Creative Professional Guilds: How to Join and Why

SAG (Screen Actors Guild), WGA (Writers Guild of America), and DGA (Directors Guild of America) were each established in the mid 1930’s in an attempt to coalesce and unionize entertainment workers against unfair wage and work standards being practiced by Hollywood at the time. Despite forming under immense amounts of pressure and duress exercised by the studio systems, each faction of SAG, WGA, and DGA, has until this day remained intact in addition to being the primary resources for anyone who wishes to work within Hollywood in a professional capacity. The primary function of guilds has, for the most part, remained the same: becoming the “providers of health care insurance and pension plans for actors, writers, and directors. Guilds police the conglomerates to enforce their master contracts and ensure that members are paid all the residuals and royalties that they are owed under those contracts” (Littleton, 29). In today’s continuously shifting mediascape where copyright laws, royalties, and creative licensing have fluctuating definitions, it remains both prudent and practical to join one these organized factions in order to establish oneself as a working professional as well as be safeguarded against corporate greed and injustice. These institutions have protected and supported the white-collar workers of the entertainment industry during the analog era and will, ostensibly, continue to do so well into the burgeoning digital era.

SAG (Screen Actors Guild): The Screen Actors Guild was founded on July 12, 1933 and signed its first master contract in 1937. It recently merged with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in March of 2012 to create SAG-AFTRA. According to SAG’s mission statement, as found on their website, is as follows: “SAG-AFTRA is committed to organizing all work done under our jurisdictions; negotiating the best wages, working conditions, and health and pension benefits; preserving and expanding members’ work opportunities; vigorously enforcing our contracts; and protecting members against unauthorized use of their work”. Due to its comprehensive terms of coverage, ranging from DJs to puppeteers, SAG-AFTRA is often the first guild considered amongst those entering the world of professional media for the first time. After qualifying for SAG-AFTRA covered work, there is a national initiation fee of $3000 with annual dues of $200. After your application and proof of employment has been rendered valid, and once fees and dues are paid, one can begin enjoying the myriad benefits gained by operating under a unified guild banner such as:

  • Negotiating standards for wages and working conditions
  • Accrueing money towards retirement and pension
  • Professional workshops
  • Digital casting directories and online portfolios
  • SAG Awards Voting Privileges

Check out the 20th annual SAG awards which took place on January 18th, 2014.

WGA (Writers Guild of America): Writers Guild of America is divided into two separate factions, Writers Guild of America East and Writers Guild of America West, that collaborate despite being actually being separate labor unions. Writers Guild of America East was founded in 1951 and as of 2006 their number of members has exceeded 3,500. The WGA has striked against unfair wages and practices several times before, in 1981, 1985, and in 1988 for 160 days, making it the longest strike in Hollywood history. Their shining moment of camaraderie and solidarity came during the 2007- 2008 strike over writers’ share of new media revenues, a movement that was supported by both East and West factions of Writers Guild of America. Joining the WGA is straightforward, if not simple. The only real requirement is to be employed by a company who is signatory to an existing WGA contract. WGA offers a multitude of benefits optimized for TV and Film writers such as:

  • License and patent help with scripts and pilots
  • Health Insurance and Pension Plans
  • Residuals and compensation payments
  • Finding and hiring a writer’s representative

WGA, and WGA-E specifically is dedicated to helping proliferate the writers community, making sure to “promote, protect, and maintain important artistic and professional principles.”  WGA is extremely wide-spread and its centers are ubiquitous throughout the USA and extremely accommodating to writers of all background and abilities.

Check out this video from 1985 which was originally intended for viewing by newly joined members of WGA

DGA (Directors Guild of America) was founded in 1936, albeit under the name Screen Director’s Guild, and has been in operation ever since, representing over 14,500 film and television directors within the US as of 2011. Similar to WGA, the DGA’s foremost requirement is confirming “bona-fide employment in a DGA-covered category”, meaning that one has to work for a company that is signatory to an existing DGA contract. However, the initiation fees are the steepest of all 3 guilds, with Feature/Television directors paying upwards of $10,000, Assistant Directors upwards of $9,000, and even bottom tier production associates pay $200. DGA members enjoy:

  • Copyright and licensing assistance
  • DGA Health and Pension plans
  • Anti-piracy measures
  • Pro-director legislation on federal, state, and local levels to help keep Film &TV production in the Uniter States
  • Directors workshops
  • Professional digital portfolio

Each of these three guilds are labor union coalitions that represent the major personnel involved in film, tv, and media production; writers, actors, and directors. From their inception, each of these labor unions has strived to represent a unified artistic front in order to preserve artistic communion, set wage and work standards, and protect creator’s against corporate greed and extortion. Even in modern days, belonging to SAG, WGA, or DGA is a hallmark of professionalism; a statement on behalf of the cardholder that they are represented by an nationally affiliated guild that has their best professional and creative interests at heart. Perhaps film expert Cynthia Littleton’s puts it most aptly in her book “TV on Strike” when she says “the enduring strength of the guilds also refects the insular nature of working in Hollywood. Having a SAG, WGA, or DGA card means you are an insider, and you’re recognized as a professional in a sea of wannabes. Even the most successful Hollywood players are members of the various guilds. It is in the DNA of the creative community” (Littleton, 30). It is obvious that these guilds have and will continue to have a significant impact on todays film and media and joining up with them is like joining up with history.

Works Cited:

Littleton, Cynthia. TV on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War over the Internet. Syracuse: Syracuse UP, 2013. Print.

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