Screen Actors Guild
Or: No Guarantee of Quality

Go to the movies. See that guy up there? On the screen? He's a member of the Screen Actors Guild, or SAG. That woman he's kissing? Her, too. And the waiter behind them? Yup.

And so on down the line. Though not every extra--sorry, 'background actor'--must be in the guild, you'll find that many of them are. 'Guild' should be read 'union', and as with any union, there are rules, regulations, and about a billion different ways to get your production shut down.

SAG comes from a time when the Studio system dominated Hollywood and all its actors--treating them like employees instead of Gods.

That's bit unfair, actually. In the silver screen's early days, performers could have a pretty rough time of it. Since its inception, the guild has grown immensely, and now protects the rights of everyone from Sir Oscar-Winner to little 'ole Mr. Walk-On.

Geez, You'd Think Hollywood Was All About Profits

The studios of the 1920s and 30s did their best to live up the reputation of your favorite evil corporation. The new industry came with a lot of odd quirks, such as the mixture of egregious working conditions and fantastic public celebrity. To have the latter, you must endure the former--and the studio could work an actor for eighteen hours with no set meal breaks and no minimum turnaround (the time off between shooting).

Then of course there were the contracts. You could get practically indentured for any number of years, with no hope of escape--and since you now represented the studio, you now had to represent the studio's ideas and politics to anyone who asked.

And I trust you're not thinking of marrying anyone at an inopportune time, thereby screwing up your image as an available bachelor or sexy starlet.

We're as Mad as Hell, and We're Not Going to Take it Anymore


Here's where things get a little silly. The Guild now found itself without an Evil Empire, no Moriarty to its Sherlock Holmes.

Fortunately, by the 1950s, television came about and gave them a few new ways to occupy their time. This is when you start getting into the details of residuals, commericals, and videotape distribution, absolute yawners that amount to a great deal of squabbling and not much to interest non-members.

Some of you are probably card-carrying members of the guild, so I'll continue.

Free Love and Our Own Bank

  • 1960: SAG used to strike for tolerable working conditions and professional liberty. Now they flex the same muscle for movie residuals. Theatres shut down for a spell.

  • 1962: The AFTRA-SAG Credit Union opens. A Bank run by actors, for actors. Hmmm.

  • 1969: SAG horns in on the rise of independent film. By this time, the Guild is preventing its members working on the films of their choice if those films happen to not be union projects. They create a low-budget contract.

Act III Drags a Bit

And it goes on like this for awhile. SAG does do the right thing in the 70s by taking up the banner for the promotion of minority perfomers, including women and homosexuals, all of whom were getting less work and less pay, and they manage to get a little done in the field.

It's the last largely noble thing they do in the millenium that isn't completely a matter of money. And it's 'over' by the 80s.

Strikes over residuals continue with the advent of cable and an ever-widening field of distribution potential. Each time, SAG essentially comes out on top.

The most recent strike-in 2000-set SAG back a bit. Mainly a question of residuals for commericals-the bread and butter of the working actors-a great number of production companies weren't paricularly fussed. Many advertisements (you may recall) came out sans actors, and the strike went on for some time. Major Hollywood types showed their solidarity with their lesser brethren, for what that was worth.

Paying Your Dues

That's literal and figurative. Guild membership requires the payment of annual dues, and getting hired for a SAG shoot.

  • You have to have a speaking or principal role in a SAG picture, and bring proof of payment with you.

  • Then chuck down an initiation fee of $1,272.00, plus basic dues of about $100 a year. You'll also give up about 2% of your earnings under SAG contracts up to $200,000.
Sounds fair, considering that in 1996, more than 85% of SAG members earned less than $5,000. Remember, would-be actors: the Guild is there to protect you. It's for your protection.


Sound like any 'industry' you know?

Wrap It Up

I recommend you check out SAG's website: You'll find out everything you want to know, including who to call if there's a problem on the set, and where to rat on your member-friends if they did a non-SAG film without guild permission (both under the FAQ section).

And check out Rule One:

'No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect.'

Until recently, that's been for the U.S. only. But SAG is extending its horizons. There's a countdown on the site that sounds pretty damn ominous: 49 Days to Global Rule One.

One Guild to Rule Them All.

Seriously, SAG will protect you on the set, and keep you from having to skydive without a parachute just because some crazy director really thinks it's something your character would do. There are rules for what you need to be fed, what kind of trailer you get, what you can and cannot be asked to do, etc.

Lots of up-and-comers stay away from the Guild for as long as possible, because as many young filmmakers don't want to be bothered or cannot afford to pay SAG rates; and though young actors need money, they need exposure more. So choose wisely.

3.14 pounds of only brown M and M's to:

Another nodeshell filled

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