Oh the age old actor question. I think back to my very early years, like my last year in college where I made a “Five Year Plan”* which absolutely included joining the union one year after moving. lol.
Before the unions merged they were separate (you can learn more about that with a quick Google) and when they made an agreement to become one in the same, they set a date that would occur. This meant all AFTRA members would become SAG members that day too. And unlike SAG, AFTRA could be an easily purchased membership. So roughly 1,000,000 of my friends panic-purchased their way into SAG because someone somewhere told them that was such a great idea. I did not partake in this. It was a maybe $1,200 to join I think? I really can’t remember. But I had like $5 so that was not happening. I cried that night. I thought I was such a faker of an actor to not even be in a damn union.
Cut to my friends all being so flabbergasted to find out that they got way fewer auditions and booked a lot less roles after they made the leap. Shocker. To quote the most over-used metaphor in the industry, they literally jumped into a massive pond and realized how small they were. This is not to say they weren’t great actors, but that they were unprepared for the Olympics that is real union actor life.
Which brings me to me, waiting a long time to join. I was scared! I was told all the time (especially by this agent) not to join. And I also heard that a lot of casting people won’t see you in you don’t have a SAG card. Oh the many woefully unanswered questions of actor life. I continued to work and tried to just “let it happen naturally”. So here is how I got my vouchers.
I booked a voiceover for a McDonald’s Monopoly commercial (had zero idea what I was doing). 2014
I did an O’Charley’s commercial: I was a waitress, I had one line, the same line I auditioned with. I have never seen this commercial. 2015
I was a featured extra-turned-costar on a pilot: I knew the director from my babysitting job (welcome to Hollywood) and he gave me a line. God bless him. 2016
I booked a ULB (ultra low budget) movie: and it was my final straw if you will…but joining for an ULB is option (or so I was told). I decided this was it, my big moment. 2017
I made the final choice for a lot of reasons. Firstly because I wanted to be seen as “serious”, that I thought it somehow legitimized my acting career (lol is anyone’s career legitimized?). Secondly, because I was on back to back movies and I thought this was my big ol’ break (another lol). Also because I was panicked that someone would take my stage name of Sam Valentine…yes much like instagram, there can only be one of you (thus why so many actors have a middle name initial). Oh and lastly, I did it because I had saved up the money to do so and it was burning a whole in my preverbal pocket. This cannot be expressed highly enough: I did not go into debt to join the union. Yes, they offer payment plans. But I am not a payment plan girl. I am a huge planner.
So I signed on to the SAG site, checked my status (it’s fun you should try it, feels good) clicked join, and made my appointment to come into the Wilshire office, fill out paperwork, and pay my $3,300 that day. I never took the cheesy “in front of the building with my card” photo and I’d like to think that is because I am too cool, but really it was because I was alone and didn’t want to do some weird pose with a stranger.
That is my very nondramatic how/why story. The aftermath? Well my savings account was dusty and I got about 1/3 as many auditions. But man, these auditions are so much better. I don’t regret it in the least. Much like having a college degree, I often think back and say, “Wow! I can’t believe I earned that! Kinda forgot I had it!”
I am finally taking advantage of the things SAG offers us (classes, workshops, conservatory training, etc) and just joined the Women’s Committee too! I have a lot more to learn about the union that provides pension (aka retirement), health insurance (when you earn a minimum), protection (a full staff to uphold the duties and rights of members) and a solid SOLID community. This is a post for another day.
BUT if you are on the fence, I am not here to lecture you on joining. I am here to be open to your questions and concerns. This is not a sponsored article in the least, I just get a lot of questions about how and when to join. I guess if I had to simplify it I would say, when you’ve worked hard enough that the opportunity presents itself, you’ll realize where you need to go next.
PS: save your money. Ok bye.