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Acting Unions - A Step-By-Step Guide To Financing

If you have decided to start taking your acting career seriously, you have probably started to think about what it means to be union, non-union, SAG eligible etc. And it can be extremely overwhelming at first.

But don't panic, below you will find helpful information that will break down the differences between being union or non-union, and some tips on financing your payments after you qualify and decide to join.


If a project is not being produced under a union contract then it is referred to as "non-union".

*Many actors will get their start by working in smaller budget non-union theatrical productions, commercials, student productions etc.

Some Things To Know Are:

  • A Non-Union production means that the project is unregulated and typical union protocols are not legally required to be followed, ie safety protocols.

  • Non-union projects have 60-90 days to pay an actor after a shoot date.

  • If you are a non-union actor you still have the availability to audition for union projects in the hopes of booking one and eventually joining the union.

  • There are definitely some risks that actors might want to consider when they are signing contracts for non-union projects. Here is a helpful resource for gauging risks with commercials. 5 Risks of Acting in Non-Union Commercials


If a project is being produced under an actors' union contract.

According to BACKSTAGE Actors’ unions in the United States help working actors negotiate contracts, establish fair pay rates, and access health benefits. Acting unions like SAG-AFTRA and Equity strive to establish workplace standards across all sets where union actors work. These unions also help actors build dependable careers in a competitive, unpredictable industry.

Two Main Actors Unions in the United States

  1. Actor's Equity Association ( Equity or AEA)

  2. The Screen Actor’s Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artist (SAG-AFTRA or SAG)

The most popular actor's union is SAG- AFTRA, which stands for The Screen Actor’s Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artist, and many people refer to it as “The Union”. If an actor is apart of Union projects, it ensures an outline of pay and protections for talent and crew in their contracts.

SAG and AFTRA merged to form SAG-AFTRA, and this stands for The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. The merge was prompted by effective contract negotiation. "The Los Angeles Times said they merged to gain more leverage in contract negotiations with studios and to end a long history of jurisdictional disputes and feuding over negotiating strategy". Now the two are more powerful together, and members have so many more added benefits.

There Are a Few Ways to Join SAG-AFTRA

  1. An Actor has to be hired as a principal performer or actor in a SAG-AFTRA covered production,

  2. They have been hired in a SAG-AFTRA covered production and they have a speaking role.

  3. They have been hired in a SAG-AFTRA covered production as an extra 3 times. This does not have to be consecutive days or for the same project.

  4. They are a member of one of the sister unions ACTRA, AEA, AGMA, AGVA for at least one year and are a member in good standing, fully paid up along with having performed as principal actor at least one time in the jurisdiction of the union they are a part of...

  5. They produce a project that will be released under SAG-AFTRA for a new media platform that cast at least one qualified SAG-AFTRA actor. They then can cast themselves as a principal actor in the product.

Some Things To Know Are:

  • Joining the union typically makes access to larger projects with bigger budgets easier.

  • However, the pool of actors that are in competition for these roles is typically stronger when auditioning for union projects. These actors have more professional credits, experience and connections that can help them land those bigger roles.

  • When you join the union, you have more support on your side. If something is not being done correctly, you feel unsafe or feel like you need an advocate, the union can be a powerful ally.

  • Actors and writers from these guilds are required to work on union projects exclusively.

It may be pricey to join...BUT DON'T PANIC!

If you became a must-join and have a SAG-AFTRA project booking/offer/interest and have to join the union before the booking is finalized, there is a payment plan that allows you to pay a third up front, then monthly payments until it’s paid off.


You can apply to get a loan from SAG-AFTRA if you have a fair credit score of at least 600 and verifiable income. You will then have two years to pay it back.

Staying educated about this industry is so key! Especially if you are a parent trying to learn how to protect your child as they grow in their career. Check out the book "Raising A Child Star" for more invaluable information!

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