Know The Facts Before Taking The Plunge Into An Acting Career
The number of people who “dream” of being a professional actor are in the millions. There are no official statistics published regarding the number of people who actively pursue acting jobs over the course of a given year, however the number is likely in the upper hundreds of thousands worldwide. This is a staggering number considering that there are roughly 50,000 acting jobs in a year, mostly comprising of small one-day roles. This figure also includes actors who worked on cruise lines, theme parks, summer festivals, and other non film and television jobs.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is the nation’s largest labor union representing working actors. With 20 branches nationwide, SAG represents over 125,000 actors. Although a small number of popular actors earn millions of dollars each year, the average income of the majority of Screen Actors Guild members is less than $5,000 per year. Most actors find that work is extremely sporadic, and they must supplement their incomes by working other jobs. Out of all the SAG members, only about 50 might be considered stars.
Becoming a member of the Screen Actors Guild is no easy task to say the least. There are currently only three ways that an actor can join SAG:
1) Proof of employment. Employment must be in a principal or speaking role in a SAG film, videotape, television program or commercial. Proof of such employment may be in the form of a signed contract, or original pay stubs.
2) Background Actors (Extras) may join SAG upon proof of employment as a SAG-covered background player at full SAG rates and conditions for a minimum of three work days. Employment must be by a company signed to a SAG Agreement under which the Producer is required to cover background actors. Proof of employment must be in the form of original paystubs or a payroll printout faxed from the payroll house.
3) Employment Under an Affiliated Performers’ Union Performers may join SAG if the applicant is a paid-up member of an affiliated performers’ union (ACTRA, AEA, AFTRA, AGMA or AGVA) for a period of one year and has worked and been paid for at least once as a principal performer in that union’s jurisdiction.
There is also the issue of costs. To become a SAG member, the current national initiation fee rate is $2277.00 plus the first semiannual dues. Each SAG member pays annual base dues of $116.00. In addition members pay 1.85% of all individual earnings under SAG contracts between $1 and $200,000; and 0.5% of earnings from $200,001 through $500,000; plus 0.25% of earnings from $500,001 to a maximum of $1,000,000.
To the audience watching performances, acting appears to be glamorous work. However, actors work under constant pressure. Many face stress from the difficulty in landing their next gig. Actors work very long and irregular hours with all night and weekend work a common part of an actor’s life. They may do one show at night and another during the day. They also travel often and are away from home for lengthy periods during many productions. Actors must often tolerate heat from bright studio lights, endure working in all sorts of unfavorable weather. Huge egos exist in abundance on film and television sets.
In order to have any decent chance of working on a regular basis, an actor needs to be represented by a talent agent. Finding a legitimate agent to sign you can be a seemingly impossible task. A couple of decades ago, a SAG member could send out photos and resumes to a hundred talent agents and get a response from at least several of them. Now a SAG member would be lucky to get a single response after sending out hundreds of photos and resumes every month for a year. Most talent agents sign clients through industry referral.
We have just scratched the surface with some of the realities of pursuing an acting career. If you have a clear understanding of the business and still have a passion to move forward with this career choice, then you have the first quality that is required to be successful. A highly reputable A-list actor once made the following statement to an audience of SAG members, “if you can not even slightly be reasonably happy doing any other form of employment, then and only then should you attempt to become an actor”.