The following is an excerpt from my book, SO YOU WANNA BE A NEW YORK ACTOR?:
Deciding whether or not to join the unions is a critical decision in an actor’s career, and we’ve outlined some of the things to think about before joining. Joining the unions may limit the work you can do. There is one loophole, however, with SAG. An actor can become “financial core.” When this happens, he can work for any rate that he thinks is fair—that includes non-union work. Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, there are some drawbacks.
A financial core (Fi-Core) member of SAG is referred to as a “fee paying nonmember,” so he loses some of the rights that SAG members have
Some of the rights you lose when you declare financial core are:
• The right to vote in SAG elections
• The right to hold SAG office
• The right to use iActor, a web service run by SAG
• The right to represent yourself as SAG on your resume or on the Internet
• The right to call yourself a member of SAG or have a SAG card
• The right to re-join SAG without a formal hearing and without repaying the initiation fee
Some of the rights you gain:
• The right to work on non-union projects
• The continued right to work on SAG projects
• The right to pension and health if you qualify under SAG rules
In order to become Fi-Core with SAG, you must first join SAG. You pay your initiation fee, and start paying your dues. (Even after you turn in your card, you still have to pay your dues and fees. Your dues will be 5-10 percent less, however.) Pension and health is completely separate from the SAG office. Don’t worry about losing those benefits.
If you make the decision to become Fi-Core, you have to call SAG, and they will walk you through the steps. SAG desperately wants you NOT to go Fi- Core. In fact, there is someone at each office designated to try to talk you out of it. And their arguments are compelling. They will tell you that SAG does everything it can to keep conditions high and pay high, through collective bargaining. They will tell you that SAG has a rich history, which you will no longer be a part of. They will tell you that Fi-Core SAG members are seen as scabs and anti-union by the industry at large. The argument for the other side is quite compelling as well. Why limit yourself to work that is SAG-approved? If you are making money, or potentially could make money doing non-union gigs, why shouldn’t you? Can’t the actor decide for himself what he’s willing to work for?
Additionally, from a marketing standpoint, if you become a SAG member with a weak resume, and limited relationships in the industry, you may be sunk. Even if you have a strong agent, you may only get a few auditions a month. If you can take SAG and non-SAG auditions, you could have 20 or 40 auditions per month. Also, the best way to get a powerful agent is to book work and let everyone know that you’re booking work. Your chances of booking work are much higher if you can audition for everything.
The real truth of the commercial market in New York is that non-union commercials are plentiful, and they are here to stay. The very same casting directors that cast the incredibly lucrative SAG commercials often cast non-union commercials. If you come in to audition for small non-SAG commercials and do a great job (maybe even book a few), of course the casting directors will start calling you in for SAG jobs. Then you can tell all of the top agents that you have this great relationship with a casting director, and that’s how you get the great agents. That’s just an example, but the point is: why cut yourself off from money and connections?
It should be noted that in Los Angeles, there is more of a stigma to being Fi-Core. Many actors who are Fi-Core keep it under wraps in New York. However, with only a few exceptions, no one really cares. This is and should be a tough decision, so consider carefully.
A couple of additional notes:
•Since writing this last year, I have heard from quite a few fi-core actors. They have reported general satisfaction, but I have heard of a few instances when SAG franchised agents rejected them based on their fi-core status. This should be weighed in the decision.
•Here's what SAG has to say: http://www.sag.org/getthefacts/ficore2.html
•Here's a great pro-fi-core article: http://www.coalminecanary.com/SAG.html
•I heard through the grapevine that there is a way to become fi-core without joining SAG. It could save you over $2000. Call SAG, and be adamant. See if this is true.
•Don't be afraid to talk to people you trust in the industry before you make the decision. At least 5 or 10. You want to make an informed decision for your particular situation.
Have any questions or comments? Leave them below!