Many parents have asked me on numerous occasions if their child should join the unions: Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, now merged as one and respectively called SAG-AFTRA.
There are many factors that determine the correct choice for your child as this decision is not something that should be taken lightly.
Adele’s Kids and Adults has been managing young performers in the New York area for over 30 years. Adele and her team work with reputable agents and have booked thousands of performers in movies, soap operas, commercials, print advertisements and Broadway.
Below, Adele provides answers point by point to the burning question: Should my child join SAG-AFTRA?
1. DID YOU SEE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUNG PERFORMERS JOINING OR NOT JOINING THE UNION WHEN SOAP OPERAS WERE STILL SHOT IN NEW YORK? HOW SO?
When soap operas were shot in NY, and small children had to join AFTRA after 30 days, it was practical for the children who had regular extended roles. Since kids NEVER worked on more than one soap at a time, it was not practical in the long run to continue the union membership. There weren’t too many other child options for AFTRA productions in New York. Most of my clients opted not to renew after their soap role ended.
SAG was a much better option, since kids didn’t need to join under the age of 4, and commercial and film options were much greater than for AFTRA work.
Now that the unions have merged, and the price of membership has almost doubled, joining is a serious financial consideration for many parents.
2. WHY DO SOME PRODUCTIONS PUT OUT NOTICES FOR THE SAME ROLES ASKING FOR UNION AND NON-UNION ACTORS?
Productions put out notices for the same roles asking for union and non-union performers because they want to explore all possibilities in hiring the best actor for the job. But most productions give preferential treatment to union performers because they have obviously worked before, and understand professional behavior. And because they pay membership dues, they want to work as much as possible and are willing to do whatever it takes to justify their membership dues.
Productions will get a union waiver easily if the role is a specific one, one that isn’t easily cast.
3. IS IT PREFERRED THAT A YOUNG PERFORMER STAY NON-UNION AS LONG AS POSSIBLE? WHY?
Deciding to stay non-union is a personal decision for each parent. I have found that it really isn’t critical for kids under 6 years. Before the union merger I encouraged every eligible client on file to join AFTRA (if they were eligible of course) because it would allow them to be grandfathered into the new merged union at a much lower price than the new rate would be after the merger.
Children 8 years old and older are strongly recommended to join, I found that there are many union kids that age who are competing for bookings, and a non-union child is easily overlooked in favor of a union one.
4. IS THERE A DIFFERENCE IN NEW YORK VS. CALIFORNIA IF A YOUNG PERFORMER SHOULD JOIN THE UNION? EXAMPLE: IS THERE MORE UNION WORK IN CALIFORNIA THAN IN NEW YORK?
California is still busier than New York for films and TV series, but I think that New York is inching up. For commercials I believe that New York is busier for both union and non-union productions. We even get foreign films and commercials done here.
Because it is not often that you will see a child under 5 years of age on many commercials, I would not encourage a parent to join before the child became a “must join” which is at the second booking after booking a principal role.
BENEFITS TO JOINING SAG-AFTRA
Young performers are under strict guidelines regarding working hours, education and financial trust accounts, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
There is one exciting unwritten perk to being in the union: If your child is a background performer, he gets to eat the catered food on set as opposed to having to bring a bagged lunch.
More recently in New York I’ve found that most productions will share their food with non-union actors. You should always be prepared, however, by bringing food along with you.
More union benefits include having a pension and health plan (if eligible) and the financial institution the Actors Federal Credit Union, which is also open to families of union actors.
According to the Young Performers Handbook, here’s the current breakdown of working hours for young performers:
School Age Minors
On a school day, school age minors may work as follows:
Ages 6 to 8 four hours (maximum of eight and one half hours on the set).
Ages 9 to 15 five hours (maximum of nine and one half hours on the set).
Ages 16 and 17 six hours (maximum of ten and one half hours on the set).
On days when school is not in session, school age minors may work an additional two hours a day.
On all days, the minor must have at least one hour of rest and recreation and one half-hour meal break.
By prior arrangement with the studio teacher, up to two hours of school may be banked (stored) to offset additional work hours on other days; there must be at least one hour of school on each day the minor’s regular school is in session.
Pre-School Age Minors
Minors who are 6 months through 5 years do not attend school on the set, even though they may attend pre-school or kindergarten on a regular basis.
Work hours are as follows:
Ages 6 months to 2 years â€” two hours (maximum of four hours on the set).
Ages 2 years through 5 years â€” three hours (maximum of four and one half hours on the set).
Minors 6 months through 5 years must have at least one hour of rest and recreation.
Minors 2 to 5 years may also have a half hour meal break.
In California, infants 15 days to 6 months of age may only be on the set between the hours of 9:30 a.m. To 11:30 a.m. or 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. No infant born prematurely may work until he/she would be at least 15 days old if born at full-term. SAG producers have agreed to observe these restrictions in other jurisdictions.
Ages 15 days to 6 months â€” twenty minutes (maximum two hours on the set).
In New York, a Set Teacher is usually required after the second day of employment. Set teachers are hired and paid for by the production. If your child has a one-day shoot and misses school, it’s your responsibility to make sure he receives and completes the lessons and homework for that day.
Auditions for school-aged children generally take place after school hours, however, this is not the case every time.
New York Work Permits and New York Trust Accounts
If you live outside of New York but your child is going to work in New York, you must have a New York work permit (issued by the New York State Department of Labor) and a Trust Account (commonly known as a Coogan account in California).
The work permit application is free and it generally takes 1-2 weeks for your permit to arrive in the mail. You can print a temporary work permit online which is valid for only 15 days, so I suggest you apply for the permit via mail as soon as you and your child made the decision to go into show business. Apply here: https://www.labor.state.ny.us/secure/welcome.asp
Recently, the Child Performer Permit became effective for one year as opposed to six months as still stated in the Young Performers Handbook.
The trust account in New York can easily be established via mail at the Actors Federal Credit Union (AFCU) located here: http://actorsfcu.com/
The SAG Foundation
Yet another benefit of belonging to SAG-AFTRA is The SAG Foundation. The foundation is a non-profit organization that offers services and learning experiences to SAG-AFTRA members, free of charge!
Events are usually in New York and Los Angeles, however, sometimes the events are streamed online. Popular events include movie screenings followed by a Q&A session with the actors / director, advice seminars such as Commercials 101 and if you become a member of CAP (Casting Access Project,) you’re invited to informative workshops given by casting directors.
Adele’s Kids & Adults http://www.adeleskids.com
Young Performers Handbook & Other Resources – http://youngperformers.sagaftra.org/home
SAG-AFTRA – http://www.sagaftra.org/
The SAG Foundation – http://sagfoundation.org/