I’m happy to answer any and all acting questions, and I believe my answers will be well within your expectations. Provided your expectations are low to nonexistent.
Simon asks: “When do you think I should stop doing free work and student films? Like say I have three films on my résumé – would it be fine to start going after paid work like commercials? What if I do that and get Taft-Hartleyed? Will casting directors feel like my résumé is too light?”
Kickass question, Simon. Here’s what I think: don’t be in any rush. Holding off on SAG allows you to do non-union films (often made by film students) so that you can build your acting reel. If you join SAG too soon, you’ll be up against a whole new level of actors with great reels and résumés and risk screwing yourself.
A few years ago I became friends with a non-union actor named Ray who had no reel or résumé but was consumed with becoming SAG. Ray did lots of background work, praying every day that as an extra he’d be bumped up to the three speaking parts or stand-in gigs required to join SAG. At the same time, I was non-union as well, and Ray was shocked when I decided to take on some writing gigs instead of doing background work with him. One day he called me, thrilled so much that he’d achieved union status it was as if his brain, heart and balls had just exploded.
Cut to this year. I’d lost touch with Ray, so I looked him up and found out he’s out of acting, working at a bank. And me? I’m in SAG, and have a reel I love. I doubt Ray has concocted a plan to fix his mistake, but if he has I’m guessing it involves some sort of “super” man flying backwards around the Earth.
Also, Simon, you’re a little misinformed commercial-wise; there are plenty of non-union commercials you can do now. They usually pay an up-front rate instead of residuals, but they’re a great way to get your feet wet in auditions and on sets and earn yourself some cash.
For everyone else, I want to clarify what Simon means about being Taft-Hartleyed. Taft-Hartley is a law requiring non-union actors who book roles on SAG TV shows or films to immediately join SAG. This is super beneficial to a guy like Simon, because casting directors have no problem letting him audition even if he’s not in the union. They’ll simply fill out a form which will allow him to work, and he’ll suddenly be in SAG without the drudgery of months/years of background work. Just let that happen naturally, Simon.
So there you have it. Book some meaty non-union roles and build that reel. And always ask yourself: WWRD – What Would Ray Do? And then do the opposite of that dope.