Our first ever post by a guest blogger! Please welcome, Rik Deskin!
Northern ‘Union’ Exposure: SAG-AFTRA, AEA in Seattle.
By Rik Deskin
Hello there! I’m Rik Deskin, your friendly neighborhood union actor (to paraphrase my favorite web-slinger appearing in an upcoming summer blockbuster that hired a lot of union actors). David S. Hogan, your regularly scheduled blogger asked me to be a guest blogger, and since he was just a guest on my talk-show, I owe him that much (but I’d do it anyway because Mr. Hogan is a great person to know). So here I am to talk to you, gentle readers, about one of my favorite topics: the performer unions.
A little background on me first. My first moment of solidarity with SAG & AFTRA (SAG-AFTRA is the new merged union since March 30, 2012) was in the year 2000. While in my Senior year of actor training at Cornish College of the Arts the Commercial Strike occurred. While I was not yet a union member, I was asked to audition for a commercial that was being picketed. I declined the audition because I was not going to undermine union actors. In 2002 I worked my first SAG Commercial Background job earning my first voucher (to join SAG then and now you need to have three Background or two Principal jobs) and then in 2003 earned my eligibility with two more days of SAG Commercial Background work. Following that, I joined Actors’ Equity (AEA) in 2005 and then AFTRA in 2009.
Because I’ve always been a bit of an activist and a fervent proponent of advocating for actors, I began volunteering for SAG in 2004 and AEA in 2006. It was important for me to understand how and why my unions worked and how they truly benefit not just the member actors, but the pre-union actors and the industry at large. My life has always been about interconnectivity and building infrastructure. And in those days between the feast of TV and Film productions that wrapped in 2001 and before our industry engaged legislators to enact the state-wide film incentive program in 2006, our industry sorely needed organizing.
In early 2006, I was asked to be member-at- large of the AEA Liaison Committee and a few months later was asked to become part of the SAG Seattle Branch Council. I served on the AEA Liaison Committee until last Fall and have combined service as Council-Member, President and now Vice-President of the SAG Seattle Branch Council and since March 30, 2012, have been one of the SAG-AFTRA Seattle Local Board 1st Vice Presidents.
This brings me to one of the buttons David wanted me to address: merger. I was part of a multi-year strategy to finally unite two of the three Actors’ unions, SAG & AFTRA. We achieved that on the aforementioned date of March 30, 2012. What does that mean? It means SAG-AFTRA is now one union. No longer two unions covering and competing on shared jurisdiction. No longer two sets of dues to pay semi-annually and now with increased leverage at the negotiating table on all contracts. If you were a SAG and/or AFTRA Member before merger you are automatically a SAG-AFTRA member. If like me you had been a dual card-holder, then your semi-annual dues have been reduced. I’ve already saved money since April. Is this a good thing for Actors? Definitely! Also good for other categories like Broadcasters, Dancers, Singers and more. Now I’m a member of just two Actor unions: SAG-AFTRA and AEA.
Base dues are what you pay semi-annually for the opportunity to work on SAG-AFTRA and AEA projects plus member perks like SAG-AFTRA only events, free movies and AEA comps or discounts. $99 every six months for SAG-AFTRA. And $59 every six months for AEA. Working dues for SAG-AFTRA is 1.575% of all individual wages. For AEA its 2.25% of gross earnings under Equity contract, which are collected via weekly payroll deductions.
To join SAG-AFTRA in LA or NY, the one-time initiation fee is $3000. To join in Seattle, it’s $1025. If after you join you decide to move to a market like LA or NY or maybe Chicago or San Francisco, then you pay the difference to work. These fees can be made in payments. The initiation fee nationally for AEA is $1100. These may seem like large chunks of change, but trust me, what you get in return for wages and working conditions, pension and health and member perks more than pays for itself.
Why go union? Especially when there are peers within our own industry that discourage it? Because at some point in your career (yes acting is a business and there’s nothing wrong with that) you’ll realize that you deserve to be treated and compensated as a professional. You’ll be tired of working for less than you are worth. You’ll be ready to be part of something bigger than yourself. All those films and tv shows and a lot of those web-series you watch are under SAG-AFTRA Agreements. Andrew Garfield who is playing Spider-Man? SAG-AFTRA, AEA and British AEA Member.
There are people in our industry that don’t value actors. Well…they value actors but they don’t want to pay you a fair union wage. That’s why they will discourage you joining the unions. They cultivate the myth that there is not much union work and most work is non-union. The funny thing is that most of that non-union “work” could probably be organized as union work. The Unions have contracts for every budget tier and every type of work. In a decade of working union contracts, there has not been a lack of projects for me to audition for and get booked on. There is far more union work than people realize. But as a union actor, you can’t be passive. You have to be engaged in doing the work of the professional actor. That means networking, taking classes, auditioning and being ready, being consistently available and being active in organizing projects into union projects. And sometimes it means being brave enough to produce your own projects. Both SAG-AFTRA and AEA allow members to work on projects that are self-produced or deferred pay.
Why not join? Well either you are an actor or you or not. If you are an actor, and you are able to devote yourself to it, then you must join. It’s the only way to progress in this career. If acting is not a profession, only a hobby, well there are outlets for that in community theater and amateur productions. This is my job, so I’m a union actor. It is who I am and what I am.
Fi-Core. This is a way to undermine and betray your fellow actors to work for less than union scale and without the hard fought protections that many union actors including myself have worked hard to maintain and grow. It means resigning your membership. Why would you work so hard to get into the union and then not take advantage of being a member by resigning? It is not logical. Listen, I understand how challenging it is to be an actor. I’ve been at it for twenty-seven years and I’m married with four kids. I can pretty much guarantee that it is a rarity to encounter an actor with my personal challenges. Being a union actor is the best choice I have made for my career and for my family. Trust me on this: any person in this industry that encourages fi-core does not have your best interests as an actor in mind.
It is so easy for filmmakers and web-series producers to utilize SAG-AFTRA actors on their projects. Yesterday I helped to get a short film organized that is shooting today. The only cost to the producers on short films, student films and new media projects is based on if these projects earn income. If the producer makes money, than the actors make money. Seems fair to me. The short film I’m working on today has only me as the union actor. The rest of the cast can be pre-union (I prefer to use pre-union over non-union because it is positive). Same thing on the Ultra Low Budget film tier. If Modified and above, then the rest of the cast must be union or become eligible.
Working on a Modified Low Budget and above, or a commercial or corporate-educational project or TV show or web-series does make one eligible to join SAG-AFTRA. If it’s your first project than you just become eligible as a principal actor. If it’s your second principal than you can join.
If you don’t want to join SAG-AFTRA as a professional actor (which would not be logical) then don’t work union projects. Simple as that. But if you are going to take this business serious, I want you to join and help me turn all work for actors into union work. It’s better for everyone in the long run. I’m helping to build an industry here. I have no patience for those that want to tear it down.
I want to thank David S. Hogan for asking me to be his guest blogger this week and encourage you to research the unions at SAGAFTRA.org and actorsequity.org. You can find out more about me and my projects at rikdeskin.wordpress.com and if you have questions about being a union actor, feel free to contact me via email, Facebook and Twitter.