There is no simple answer for how to break into the world of acting. Typically, performers take acting classes or study theater in school. Beginning actors often work in non-union background and principal roles in the early stages of their careers, as they get experience and build up a resume. SAG-AFTRA's interaction with performers begins after they have achieved professional status and are ready to join the Union.
Because of the nature of film and television casting, our members--like all performers--must take their own steps towards getting agents, auditions and roles. We do everything possible to create an environment in which our members will be hired, and we look after their welfare once they are hired. The main goal of SAG-AFTRA is to provide competitive wages and safe, excellent working conditions for our members.
While we are not in a position to provide individual guidance to those who are getting into this business, we certainly invite you to explore our website to learn more about the history of the Union and the business of acting.
The main goal of SAG-AFTRA is to provide competitive wages and safe, excellent working conditions for our members. Through a variety of programs and activities and industry outreach, we do everything possible to create an environment in which our members will be hired and to look after their welfare once they are hired.
SAG-AFTRA makes every effort to avoid enrolling members with the same name or with very similar names. Because the list of available names changes daily, it would not be helpful to you for us to research your name choices before you join. During your joining appointment, we will ask you for three alternate name choices, in case your first choice is not available. A final name-availability check is done at the time the initiation fee is paid. Only then can an applicant be assured of having a particular professional name.
Please call our Taft-Hartley Department at (323) 549-6866 for information about qualifying work that may be on our records.
Except in very limited circumstances, acting work performed outside the United States will not qualify a person for membership in SAG-AFTRA. To be eligible based on foreign work, the performer would have to have been hired in the United States and transported to the foreign location by the union signatory production. Membership in the performers unions in England and Australia does not qualify a person for membership in SAG-AFTRA.
Yes. Agents represent talent at all stages. Being non-union won't deter an agent from representing you if they are really interested.
Yes. A producer who wants to hire you can do so. Actors can then join SAG-AFTRA through the union security provision of our contracts.
Whether you are a SAG-AFTRA member or not, we can:
- Acquaint you with some union and performing career basics
- Point you toward other sources of information
All principal and background performers, including our members, must take their own steps to develop their professional skills and to secure representation, auditions and roles. Although SAG-AFTRA offers excellent resources for actors, such as the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory, it is vital to understand the following:
- Unlike some other labor unions, we do not function as a hiring hall and do not directly provide employment for our members.
- We do not make connections or recommendations to acting schools, teachers, agents, managers or casting directors. However, we do maintain a franchised agent list: Find an Agent
- We are unable to help non-members with housing, employment, or financial assistance
- We are unable to help non-members with health and safety issues, except on SAG-AFTRA-covered projects
- If you become a SAG-AFTRA member, you can attend members-only workshops and seminars to learn more about the business and the art of acting from your peers and industry professionals. Visit your Local page for event listings in your area.
Most people who attempt to pursue a performing career full-time are usually not only members of SAG, but also members of other unions, depending on the medium and venue.
- SAG-AFTRA represents actors, announcers, broadcasters journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists and other media professionals.
- Theatre performers, as well as stage managers, are represented by Actors Equity Association (AEA)
- Live music and variety performers are represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).
These unions, under the umbrella of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the Four A's), are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.
Yes. You must be ready and willing to follow SAG-AFTRA’s rules and regulations and to accept ONLY union employment once you become a member of SAG-AFTRA.
First and foremost of all the SAG-AFTRA rules is Global Rule One. It is the foundation of SAG-AFTRA's strength in protecting and representing its members. Global Rule One states:
"No SAG-AFTRA member shall work as an actor or make an agreement to work as an actor for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the union which is in full force and effect. This provision applies worldwide."
Does this mean that once I become a SAG-AFTRA member I may not accept ANY non-union performing work to supplement my income?
Yes it does!
- SAG-AFTRA members cannot accept an acting role in any studio, independent, low-budget, pilot, experimental, non-profit, interactive, educational, student, or ANY production, unless that producer has signed a Contract or Letter of Agreement with SAG-AFTRA.
- In addition, by joining SAG-AFTRA, members also agree to abide by Rule 9, which states that members of one of the Four A performers' unions (SAG-AFTRA, Equity, AGVA, AGMA) will not accept non-union work in another union's jurisdiction.
What happens if I accept non-union work?
When a new member signs an application to join SAG-AFTRA, he/she is agreeing from that point forward to abide by all the rules and regulations of SAG-AFTRA. Our Constitution and By-Laws not only spells out members rights as a professional, union performer, but also specifies members responsibilities and obligations. Members who are found in violation of these rules are subject to serious fines and discipline by a panel of union peers.
Although the particulars of wages and working conditions vary, producers in all arenas who seek to hire professional, union talent, must agree to the terms in the contracts negotiated by these unions on behalf of their members. Producers who sign a contract or letter of agreement with the union in their jurisdiction are called "signatories."
Although membership in a union cannot guarantee a performer work, through careful monitoring of signatory productions, the entertainment unions can guarantee fair pay, treatment and protections for their members.
How long can I work on a Guild Signatory production before joining SAG?
The SAG collective bargaining agreements provide that membership in SAG is required, in most cases, either (a) 30 days after the first principal employment or (b) 30 days after a background actor has received his or her third voucher.
It may take several years for a beginner to earn a living as a performer. You must have a substantial cushion of savings to fund your quest and/or secure consistent alternate work to support you during the early stages of your career.
Even the most talented performers may do everything right and still not end up with acting jobs. Success in this business is an unpredictable combination of talent, training, residence, "look", energy, attitude, and the completely uncontrollable factor — luck!
You must not take rejection personally! Even a working professional may not earn their income performing in just one medium.
Most professional performers generally need several potential income streams to earn enough money to sustain performing as a full-time career. For example, one year they might have SAG earnings of $7,000, AFTRA earnings of $12,000, Equity earnings of $6,000 and AGMA/AGVA earnings of $8,000. The following year they might have SAG earnings of $25,000 (because they appeared in a national commercial), AFTRA earnings of $9,000, Equity earnings of $5,000 and no AGMA/AGVA earnings at all.
The Actors' Fund is an excellent resource for actors looking to supplement their income. They offer the Actors Work program and many other helpful seminars and services.
There is a current list of Legacy SAG and Legacy AFTRA franchised talent agents in the “Find an Agent” area of our site. SAG-AFTRA does not recommend any one franchised agent over another. Some of the listed franchised agents also handle modeling and print work. You'll need to check those details for yourself, as SAG-AFTRA does not have jurisdiction in those areas. Legitimate talent agencies do not charge a fee payable in advance for registering you, for resumes, for public relations services, for screen tests, for photographs, for acting lessons, or for any other schemes designed to separate you from your money. If you are signed as a client by a legitimate talent agency, you will pay that agency nothing until you work, and then 10 percent for limited areas of your earnings as a performer -- but nothing in advance. Legitimate talent agencies normally do not advertise for clients in newspaper classified columns nor do they solicit through the mail. If a talent agent seeks to send you to a particular photographer for pictures, reconsider your agency options.
Incidentally, SAG-AFTRA does not have jurisdiction over managers outside of those who have signed the SAG-AFTRA Personal Managers Code of Ethics and Conduct. For more information on the code, please visit http://www.sagaftra.org/managers/code-ethics-conduct.
We do not evaluate and/or recommend to members any service providers such as acting coaches, commercial workshops, modeling schools, photographers, or managers. There are so many people who want to be actors and therefore, unfortunately, there are also many potential scam artists who are desirous of taking your money in exchange for vague promises to get you work -- but they often deliver nothing. Use the same common sense you would use in making other major purchases.