The Unions: SAG (continued)

I just recorded 6 commercials. Some for radio and some for TV, all of them for the UK (although, it was cast here in NY). 


Now, the agent who sent me in for the booking did not have any information on what I was doing at all. Meaning, they didn’t know (a) what role/s I had booked, (b) how much I would be paid, (c) which union it was for, (d) and where it would be broadcast (locally, nationally or internationally).

Here’s what I learned:


(a) Your agent may not know what role you will be reading for when it comes to commercials. To help you in this, at auditions, make a note of what you read for in your calendar next to the appropriate audition. In some cases, don’t be shy about taking copy, either (make sure there are enough copies left over for other actors though). I was at a call-back once and one of the ladies in the waiting room pulled out her sides from the 1st audition. It was clear she was very prepared for the call-back because she had read over the copy a number of times at her own leisure. **

(b) Your agent’s job is to negotiate and secure your financial compensation for a job and to make sure you get paid. Therefore, before you go to a booking, it is not unreasonable for you to request this information. Some agents will try to get away with as little work as possible so they may get a little snippy with your request, but don’t worry. You’ve just booked a job. Which is the whole point of you being there in the first place. A friend of mine who has worked in the industry as a Casting Director and personal manager for 30 years always gently reminds me that you don’t work for the agent. They work for you. Although, I wouldn’t go throwing that around as it will probably bring in some contention to your relationship. But it’s good to know for your self-confidence.

(c) The agent should absolutely know what kind of job you have booked. They should know if it’s non-union, AFTRA, SAG or AEA. You should, under no circumstances have to show up to a booking without this knowledge. If you are non-union and you book a union job, your agent will have to let the producer’s know so that they can file the appropriate paperwork. In SAG, this paper work is called a voucher (generally for extra work) or a Taft Hartley waiver. Any performer who works as a principal performer for a minimum of one day on a project (film, commercial, TV show, etc.) where the producer has signed a producer’s agreement with SAG, and the performer has been paid at the appropriate SAG daily, three-day, or weekly rate). In the case of basic vouchers, I believe you have to rack up about 3 before you are eligible to join the union – however, there are rumors that this is being phased out right now. If you get “taft-hartley-d” into SAG you are now “SAG-Eligible.” A SAG-Eligible performer may continue performing in any number of both SAG or non-SAG productions for a period of 30 days, during which that SAG-Eligible performer is classified as a “Taft-Hartley.” After the 30-day Taft-Hartley period has expired, the performer may not work on any further SAG productions until the performer joins the Guild by: paying the initiation fee, paying the first half-year minimum membership dues, and agreeing to abide by the Guild’s rules and bylaws. The SAG-Eligible performer does not lose their eligibility to join the Guild should they choose not to join the Guild immediately at the expiration of their Taft-Hartley period.

(d) Besides the fact that it was a pretty good job it was for the UK market only and therefore was what’s known as a buy-out. Meaning that I get my basic session fee and then, for each commercial they run with I get three times that amount for one year only. And that’s it. No residuals. After the year, if the ad company wants to continue running the spots, then they have to renegotiate the buy-out. Unfortunately, when I called my agent to inquire about the two contracts, I think he got over-excited about the job itself and missed the opportunity to find out about the actual logistics. Ideally, the agent would have double-checked the contract with me and made sure everything was copacetic. So, I signed a union contract as a non-union actor. That is fine, but when we figured this out a couple of days later, there was a lot of running around that had to be done to avoid the producers getting fined. You can’t always trust your agents to know everything about your situation. It would be nice, and a good agent will be on top of everything, but its not always the case. They have many clients, and unless you’re a super-high earner (aka – their cash-cow!) they’ll not remember all your details. That being said you should never end up in my situation. Its rare (unless you work with my agent! More later)

In my case, I was sent off to the booking without knowing that it was a SAG job as well as AFTRA. One of the signals that I would have seen, had I known better, would have been the fact that some of the spots would be airing on TV. In general, if your voice is used in a commercial on TV, then it is probably a SAG job (unless its a non-union local or cable spot). I didn’t know this and simply assumed everything was covered under AFTRA (thats the TV and Radio union, right – not in the case of commercials – AFTRA generally doesn’t cover ads on TV). The other clue, was that after recording I was given two contracts, one for TV one for radio. This is when my spider senses started tingling, so I called my agent to make sure that I was doing everything right. If the producers get fined, there will be some angry people out there if. They will be angry with the agency primarily, but your name will be associated with them and it’s best to avoid that kind of situation. In the rare situation where you do not know what the job will be until you sign the contract (sometimes right after you’ve finished recording) call your agent before signing and ask them what it is you’re signing and what it means for you. Every situation is different, but there is nothing wrong with asking for information. And, avoid what I did. I had a strong instinct that the job was more than the agent realized and I should have said as much and asked him how we could be clear about what it was I was signing. I think a general rule of thumb is to take complete control over your career and to understand that you are the CEO of you as a company – epecially in the early days when you’re freelancing with agents as opposed to being signed with them. An agent is literally just a middle-man to manage the business end of matters, but its profoundly helpful if you know as much as possible about everything you can. It’s hard to find the information you need, that’s why I’m blogging about it, so that there is at least somewhere online to help.

** For those who don’t know, there is a lot of industry slang being thrown all over the place that you should familiarize yourself with. The “script” of any given job may be called a number of things such as “sides” or in the case of commercials “copy”. I will put together a run-on glossary down the road to hep orientate you to the lingo.

About The NYC Actor

Angela Dee is a professional actress working in Film, Theatre, TV, Commercials and Voiceovers. She currently lives in New York.

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