The SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) is a union for performers working in American-based productions of film, TV, and other screen content. Applying for membership is a fairly straightforward practice of submitting an application along with required documentation that proves you are eligible. Becoming eligible is usually obtained in one of two ways: either transferring your membership from an affiliated union, or working for a production that is covered by SAG-AFTRA.
Method 1 of 3:Applying for Membership
1Call SAG-AFTRA. Visit http://www.sagaftra.org/locals to locate their nearest office. Get in touch with them directly, either by calling or walking in if the office is local. Ask for an application. Also confirm their current initiation fee for new members to ensure that you have enough money saved.
2Discuss your case. If you have been hired as a nonunion performer in a SAG-AFTRA production, confirm that your employers have registered all appropriate paperwork regarding your employment. If you are seeking to transfer membership from another union to SAG-AFTRA, confirm that SAG-AFTRA recognizes that union as a legitimate organization. In either case:
Ask if any documentation is still required from you and/or the production or affiliated union.
Double-check where each piece of documentation should be sent to, both for your reference and for anyone else who may have to send info directly to SAG-AFTRA on your behalf.
Double-checking exactly what they need and where they need it sent to will help expedite the process once you submit your application and other paperwork.
3Gather appropriate documentation. If needed, collect all proof of eligibility specified in your conversation with the office. If you are a member of another union, contact them to request a transfer of all required paperwork directly to SAG-AFTRA. If you need to prove that you are currently employed in a production covered by SAG-AFTRA:
Make copies of your original paystubs for that production. Hold onto the copies so you can include the originals with your application.
Contact the payroll company that issued your pay. Ask them to send SAG-AFTRA an original activity report.
Activity reports should contain the following info: your name and Social Security number; the production company, plus the title of the production; dates of employment; the dollar amount(s) paid.
4Send in your application. Include all documents needed to prove your eligibility. Add a cover sheet listing your name, address, telephone number, and date of birth. Also add a self-addressed stamped envelope for the return of all of your documentation. Although this may change, as of 2016 all applications should be mailed or delivered in-person to this address:
SAG-AFTRA, Membership Services Department (Proof of Eligibility), 5757 Wilshire Boulevard, 7th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90038
5Wait for confirmation. Expect to be contacted by mail. In addition to your returned documents, SAG-AFTRA will mail you a letter of eligibility confirming that you are entitled to join the union. When they do, call (323) 549-6769 to discuss paying your initiation fee to finalize your membership.
The phone number listed is current as of 2016, but could possibly change. In that case, refer to their website or your letter of eligibility for instructions.
The initiation fee as of 2016 is $3000. Although this fee is supposed to be upfront, a payment plan of installments may be possible if needed.
Method 2 of 3:Meeting Requirements
1Work for a production covered by SAG-AFTRA. Take advantage of the loophole that allows such productions to hire nonunion performers. Audition for either principal or background roles, regardless of your status. If hired, begin your application process with the union. However, be aware that rules stipulate that:
Nonunion performers can only be hired if they show skills or qualities that are uniquely vital to a specific role.
If they do, they can only win that role if no available union member possesses the same characteristics.
Once hired, nonunion performers are obligated to join SAG-AFTRA if the production lasts longer than 30 days.
2Join another union. If you are unable to find work as a nonunion performer in a production covered by SAG-AFTRA (or if you simply wish to be protected by a union in the meantime), seek membership with another organization. Maintain your membership with them for at least twelve months before applying to SAG-AFTRA. Additionally, make sure that you work at least one paying job in a principal role during that time in order to qualify as eligible. Other unions recognized by SAG-AFTRA include:
ACTRA (The Alliance of Canadian Cinema, Television, and Radio Artists)
AEA (Actors' Equity Association)
AGMA (American Guild of Musical Artists)
AGVA (American Guild of Variety Artists)
3Work within the United States. Gain your credentials through American productions and unions, rather than those abroad. If you have prior acting experience in other countries, consider it null and void. Although exceptions are sometimes made, expect SAG-AFTRA to regard such qualifications as invalid.
If you do obtain acting work in the United States but are not a U.S. citizen or resident alien, make sure you have the proper visa entitling you to work here.
Be aware that such visas are granted solely by project and immediately expire at the end of that production.
4Seek consultation if you are under 18. SAG-AFTRA welcomes minors as members, but expect conditions of membership to vary according to your home state's laws. Utilize the union's resources to research rules that may affect you. Do any one or more of the following:
Visit https://www.sagaftra.org/content/young-performers to learn general issues facing young actors as well as state-specific statutes.
Call (323) 549-6030 to speak with their Child Actor Hotline.
Attend one of their monthly orientation meetings for young actors.
Method 3 of 3:Prioritizing Roles as a Nonunion Performer
1Focus on background roles. If you are a nonunion performer, concentrate your efforts on winning roles as an extra, rather than a principal character. Save yourself time and energy by avoiding auditions for lead roles, which are far more likely to go to union members regardless of your talent. Instead, seek work in the background, which may still entitle you for eligibility with SAG-AFTRA. Increase your chances of eligibility by focusing on roles that:
Require at least three days of employment.
Involve working in harsh conditions or environments.
Share scenes with only a small number of other performers.
Are not sought after by union members (i.e., productions filmed outside of actor-hotbeds like New York or Los Angeles).
2Utilize alternate forms of media. Take advantage of SAG-AFTRA's New Media Department, which covers less traditional forms of content. Seek roles for web productions rather than TV or film. Benefit from their more relaxed rules regarding nonunion performers.
With TV and films, SAG-AFTRA requires the production to always hire union members whenever possible, unless special circumstances demand the use of nonunion performers.
With web content, the production is free to hire nonunion performers for additional background roles once they have filled the first ten with union members.
3Be discerning. Do not assume that you will be considered eligible for membership just because you have been hired and registered by the production company. Anticipate the union researching both your role and the production in order to verify that you are indeed eligible. Choose work that appears to demand actual acting on your part, rather than just filling a space in the background.
When SAG-AFTRA researches your role, they specifically try to determine whether that role only exists as a favor in order to make the actor eligible.
So if you have a choice between, say, a low-paying job as Zombie Extra #5 way out in the middle of nowhere and a higher-paying job right around the corner as Customer #11 in the background of your friend's workplace sitcom, choose the zombie role.