We all know that SAG-AFTRA is ready to stand up for us when we need it to — but every day, Portland Local members are doing their part to stand up for their union and their fellow members. Here are just a few stories from “the trenches” about how SAG-AFTRA has been there for local members, and how members have done their part to strengthen SAG-AFTRA in our market. This time around, we hear from a group of local members we like to call the “online educators.”

It’s no secret that independent production is booming, especially here in the Northwest. As SAG-AFTRA members scroll through their social media feeds, they see plenty of casting calls for these independent productions, and they often get excited when they see a role they’re perfect for — until they see this in the breakdown: “Non-union”

Many members sigh, shake their heads and move on. But some in the Portland Local take the extra step of educating independent producers about ways they can cast union talent for their productions — and every so often, they manage to “flip” the job.

“I think every project has the potential of being produced under one of our contracts,” says Local President Michelle Damis. “There are more options than ever before for any budget. I respond to any ad I see, either publicly or start the conversation through direct message.” 

Local Secretary Chrisse Roccaro agrees, and notes that many indie producers aren’t “aware that there may be an agreement that fits their lower budget, so they assume it needs to be non-union. For all responses to project posts, I try to emphasize that SAG-AFTRA has an agreement to fit whatever type of project and size of budget they are working with, and that producing under an agreement opens up the talent pool to draw from by a significant number of actors.”

Local Board Member Todd Robinson says that when approaching producers online, tone is important. “I offered to help with starting the signatory process and any paperwork management during production, I recommended other union actors that would be great for roles and gave them [Senior Business Rep] Chris Comte’s contact info for finding answers that I didn’t have.”

Roccaro agrees, saying, “I’ve tried to refine my message so that it contains as few words as necessary to give the information I’m trying to share. Social media is a lightening-quick medium!”  

“Honestly, the majority of social media casting calls are not anti-union,” Damis reminds us. “Often, they just don’t know what a union contract entails or they have misconceptions that I can easily correct.”

Thankfully, SAG-AFTRA has given “online educators” like these a resource to draw on through its online Production Center. This handy site allows members to offer links to specific contracts when they engage with producers and filmmakers online.

Does this online outreach work? Do these “online educators” manage to “flip” the productions? Not always, but that doesn’t mean they think the effort is wasted.

“Never worry about a ‘no,’” urges Damis. “It’s often not a true ‘no,’ but more of a ‘not yet’ or ‘not now.’ Every ‘no’ leads to a ‘yes.’ If I plant enough seeds, I will have a full harvest one day.”

Roccaro agrees. “I’ve never had anyone get mad at me because I suggested that using one of the SAG-AFTRA student, low/ultra-low budget or indie agreements would give them a wider talent pool to draw from.”

“If a project seems legit and the filmmakers are experienced and talented, then by all means, reach out,” says Robinson. “See if they are aware of how easy it is to stack their cast with the best in the biz.”

Educating producers about union contracts has benefits beyond casting, too. “I’ve helped quite a few projects select a contract and be able to use the talent they wanted,” Damis says. “I also observed that when they learn they are helping actors attain healthcare and benefits, it makes them feel good about their decision. They want to make movies and they want to be professional. This is one of the steps they eventually have to take anyway.”

Roccaro equates educating producers to members’ efforts to “flip” a job for themselves. “Do a bit of research and educate yourself on the types of agreements that would fit that project. If you are asked if you are a union member, be honest. Should the production be interested in using you, be upfront that you can’t work without a contract, and then present them with the information they would need to hire you. You should even print the form and hand it to them and then refer them to the staff person to walk them through it (for Portland, that would be Chris Comte in the local’s office). You’ve got a 50/50 chance of getting them to agree to do it your way, and them’s pretty good odds!”


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