Don’t join SAG-AFTRA (too fast)!
(CAUTION: THE FOLLOWING IS A TOP SECRET ACTING TIP. TELL NO ONE OF THIS!)
Joining the union and getting a SAG card (now SAG-AFTRA), has long been a rite of passage for actors. It was a sense of accomplishment, signifying that the actor or actress has arrived at a place in their careers where they must be taken seriously as a legitimate, professional actor.
But times have changed. Increasingly, many acting roles, particularly in commercials, are not done under a union contract and, instead, feature non-union talent (or union actors who have elected to avail themselves of non-union work). In fact, it is estimated that around 60% of commercials are now produced using non-union talent.
As such, it tends to be better for newer actors to wait for as long as possible before joining the SAG-AFTRA union. Here are some reasons to do so:
More time for resume-building
Not joining the union immediately when eligible allows the actor more time to compete for the more plentiful non-union roles. It becomes a numbers game. With more acting roles available to compete for, actors have more opportunities for work. This can give actors a better chance to build and bolster their acting resumes in the process.
Non-union roles tend to be less competitive than union roles, because the competition tends to be among less experienced actors – actors who have not been acting long enough to have had to join the union. Contrast this with competing for union jobs. In competing for a union job, an actor may have to compete with other union actors who have twenty or more years of experience.
Roles are booked mostly based on talent, rather than connections
You’ve heard the adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. That is true in the business of acting and it is especially true with union work. Experienced union actors tend to have connections with casting directors, whom they may have known for many years. This can tilt the scales in their direction and away from actors who do not have those connections. The playing field tends to be fairer for non-union work, since you are not competing with actors who’ve spent years building relationships with those casting directors.