Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Is SAG a Rip-Off?

SAG cost too much

When you are ready to be a professional, and like Tom Hanks at the first SAG Awards, hold it up with pride and talk about when and why you joined, then you are ready to pay the SAG initiation and join the ranks of professionals known as union actors.

I received a message, all caps, saying SAG is a rip off and that the cost of "dues" (they meant initiation) were way too high, and that there is no work.

Let me deal with these one issue at at time:

First off, are you professional enough to join the union? Do producers cast you? Do you work often or at least whenever possible in the industry? Do you take classes, do theater, spend money on listing your services on the web or elsewhere? Have you found an agent or manager? Are you investing in your craft, in time, money or both?

If the answer is yes, then ask are you ready to become a professional by joining the Screen Actors Guild? Are you ready for the commitment of joining the union, with the work opportunities as they are today and with potential for your future that union membership brings?

What you will never get with non-union work:  ability to earn Health Insurance and a Pension; Unemployment Insurance; Worker's Comp; Guaranteed Minimums;  a living wage;  checks that arrive on time and when you need them, residuals, protection of your image and talents against future misuse, and a staff working on your behalf to resolve payment issues.

The initiation fee helps fund the union you are joining. It is needed to pay staff who make it possible for you to enjoy the wages, rapid pay, safe working conditions, food and water on the set, "bump" income increases, protections of your talent (image, voice, uniqueness) and legal fees the Guild provides for all members. The initiation helps fund organizing so that there are jobs to employ you. Our staff of paid professionals, who work at well below the rates offered elsewhere in the industry because they believe in you, is there on the set when needed or called 24/7, even on holidays. They are the muscle just as stars, like Tom Hanks, are the profile, that makes SAG the most recognized and one for the most respected unions in the world.

There are payments plans to soften the blow, with additional plans are being finalized. Initiation in some markets where there is less work, including Nevada, are one third lower than in union security states where there is ample work.

But just as with buying insurance, a car, a house, or a good pair of shoes, you have to pay to finance the costs of providing you a quality product. Nothing is free.

SAG has among the lowest percentage dues of any union, as SAG financing is subsidized by initiations. And unlike the "evil" way unions are being painted as giant political manipulating machines, less than three percent of your Screen Actors Guild Dues goes to political purposes, with none going to any candidate (SAG advocates for issues benefiting actors, and is prohibited from endorsing any political candidate).

It takes union organizing, the commitment of talent in any market and the reality of the business climate to generate jobs. SAG does cannot employ actors. SAG can only help productions to become union.

As talent you have to stop working non-union. The availability of actors willing to work non-union is only an incentive for producers to continue to not pay enough, to pay when they feel like if they feel like it, to not provide the contract wages, working conditions or protections a union enforces. There is no reason to go union and pay union wages if qualified performers continue to do non-union work.

You have to set the value on your talents and time that make you a professional. That value is a union contract. Only then will you be respected as a professional and given the pay, residuals, respect and credits you deserve.

The nation is in, or recovering from (definitely not in Nevada or California), the greatest recession since the Great Depression. The motion picture industry, unlike its fast recovery from the Depression, has proven less resilient this time around.

Agents, casting companies, production companies, independent producers and distributors and even large studios have folded, sold or scaled back. Many industry related, and even the restaurants and other businesses that surround the studios, have gone out of business in Hollywood much less Nevada.

States where production is booming give away the store and are now finding that incentives are a two edge sword, as tax income is down. Nevada already is business friendly and does not have the taxes or fees to put rebates or loophole for the industry into force.

The person who wrote to me seemed to blame the union for a lack of work.

Look around you at  closed business fronts, vacant condo's and homes, the increase in "street people" and you will see that there is a much larger element at work today. 90% of Nevada homes are "under water", owing more than they could sell for. 70% face potential foreclosure. Our unemployment rate is the highest in the nation.

Like the plaque on a previous presidents' desk "It's the Economy, Stupid".

But things will get better.

Production is starting to pick up.

And if you keep your instrument tuned, your heart committed and your eye on the future...the future is only limited by your ability to "tough it out" for the prize of being on a set or stage and acting.

First posted May 5, 2010

to the mother of a child actor...on all questions concerning joining SAG, must join, RTW or payment plans contact you local SAG office.  For Nevada contact Steve Clinton.

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