Screen Actors Guild

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The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is the labor union representing over 120,000 film actors in the United States. The guild guarantees members safe working conditions, a minimum daily wage on union productions ("scale"), and handles payment of residuals. Since 1995 the guild has also selected members for the Screen Actors Guild Award.


In 1925, the Masquers club was formed by actors fed up with the grueling work hours at the Hollywood studios, particularly for actors without contracts, who felt the brunt of cost-cutting measures during the Great Depression.

This was one major concern which led to the creation of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. Another was that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which at that time arbitrated between the producers and actors on contract disputes, had a membership policy which was by-invitation-only.

A meeting in March 1933 among six actors started it all: Berton Churchill, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Alden Gay, and Kenneth Thomson. Three months later, three of those six and eighteen others became the guild's first officers and board of directors: Ralph Morgan (its first president), Alden Gay, Kenneth Thomson, Alan Mowbray (who personally funded the organization when it was first founded), Leon Ames, Tyler Brooke, Clay Clement, James Gleason, Lucile Webster Gleason, Boris Karloff (reportedly influenced by long hours suffered during the filming of Frankenstein), Claude King, Noel Madison, Reginald Mason, Bradley Page, Willard Robertson, Ivan Simpson, C. Aubrey Smith, Charles Starrett, Richard Tucker, Arthur Vinton, and Morgan Wallace.

Many high-profile actors refused to join SAG initially. This changed when the producers made an agreement amongst themselves to not to bid competitively for talent. A pivotal meeting at the home of Frank Morgan (Ralph's brother, who would go on to play the title role in The Wizard of Oz), is what gave SAG its critical mass, figuratively speaking. Prompted by Eddie Cantor's insistence at that meeting that any response to that producer's agreement help all actors, not just the already established ones, it took only three weeks for SAG membership to go from around 80 members to more than 4000. Cantor's participation was critical, particularly because of his friendship with the recently-elected Franklin Roosevelt. After several years and the passage of the National Labor Relations Act, the producers agreed to negotiate with SAG in 1937.

Actors known for their early support of SAG (besides the founders) include Edward Arnold, Humphrey Bogart, James Cagney, Dudley Digges, Porter Hall, Paul Harvey, Jean Hersholt, Russell Hicks, Murray Kinnell, Gene Lockhart, Fredric March, Adolphe Menjou, Chester Morris, Jean Muir, George Murphy, Erin O'Brien-Moore, Irving Pichel, Dick Powell, Edward G. Robinson, Edwin Stanley, Gloria Stuart, Franchot Tone, Warren William, and Robert Young.

The Blacklist Years

In October of 1947, a list of suspected communists working in the Hollywood film industry were summoned to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which was investigating Communist influence in the Hollywood labor unions. Ten of those summoned refused to cooperate and were charged with contempt of Congress and sentenced to prison. A climate of fear, enhanced by the threat of detention under the provisions of the McCarran Internal Security Act, permeated the film industry. On November 17, 1947, the Screen Actors Guild voted to force its officers take a "non-communist" pledge. On November 25th (the day after the full House approved the ten citations for contempt) in what has become known as the Waldorf Statement, Eric Johnston, President of the Motion Picture Producers Association, issued a press release: "We will not knowingly employ a Communist or a member of any party or group which advocates the overthrow of the government of the United States by force or by any illegal or unconstitutional methods."

Although declassified KGB documents showed that there was a Communist influence in Hollywood, none of those blacklisted were proven to advocate overthrowing the government; most had Marxist or socialist views. The Waldorf Statement marked the beginning of the Hollywood blacklist that saw hundreds of people prevented from working in the film industry. During the height of what is now referred to as McCarthyism, the Screen Writers Guild gave the studios the right to omit from the screen the name of any individual who had failed to clear his name before Congress. At a 1997 ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Blacklist Richard Masur said: "Only our sister union, Actors' Equity Association, had the courage to stand behind its members and help them to continue their creative lives, in the theatre..."

Ironically, SAG has employed blacklist-like tactics of its own in recent years. In the wake of their strike against advertisers in 2000, SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists temporarily barred actors from their organizations, and gathered evidence on over 1,500 non-members who had worked during the strike. SAG permanently banned one member for answering a non-union audition call. SAG trial boards found Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods guilty of performing in non-union commercials and fined each $100,000. In 1980, led by Ed Asner, SAG called for a boycott against that year's prime-time Emmy awards, which took place during its labor strike. Powers Boothe was the only one of the 52 nominated actors to attend: "This is either the most courageous moment of my career or the stupidest" he quipped during his acceptance speech. Asner was elected SAG president in 1981.

Beyond the major studios

SAG members may not work on non-union productions without special dispensation; many film schools have waiver agreements with the guild to allow SAG actors to work free of SAG. SAGIndie was formed in 1997; its standard contracts are meant to encourage the use of SAG members in films produced outside of the major studios. Some provisions of those contracts are still controversial:

Any distribution beyond film festivals requires that the producer contact the Guild, obtain each professional performer's consent, and negotiate compensation for any further distribution. [1]


Attaining SAG membership can be tricky. There are currently only three ways: 1. Be cast as a principle performer in a SAG film (very unlikely as these roles are almost always offered only to SAG members). 2. Be cast in any role (extra most likely) and be "Taft-Hartley'd". That is: take the place of a SAG actor who is sick/extremely late. Again, hard to come by since there are many others looking to fill that one SAG spot (productions have SAG-to-non-SAG quotas they must fill to be legal). 3. Have membership in another actors union (AFTRA, AGMA, ACTRA, AGVA).

Option 2 could change soon however:

"SAG is currently revising the entrance for background performers by developing a point system in which union and non-union jobs, along with educational seminars and sanctioned events count toward eligibility."

Dues and Scale Wage

The fee to join SAG initially is a one-time charge of US$1800 and future dues are calculated based on your income from other SAG projects.

Despite the popular image that actors are rich, most Screen Actors Guild members earned less than $7,500 per year from Screen Actors Guild jobs.

In 1998 25% of SAG members did not receive any earnings under SAG contracts.

A SAG actor cast as an extra in a TV show or film can expect to make US$118 for their first 8 hours of work plus over-time thereafter. Additional income may be earned by the actor if there is on-camera smoking ("smoke pay"), they will get wet ("wet pay"), or they are not fed in a timely manner (commonly called the "meal penalty"). It is generally less expensive to keep actors for long hours than to bring them back with all the necessary supporting crew for additional days. Therefore film shoots often last 12-16 hours. A background actor could therefore earn at least $324 for a "day" of 16 hours of shooting.

SAG Awards

SAG Awards have been one of the major awards events in Hollywood since 1995. Nominations for the awards come from 4200 randomly selected members of the union, with the full membership (98,000 as of 2004) available to vote for the winners. The awards have been televised for the past several years on TNT.

2004 Screen Actors Guild Awards

Awards are organized into the following categories:

Film Awards

  • Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
  • Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role
  • Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role
  • Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role
  • Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role

Television Awards

  • Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
  • Performance by a Male Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries
  • Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series
  • Performance by a Female Actor in a Drama Series
  • Performance by a Male Actor in a Drama Series
  • Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy Series
  • Performance by a Female Actor in a Comedy Series
  • Performance by a Male Actor in a Comedy Series

Presidents of the Screen Actors Guild

From [2]:

See also

External links and sources

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