Union and non union talent

As a director, you’ll know exactly how important it is to hire outstanding actors.  Depending on the budget for the movie production, your casting director will usually be the person in charge of this job.  So as a director, should you hire both union and non-union talent?  Should you have a preference?  If you have more experience with one over the other, should you discount the one you have less experience with?  This is where it pays to have an awesome casting director who has had experience with both union and non-union productions.  In reality, there isn’t a great deal of difference between union and non-union talent.  There are union actors who have very minimal experience and there are non-union actors who have an extensive list of accredited productions under their belt so it is not necessary to employ only actors that you are used to working with.  Having said that, it is generally accepted that union actors tend to have more experience. It’s a good idea to remember this when casting a leading role so you can avoid considering actors who lack sufficient experience for a supporting role or lead. This is not to say you won’t find excellent non-union actors, but when you use inexperienced actors, it will take more time. Very experienced directors have the know-how and communication skills to work with new talent, how to entice better performances out of actors, and how to direct them.

Should I use union and non-union talent together?

You may already be a director who has hired only SAG-AFTRA actors and this is a great idea especially since the people that you hire will get the best wages, working conditions, health and pension benefits. The union will also typically preserve and expand members’ work opportunities, ensure contracts are being met and protect their members against unauthorized use of their work.  This ultimately leads to greater confidence in the talent that you hire with less disputes. The downside to union actors is that you will most likely need to pay more for them due to the minimum rate that SAG-AFTRA sets for all of its members.

So how do you decide between union and non-union talent?  These questions will help with your decision making:

  • Take a really good look at your budget, goals, and priorities before coming to a decision on whether to select union or non-union. Talk about these questions with your producers and do the best you can to make the correct decision for your production.
  • How big is the cast?
  • Do you think you can get the return on your investment without a big name actor as the lead? Are you able to have a longer shooting schedule to adapt to less experienced actors?
  • Do you have enough experience to work with union actors?
  • Are you confident in getting results from actors?
  • What is your expectation for distribution of the film?
  • Always check the reels of your actors’ other films. Hiring the wrong actor will kill your project and hiring an inexperienced actor for a leading role can do the same. Your perfect actor may not have the experience yet for a lead and would be far better in a supporting role. As in any employment environment, check references and get feedback from other directors who have worked with your actors. You want performances that really make a difference.