A few days ago, I auditioned for a job that was put out as a union commercial. Two days later, I got contacted directly by the casting director, who, is a friend and client of mine, and who had already emailed my agents and not yet heard back. She said she wanted to put me on avail for the job, but told me that the clients had decided after casting was completed to pay more up front and make the job nonunion, and asked if I would still be willing to do it. She said the type of job it was might not preclude me from doing the job even though I am union.
I told her I’d get in touch with my agent to get back to her.
This job is for a high-profile brand; one of America’s biggest, in fact. It wasn’t an issue of money for them, so why change the project to nonunion? My agent and I discussed the situation. She asked me what I wanted to do. I told her that I’m a union actor for a reason. The union takes great care of me. I take pride in the work the union does on our behalf. So I told her to do her best to negotiate with the CD and clients to get them to go back to union. Otherwise, even though I’d love to do the job, I’d have to pass.
Three hours later, I got confirmation that the production decided to make the job union again and book me. I’m actually being paid much less up front and have no guarantee I’ll make it up on the back end, but at least I can do the job now.
The casting director (who is awesome, by the way) was great about the whole thing. My agent had my back through the whole thing. I’m so happy the client made the decision to run the job through the union again, and I’m proud to be shooting the job this week.
But it made me think. In that moment I got the call from the CD that morning, though, I could easily have felt pressured to accept the job, trying to not be a pain in anyone’s ass, hoping SAG-AFTRA wouldn’t find out, and taking the extra upfront money. Personally, I’ve been blessed and happy with how much I’ve been working, so I wasn’t desperate for the money, credit, or job, but other actors I know would feel that way and it would potentially affect their judgment. Desperate or not, I wouldn’t be surprised if, like me, many of you know union actors who routinely do nonunion work they shouldn't, hoping they won't get caught.
But SAG-AFTRA is our union. We’re the only ones who can protect and empower it. And today showed me that we actually can protect and empower it. In the words of Kevin in “Home Alone”: “This is my house. I have to defend it.”
Sure, I’ll make a little less upfront on this job, but thanks to the union, I made over six figures on another commercial that paid me for three years. So, the choice was an easy one for me. It’s getting harder to make a living as a middle-class actor, and eroding the power of the union isn’t going to make things any better.
I’m worried about our union being weakened from a thousand small cuts. We union actors make up the body of the union. It’s easy to think that one union actor here or there doing nonunion work under the table won’t hurt anything, or going Financial Core, for that matter, won’t affect anything, but that’s just not true. All of our actions make a collective impact.
Maybe there’s nothing we can do to stop SAG-AFTRA abuse. Maybe we just have to accept that some union actors will continue to undermine our union and its ability to protect us.
But, my call to my fellow union brothers and sisters of the craft is this: Stand up, not only for what you, individually, are worth, but for what all of us and our entire profession is worth.
We’re the only chance we’ve got.
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