This is a very common question in actors have when first moving to Los Angeles. There are a few things to consider and there is no black or white answer, the most important question is, what is your motive for joining the union? Is it because you feel it will be easier to get an agent? To get better jobs? or is it to do Background work at the union rate vs minimum wage?
Well excuse me for being bias but i think the real question is why not?
there was once a time when the common answer was “DON’T JOIN! there are many great projects out there that are non-union and you need a reel and classes to compete with the union members, don’t join until your ready to compete!!”
Although that may have been true in 2008, it is not 2014 and as the former Chairmen of SAG’s now SAG-AFTRA’s New Media department, anyone, and i do mean ANYONE can File a SAG-AFTRA signatory contract to employ for NOTHING, SAG talent, so if a “Production” TV or Film is non-union and the producer isn’t willing to do basic paperwork to employ union talent, we must ask ourself, Is this a production worth my time?
As far as your Reel goes, living in Los Angeles in this day and age, the likely hood of you or someone around owning a DSLR camera are pretty high, in addition if you get a few friends together and write and produce your own scene, you have
A) complete creative control of the content on your script and character,
B) no delays on acquiring your footage. (which is a common problem in LA) and
C) you have control of the quality of the sound and footage to make sure it up to par with your own criteria although i would recommend if you can, consulting the final product with an industry professional before promoting or sending anything out to the mainstream television and film casting director. (A bad reel can be counterproductive)
In addition by doing it yourself you are saving a lot of money in opportunity cost, if you moved out to LA and you feel your career is being hindered by not having a demo reel, being union or taking classes you have to think about the opportunity cost of not having those things, every month you have to pay rent and other living expenses to support yourself in LA, if you want to procrastinate on those things that you fundamentally need you are burning money away while you are out here.
every month that you are out here you you are battling the opportunity cost of 1) the career path you would be having elsewhere and the job experience you would be acquiring in work or school. 2) the standard of living out here requires you to make more money for the basic things you would have elsewhere for less 3) last but not least everyday we are letting older and therefore we are moving forward or backwards with our goals and ambitions. If you are waiting tables, Bar tending, bussing tables or working valet, guess what?! you can do those things elsewhere and have a better quality life doing it, so if your going to make the sacrifice being out here in the first place, do what you came out here to do! Classes, head shots, auditions and parking are expensive but if we are not willing to do those things then maybe its time to reconsider our move.
Joining SAG-AFTRA will make work and auditions much more competitive,
Well, I do not know how many aspiring actors there are in Los Angeles but i know there are 172,000 more or less SAG-AFTRA members in LA and many who are vanity card holder (They don’t actively work in TV & Film but they pay their dues to keep the card). This is the part where you must do your homework,
by volume of work for union and non-union i am tempted to say there are a lot more non-union aspiring actors competing for a non-union role than there are union actors competing for union work. I must also say that competition is not the same for everyone, a Caucasian 23 year old female by supply and demand is not going to face the same competition as a 42 year old Asian american union male.
These are some old numbers which have now drastically changed on the breakdown services casting, however the ratio of SAG members hasn’t changed much sense then, therefore i would advice anyone looking at this page to research their perspective demographic in television & film casting as well as the number of union members in this demographic, by ratio our odds are all different .