Getting Started as an Actor FAQ

Getting Started FAQ
Can you recommend agents, managers or acting coaches? What about modeling schools?

There is a current list of SAG franchised talent agents in the Find an Agent area of our site. In fairness to all of our franchised agents, we do not recommend any one franchised agent over any other. Some of the franchised agents also handle modeling and print work. You'll need to check those details for yourself, as Screen Actors Guild does not have jurisdiction in those areas. Legitimate talent agencies do not charge a fee payable in advance for registering you, for resumes, for public relations services, for screen tests, for photographs, for acting lessons, or for many other services used to separate you from your money. If you are signed as a client by a legitimate talent agency, you will pay that agency nothing until you work, and then 10 percent of your earnings as a performer -- but nothing in advance. Legitimate talent agencies normally do not advertise for clients in newspaper classified columns nor do they solicit through the mail. If a purported talent agent seeks to send you to a particular photographer for pictures, hold your wallet tight and run for the nearest exit. Chances are s/he's a phony and receives a cut of the photographer's fee. If you need photographs, choose your own photographer. Better still, try another agent.

Incidentally, we do not have a formal relationship with "personal" or "business" managers. That doesn't mean they are bad or unnecessary; it just means that the Guild does not have an institutional relationship with them. There are well-established firms engaged in personal and business management. However, such firms usually handle established artists, and they neither advertise for newcomers, nor promise employment. The telephone number for the Talent Managers Association, formerly the Conference of Personal Managers, is (310) 205-8495.

We do not evaluate and/or recommend to members any sevice providers such as acting coaches, commercial workshops, modeling schools, photographers, or managers. There are so many people who want to be actors, and therefore unfortunately there are also many scam artists who will take your money and promise you acting jobs -- but deliver nothing. Use the same common sense you would use in making other major purchases: i.e., network, check with the Better Business Bureau, don't pre-pay full amounts, compare prices.

Can I earn a living as an actor?

It may take several years for a beginner to earn a living as a performer. You must have a substantial cushion of savings to fund your quest and/or secure consistent alternate work to support you during the early stages of your career.

Even the most talented performers may do everything right and still not end up with acting jobs. Success in this business is an unpredictable combination of talent, training, residence, "look", energy, attitude, and the completely uncontrollable factor — luck!

You must not take rejection personally! Even a working professional may not earn their income performing in just one medium.

Most professional performers generally need several potential income streams to earn enough money to sustain performing as a full-time career. For example, one year they might have SAG earnings of $7,000, AFTRA earnings of $12,000, Equity earnings of $6,000 and AGMA/AGVA earnings of $8,000. The following year they might have SAG earnings of $25,000 (because they appeared in a national commercial), AFTRA earnings of $9,000, Equity earnings of $5,000 and no AGMA/AGVA earnings at all.

The Actors' Fund is an excellent resource for actors looking to supplement their income. They offer the Actors Work program and many other helpful seminars and services.

What is a "Guild Signatory?"

Although the particulars of wages and working conditions vary, producers in all arenas who seek to hire professional, union talent, must agree to the terms in the contracts negotiated by these unions on behalf of their members. Producers who sign a contract or letter of agreement with the union in their jurisdiction are called "signatories."

Although membership in a union cannot guarantee a performer work, through careful monitoring of signatory productions, the entertainment unions can guarantee fair pay, treatment and protections for their members.

How long can I work on a Guild Signatory production before joining SAG?

The SAG collective bargaining agreements provide that membership in SAG is required, in most cases, either (a) 30 days after the first principal employment or (b) 30 days after a background actor has received his or her third voucher.

Will I be required to accept only union work once I join SAG-AFTRA?

Yes. You must be ready and willing to follow SAG-AFTRA’s rules and regulations and to accept ONLY union employment once you become a member of SAG-AFTRA.

First and foremost of all the SAG-AFTRA rules is Global Rule One. It is the foundation of SAG-AFTRA's strength in protecting and representing its members. Global Rule One states:

"No SAG member shall work as an actor or make an agreement to work as an actor for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect. This provision applies worldwide."

Does this mean that once I become a SAG-AFTRA member I may not accept ANY non-union performing work to supplement my income?

Yes it does!

  • 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.
  • In addition, by joining SAG-AFTRA, members also agree to abide by Rule 9, which states that members of one of the Four A performers' unions (SAG, AFTRA, Equity, AGVA, AGMA) will not accept non-union work in another union's jurisdiction.

What happens if I accept non-union work?

When a new member signs an application to join Screen Actors Guild, he/she is agreeing from that point forward to abide by all the rules and regulations of SAG-AFTRA. Our Constitution and By-Laws not only spells out members rights as a professional, union performer, but also specifies members responsibilities and obligations. Members who are found in violation of these rules are subject to serious fines and discipline by a panel of union peers.

How can I join SAG-AFTRA?

Please see the Join SAG-AFTRA section of this website. To listen to an informative, recorded message, please call (323) 549-6772.

Is SAG the only union I will need to join?

Most people who attempt to pursue a performing career full-time are usually not only members of SAG, but also members of other unions, depending on the medium and venue.

  • Film and television performers are represented by Screen Actors Guild and/or the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA)
  • Theatre performers, as well as stage managers, are represented by Actors Equity Association (AEA)
  • Live music and variety performers are represented by the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA).

These unions, under the umbrella of the Associated Actors and Artistes of America (the Four A's), are affiliated with the AFL-CIO.

How do unions protect the professional?
To most people in the entertainment world, "professional" performer means "union" performer. The minimum in wages and working conditions that union members today take for granted, are the results of hard-won battles fought by earlier generations of performers, bringing the profession from adoption of the first minimum wage in the 1930s to today's digital age. Because of the struggles and commitment of these pioneers, as well as the ongoing vigilance of today's performers' unions, professional union actors can expect fair and equitable treatment in auditions, wages, working conditions and benefits.
How can SAG-AFTRA help the beginning actor?

Whether you are a SAG-AFTRA member or not, we can:

  • Acquaint you with some union and performing career basics
  • Point you toward other sources of information

All principal and background performers, including our members, must take their own steps to develop their professional skills and to secure representation, auditions and roles. Although SAG-AFTRA offers excellent resources for actors, such as the SAG-AFTRA Conservatory, it is vital to understand the following:

  • Unlike some other labor unions, we do not function as a hiring hall and do not directly provide employment for our members.
  • We do not make connections or recommendations to acting schools, teachers, agents, managers or casting directors. However, we do maintain a franchised agent list: Find an Agent
  • We are unable to help non-members with housing, employment, or financial assistance
  • We are unable to help non-members with health and safety issues, except on SAG-AFTRA-covered projects
  • If you become a SAG-AFTRA member, you can attend members-only workshops and seminars to learn more about the business and the art of acting from your peers and industry professionals. Visit your Local page for event listings in your area.

View a list of Member Benefits.

Can I get a SAG-AFTRA job if I am not yet a member?

Yes. A producer who wants to hire you can do so. Actors can then join SAG-AFTRA through the union security provision of our contracts.

Can I get an agent if I'm not yet a SAG member?
Yes. Agents represent talent at all stages. Being non-union won't deter an agent from representing you if they are really interested.
What if I am not a U.S. Citizen or Resident Alien (holding a "green card")?
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), as directed by Congress, sets the visa requirements for alien performers who want to work in the United States. The INS allows performers who are not U.S. citizens or permanent residents to audition on any visa, but in order to actually work on a film, television, or electronic media project like a video game, they must then get a very specific visa whether it is SAG signatory or not. Production companies, and sometimes talent agents and managers, apply for these visas on behalf of the performers. Due to the INS criteria and cost of transportation, living expenses, and legal fees, these visas are typically granted only to major-role principal players. You do not have to be a member of Screen Actors Guild to qualify for these visas. However, the criteria for the most common of these particular visas (the O-1) require that the performer has been recognized for his/her accomplishment of outstanding achievement (as closely defined by the INS) in a media similar to the one for which the visa is sought. Visas are issued by project, not by time period. Visas cannot be applied for until an employment offer is extended to the performer. O-1 visas are not available to performers who seem promising, but are not yet fully "proven". For further information about visas, you will need to seek out and make contact with an immigration attorney. We are not able to provide references.
Can my acting experience in another country qualify me for SAG membership?
Except in very limited circumstances, acting work performed outside the United States will not qualify a person for membership in Screen Actors Guild. To be eligible based on foreign work, the performer would have to have been hired in the United States and transported to the foreign location by the SAG signatory production. Membership in the performers unions in England and Australia does not qualify a person for membership in Screen Actors Guild.
How can I find out if SAG has received my records or vouchers?
Please call our Taft-Hartley Department at (323) 549-6866 for information about qualifying work that may be on our records.
Can I reserve a professional name? Is the name I want already taken?
SAG makes every effort to avoid enrolling members with the same name or with very similar names. Because the list of available names changes daily, it would not be helpful to you for us to research your name choices before you join. During your joining appointment, we will ask you for three alternate name choices, in case your first choice is not available. A final name-availability check is done at the time the initiation fee is paid. Only then can an applicant be assured of having a particular professional name.
Are there special rules for babies, children and teenage actors?

Yes! For details, please:

  • Visit the “Young Performers” section of our website
  • Call the Child Actor Hotline at (323) 549-6030
  • Attend a Young Performers Orientation Meeting at SAG Headquarters (held monthly)
  • Search the “State Statutes Database for Young Performers” on our site for state-specific laws
What is the purpose of SAG-AFTRA?

The main goal of SAG-AFTRA is to provide competitive wages and safe, excellent working conditions for our members. Through a variety of programs and activities and industry outreach, we do everything possible to create an environment in which our members will be hired and to look after their welfare once they are hired.

What do I have to do to get started as an actor?

There is no simple answer for how to break into the world of acting. Typically, performers take acting classes or study theater in school. Beginning actors often work in non-union background and principal roles in the early stages of their careers, as they get experience and build up a resume. SAG-AFTRA's interaction with performers begins after they have achieved professional status and are ready to join the Union.

Because of the nature of film and television casting, our members--like all performers--must take their own steps towards getting agents, auditions and roles. We do everything possible to create an environment in which our members will be hired, and we look after their welfare once they are hired. The main goal of SAG-AFTRA is to provide competitive wages and safe, excellent working conditions for our members.

While we are not in a position to provide individual guidance to those who are getting into this business, we certainly invite you to explore our website to learn more about the history of the Union and the business of acting.