The Next Stunt Barrier: SAG-AFTRA

Where am I at right now? Well…I have hustled a few sets, met a few coordinators, joined a couple networking groups, and worked a few non-union stunt jobs.

Where is it that I want to go? In the immediate future, I want to join SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists). SAG-AFTRA is THE American labor union to be a part of in our industry. This is the union that covers all of the huge television and feature films. Once you are in this union, the work possibilities open up substantially. However, getting into this union is a pain in the ass.

You can only get into this union in one of two ways:

  1. Proof of Employment – If you work on a production that operates under the SAG-AFTRA collective bargaining agreement.
  2. Employment under an Affiliated Performer’s Union – If you are a paid up member of ACTRA, AEA, AGMA, or AGVA, for at least a year, you are eligible to join SAG-AFTRA.

Seems simple right? Just work on a SAG-AFTRA project and then join the union. NOT! It almost feels like a chicken and the egg problem. You have to work on a production to join the union, but you can’t work on a production unless you are in the union. Ugh! How in the world did the other 160,000 people join?


It seems after a little research that there are three ways around this. 1) As a background actor (you know the ones you see in the background fake talking in every shot) there are two positions available, non-union background positions and union background positions. If you are lucky (or hustle hard enough) to work in three productions as a union background actor you are eligible to join the union. 2) On super rare occasion, the director may throw a line to a background actor. This is cause for an immediate upgrade and you will be eligible to join the union. 3) You can get “Taft-Hartleyed.” This comes out of the 1947 Taft-Hartley Labor Act and allows you to work on this specific production without being a part of the union. This essentially means that for one reason or another you are the only one with the look or special skills that the production needs and they would like to employ you. This costs the production a fee and apparently a lot of paperwork. Once you get “tafted,” you are eligible to join!

So…with all these things in mind, I think again, where am I right now? Well…I am in limbo. I have a membership to an affiliated union (AEA) that doesn’t qualify me to join until November of this year. I am a terrible actor and there are no productions around me in Florida that I can be a background actor in. And, finally, I am hustling and sending my information out constantly to see if there is someone that will “Taft-Hartley” me for my special skills or look.

Ending with the glass half-full: Even though I am in limbo, at least I am in a position where I can join no matter what in November. I should be thankful that I at least have that option. Not many people do.

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