
What's a voucher? we go.

There are Vouchers and Waivers.  
This is a VOUCHER:

For every SAG production, there must be a certain number of union background members before they can use non-union.  Lets say the number is 20 for "imaginary Epic Film Project."  Now, if only 19 of those union members show up, the production crew HAVE to make a non union person union for the day.  How is this accomplished?  They give you a voucher.  This DOES NOT MEAN YOU'RE SAG.  It means for that day you were given SAG status.  Just for that day.  Yes it includes SAG wages as well.

You may see on notices that are seeing SAG and NON SAG that it will say..SAG RATE/WAGES for non-union.  This does not mean you'll be getting paid the SAG rate as a NON SAG member.  This means you'll be getting paid SAG's NON UNION rate.  Which is about $70 something a day.  79?  Something like that.  This came up on the last project I worked.  If you're hired as NON UNION, they're not going to throw money at you.  So be aware of that.

Now, this has to happen 3 times in order to make you eligible.  THREE!!  Again, you need three WAIVERS, and they're cumulative.  It could take a few months, weeks, or years.  It's completely random.  The ones I have I was called in specifically because of a certain look I have.  So I knew going in I was getting a voucher.  Makes it easy.  But that's not how it always works, obviously.

Now whats that WAIVER thing I mentioned before?: 

This is for all you SAG members who are looking to work on student films or indies.  Almost all student films allow SAG members to work for them penalty free.  Not all.  But most.  And some independent films.  Since they're so low budget they can't afford the union's day rate, so you get a waiver that does what it says...waives all the perks of being SAG.  But you're not going against your union.  It's just like an Equity Showcase code for stage actors.

So thats the first way.  And the main way most people join the Union.  It's tedious and takes a long time and a lot of patience, but SAG here you come.

Hey brother can you spare a TAFT HARTLEY?

You've probably heard this term bandied around a bit, it comes from the 1940's when labor unions were up in arms trying to right the many wrongs that were being done to the workers.  No one was safe, not even we actors.  What does it mean for an actor?  It means that if you, as a NON UNION actor are cast as a performer in a main role, supporting, anything with a line, and are paid for that work, you are considered  SAG ELIGIBLE.  Look at that.  Easy peasy.  Sure it doesn't happen that often, but it happens.  There are numerous anecdotes about how this act has been played out.  I know I read an article once where the lead actress came into a room and said good morning to a NON UNION BG actor.  Of course being NON, didn't have any lines.  Well after doing multiple takes all day, the Actress finally said, he needs to say good morning back.  A person would say good morning, they wouldn't ignore you.  At this point it was too late to switch in a union BG actor since they'd been filming all day.  Mr Lucky duck NON UNION?  Tafted.  Bam. Now after 30 day's he would have to either join, or stop working on UNION films.  This way forces your hand a little.  The VOUCHER method gives you the option to get as many as you like and stay NON as long as you like.  Taft Hartley rarely happens, but is another way to become a member of SAG.  There is a fine that the production has to pay for this to happen, which isn't too hefty, but still something to be avoided,  hence why it rarely happens.

I wanna Join too, here's some money!!!

The third way, which is probably the second most common, is the buy in method.  Some Unions, like AFTRA will happily take your money and BAM...union.  Not SAG, but AFTRA.  What does this mean for you, you potential SAG or even EQUITY member?  Well after a year, as long as you're a member in good standing and have filled that particular UNION's criteria, you can just buy in to the other UNIONS.  You're now eligible.  The criteria, i believe is 3 background credits, or one principle credit. My AFTRA credit is principle, so you know where I'll be in a year.  It's pretty simple.  But also takes time.  It's because they all consider themselves sister unions.  Sometime long ago, they were all sitting around drinking, crochetting on the train, something, and decided, they should join forces to help eachother out.  Join 1, in a year you can join em all.  it's a win win for the unions and for you.

I'm going to add to this as more info comes in and is made clearer.  I'm sure I missed some aspects, or potentially got something wrong.  But these are the basic ways people become union.

good luck!