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Erin Pearson
May 5, 2020

What does SAG-AFTRA stand for?

SAG-AFTRA stands for the Screen Actors Guild of America and the American Federation of Television and Radio Arts. SAG and AFTRA (national headquarters are located in Los Angeles, California). SAG and AFTRA used to be separate labor unions, each taking care to ensure their respective actors, recording artists, stunt performers, radio announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, etc received fair pay and benefits for their work on screen or on the radio. Both guilds were started during the Great Depression to combat poor working conditions and the threat of unemployment. The Screen Actors Guild was started by Richard Tucker, an American actor from the early 1900s, who sought to empower actors who were being taken advantage of by studios who “owned” their actors, made them work more than 20 hours per day and cut pay by 50% for the sake of “efficiency”. As of 2010, SAG and AFTRA merged together to create a stronger-than-ever guild, safeguarding the rights of more than 160,000 members.

How do you become a member of SAG?

In order to become a member of SAG-AFTRA, one must have:

  • Proof of SAG-AFTRA, SAG or AFTRA covered employment as a principal performer or recording artist.

  • Proof of three days of SAG-AFTRA, SAG or AFTRA employment as a background actor

  • Employed under an affiliated performers’ union.

  • Potential broadcast members should contact the National Broadcast Department or their nearest local for information on joining.

  • If you want to become a member, once you become SAG eligible, you are required to pay the initiation fee of $3000 (fees may vary state to state) within 30 days of becoming eligible.

What are the benefits of becoming a member of SAG-AFTRA?

SAG-AFTRA members are entitled to a variety of benefits, including contracts/collective bargaining, eligibility for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, SAG-Producers Pension Plan, the AFTRA Retirement Fund, the iActor online casting database, and much more


What are the initiation fees?

The National Initiation fee is currently set at $3000 but may vary from state to state. If you are working as an actor and are intending on joining SAG as soon as you are eligible, it would be wise to set aside money from each of your paychecks toward this goal as you only have 30 days to pay and join once you become SAG-E. Once you are SAG eligible, you will receive a letter stating that you have 30 days to work union gigs without having to join, but once the 30 days is up, you can no longer work union gigs.

What are the union dues?

Every 6 months, each member must pay dues to retain membership status. The total due is calculated by adding: half of the base due which comes out to $109.30 ($218.60 annually) plus work dues which are 1.575% of all covered earnings up to $500,000 based on the earnings of the previous calendar year.

Can I work on non SAG projects?

When you sign the SAG-AFTRA contract you are agreeing to work only on union gigs.

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.

What are the disadvantages of joining SAG?

Timing is everything. Becoming a member of SAG-AFTRA can really help move your career forward, but if you sign on too early, it can keep you from getting anywhere. For example, in order to get anywhere in the industry, you need to prove yourself. As an actor or performer, you need to have enough jobs under your belt to have a significant reel of good content in order to move forward. If you become SAG as a background actor, for example, but you want to move forward into leading roles, it will be very hard to get that experience because you can’t just pick up any acting gig on any set, it must specifically be a union set.

That means nonunion movies, TV shows, commercials, internet projects, student films, and even industrials are off-limits starting the moment you join. And it’s called Global Rule One for a reason: Even if a show is shooting in Canada or overseas, you generally aren’t allowed to accept the gig if it’s nonunion. Backstage

If you become SAG-E but are unsure if it’s a good time for you to join the union, get in contact with your mentors in the industry who can give you good, honest advice on whether the timing is right for you or not.

How do I make a SAG film?

When you work with cast members who are SAG-AFTRA, you know you are getting quality talent. These people have had work, they know how to conduct themselves on set, they’re not super green. There’s a certain sigh of relief that comes with knowing you’ve hired well. Becoming SAG compliant can help get you there. SAG-AFTRA works with every type of project under the sun, commercial, educational, television, theatrical, music videos, sound recording, new media and all of these exist in a wide budget range. They work with Indie films and studio films. If you want to work with SAG and you have the budget to ensure their actors get paid the proper rates as well as adequate residual payments, you can apply.

SAG-AFTRA recommends applying no later than 3 weeks from your initial start date. There are a lot of documents and contracts that need to be signed and squared away before you can get to filming with members of SAG. Once you complete the initial form for your project type, a representative will contact you to complete the rest of the process. Read our Ultimate Guide to SAG-AFTRA Theatrical Rates to get an in-depth look at what it means to be SAG compliant - everything from daily and weekly rates to breaks and meal penalties in one place.

Topsheet helps you stay compliant with all of the SAG and other Unions’ rules, rates and regulations, so you can stay focused on telling your story. Use Topsheet for payroll, time cards, call sheets and more to ensure your set runs smoother than ever before.

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