From the Famous to the Unknown

Growing up I can remember the day my mom’s best friend Shannon was accepted to be a member of the Screen Actor’s Guild. We were all almost as excited as the time she got the part as an extra in 27 Dresses, the scene she’s in shown below.

But even though she is part of this prestigious guild she definitely does not have a glamorous actress lifestyle. When I was growing up I would always tell Shannon that I wanted to be an actress and she would do anything to steer me away from it, explaining that what I expected out of being an actress is hardly ever the reality.

I remember most recently she spent a summer selling margarita mixes at fairs and malls across the United States. Although she did get to travel and interact with some sort of audience, her dreams of being an actress have never held up to what she expected.

Although the Screen Actor’s Guild is filled with all those famous actors that we immediately think of when we hear the word, it is also inclusive of people like Shannon.

So how important is it for these guilds to recognize people like Shannon that are lucky to get cast as an extra in a major film. Every member of the union has the same benefits, they negotiate bargaining agreements, levels of compensation, benefits, and working conditions.

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The Screen Actor’s Guild was created in 1933 to eliminate the mistreatment of actors in Hollywood. This included being stuck in contracts, specifically without restrictions on working hours. The studios even giving themselves control to dictate, not only the public, but the private life of their actors and actresses. In 2012 SAG merged with AFTRA (American Federation of Television and Radio Artists) to create the current SAG-AFTRA.

To join the guild, a potential member must provide proof of employment at a position covered by the SAG-AFTRA or be a paid member at an affiliated organization. To join, a member must also pay an initial fee of $3000.00 and an annual base of $210.12.

Once a member joins the SAG-AFTRA, they are given many benefits on top of the protection that the guild brings a member in their employment. These include “contracts/collective bargaining, eligibility for the SAG-AFTRA Health Plan, SAG-Producers Pension Plan, the AFTRA Retirement Fund, the iActor online casting database, and much more.”

These benefits are clearly more important and even aimed towards the less successful actors and actresses that are apart of the guild. The ones that make multimillion dollar contracts arguably do not need the same protection as the previous. This is exemplified in Cynthia Littleton’s Tv on Strike: Why Hollywood Went to War Over the Internet (2013).

Littleton emphasizes the importance of these more successful members support in unknown members efforts to improve their conditions shown in the 2007 Writer’s Guild of America strike. When the more successful members strike, it has more of an affect on the industry and puts more pressure on the studios.

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This strike’s main emphasis was on getting paid when their work was used on new media outlets. This, especially in 2007, being a rather small platform for work, was not significantly important for the high paid and highly successful writers and showrunners of Hollywood. Actually going on strike would set them behind, rather than put them ahead, having to end seasons of shows early to join.

This strike was really important to the people who aren’t making tons of money from their writing. This potential money from new media could make a substantial difference in their lives, even at the low performing rate of Internet in 2007. Now we can only imagine the significance of this in their lives now.

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