This is a big question for indie productions — not just howto go union (which I covered here) but also should wego union.
My answer is yes. Always. For a few reasons:
- Your talent is stronger
- You’re protecting your cast by agreeing to adhere to union rules
- Your production is professional
For short project agreements (new media, short films under a threshold, etc.), you don’t pay SAG anything – you just fill out some (granted, annoying) paperwork and agree to give your actors meals every six hours and other union mandates that really aren’t that hard. You aren’t required to pay your talent either; you can defer their payment — which is a whole other discussion that I will sum up right now: you will get BETTER talent if you are paying them though; please pay your actors. They are oftentimes the first to be asked to work for free and 100% of the time they are making far less than crew members if/when they ARE paid. Pay. Them.
So for short projects, there’s no reason NOT to; SAG is a headache, we’ve covered that, but a headache that grants you the right to use union talent without asking them to break Global Rule One (union actors CANNOT work on ANY non union project) is insanely important. You can even use nonunion talent on these projects ALONGSIDE your union cast. There is absolutely no drawback. Be professional, cast professionals.
On projects with a bigger budget, I urge you you budget for SAG actors; that means paying their scaled wage, SAG deposits, etc. You have the money. You’re going to spend it. Spend SOME of it on your talent. Yeah, I’m sure those lenses are great, but you know what makes or breaks a lot of movies? Bad acting.
And that’s not to say there aren’t talented non union actors. Of course there are. In general, however, non union actors are typically greener. They’re less experienced and less practiced; your union actor has been on sets before (you have to be, that’s how you get in!) and is ready to work. A non union actor is most likely just starting out; everyone eventually joins SAG-AFTRA, so if you’re non union, you probably just haven’t had the opportunity yet.
Bottom line though: there’s no reason not to take your short projects union. None at all.
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