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Can a Non-Union Actor Submit for Representation to a Talent Agency That is Union Franchised?

By The Up-To-Date Actor, January 08, 2024

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Acting is a competitive field, and many aspiring actors look for representation from talent agencies to help them land acting roles. However, some actors are non-union while others are union-affiliated. This distinction can create confusion and questions regarding which talent agencies non-union actors can submit to. Can a non-union actor submit for representation to a talent agency that is union franchised?

The short answer is yes, a non-union actor can submit for representation to a talent agency that is union franchised. However, the representation process can be different for union and non-union actors, and there are several important factors to consider.

What is a Union-Franchised Talent Agency?

A union-franchised talent agency is an agency that has been approved and franchised by one of the talent unions, such as SAG-AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild - American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) or AEA (Actors' Equity Association). These unions represent actors in their negotiations with production companies, networks, and other industry employers.

To be franchised, an agency must meet certain requirements set by the unions, such as following the union's agency regulations, having an office and staff, and carrying errors and omissions insurance. Please note that many states require a license and or bond to operate as a talent agency. By franchising, the union-franchised talent agency is authorized to represent union actors and negotiate union contracts on their behalf.

What is a Non-Union Actor?

A non-union actor is an actor who is not a member of any of the talent unions. Non-union actors typically do not receive the same benefits as union actors, such as minimum wage, pension and health benefits, and residuals. Non-union actors may work on non-union projects or for low-budget productions, and they may also audition for union projects.

Non-Union Actor Submitting to Union-Franchised Talent Agency

A non-union actor can submit for representation to a union-franchised talent agency, but the representation process and the type of work the agency can offer may be different.

Union-franchised talent agencies typically focus on representing union actors, and they may not prioritize non-union actors in the same way. However, the agency may still be interested in representing a non-union actor who has unique skills, talent, or experience that they can bring to their clients.

This is especially true with young children, teenagers, and recently graduated actors. Another factor that continues to motivate the industry is giving BIPOC actors and performers with disabilities more representation. Talent agencies across the board are actively adding BIPOC actors to their rosters. Here is where being non-union is not a hindrance to being considered by a union a franchised agency.

If a union-franchised talent agency is interested in representing a non-union actor, they will likely provide the actor with a standard representation agreement, just like they would with a union actor. The non-union actor should carefully review the agreement and understand their rights and responsibilities before signing.

Once a non-union actor is represented by a union-franchised talent agency, the agency can submit the actor for union projects, but they cannot negotiate union contracts on their behalf. Having a union-franchised talent agency representation can increase the non-union actor's visibility and chances of being considered for union projects in the future.

Booking a Union Job as a Non-Union Performer

SAG-AFTRA

As a non-union actor, once you book a principal or speaking role on a SAG-AFTRA job,  you are allowed to work on this SAG-AFTRA project, even though you are not a member of the union. Booking this job has made you SAG-AFTRA eligible, meaning that you can become a SAG-AFTRA member once you pay the initiation fee. You also have the option to simply remain SAG-AFTRA-Eligible and continue working on non-union jobs. NOTE: If you are SAG-AFTRA-Eligible, put this at the top of your resume.

However, once you land another SAG-AFTRA principal or speaking role, you become a must-join. You now must pay the initiation fee and join the union to continue to work on SAG-AFTRA projects. Read more on when to join SAG-AFTRA.

AEA

Many professional regional theatre companies work on an AEA contract but are still allowed to hire a certain number of non-union actors. This is a great opportunity to get experience at a reputable company or in a recognizable role prior to joining AEA. Once you book your first AEA job you will have to join AEA in order to accept the work and you will no longer be able to accept non-union theatre work. Read more about when to join AEA.

Benefits of Non-Union Actor Submitting to Union-Franchised Talent Agency

While the representation process may be different for non-union actors, there are still several benefits of submitting to a union-franchised talent agency:

  1. Increased visibility: Union-franchised talent agencies have a wide network of clients and contacts in the industry, and they can help increase the non-union actor's visibility and exposure to potential casting opportunities.
  2. Professional representation: Having a talent agency represent them can help non-union actors maintain a professional image and represent them in a positive light to potential casting directors and clients.
  3. Career guidance: Union-franchised talent agencies often provide their clients with career guidance, advice, and support to help them achieve their goals in the industry.
  4. Access to opportunities: By submitting to a union-franchised talent agency, non-union actors can access a wider range of acting opportunities, including non-union projects and auditions for union projects.

Considerations for Non-Union Actors

While there are benefits to submitting to a union-franchised talent agency, non-union actors should also consider the following factors:

  1. Representation fees: Talent agencies may charge representation fees, including a percentage of the actor's earnings or a monthly fee. Non-union actors should carefully consider the financial implications of representation fees and make sure they understand the terms of the agreement.
  2. Union membership: Non-union actors should understand that they might not be able to work on union projects unless they become a union member and meet the union's requirements. This includes paying the union’s initiation fee.
  3. Career goals: Non-union actors should consider their long-term career goals and determine if union membership and representation by a union-franchised talent agency align with those goals. There is a right and wrong time to join any of the performance unions.  Read more on:

In conclusion, a non-union actor can submit for representation to a talent agency that is union franchised. However, non-union actors should carefully consider the benefits and limitations of representation by a union-franchised talent agency, and make informed decisions about their career path. Having a talent agency represent them can increase their visibility, provide professional representation, and give them access to a wider range of acting opportunities, but it is important for non-union actors to understand the terms of the agreement and the financial implications of representation fees.

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