Knowing your SAG from your APA is important in the video production industry, particularly if you are looking to make a go of it across the pond.
In the USA, the organisation focusing on the support of actors and those in the media is larger and longer running than its equivalent in the UK. It’s been around for a long time and had a colourful and interesting history and has made landmark breakthroughs and has changed history. This isn’t quite the same as the UK version, but it does good work nonetheless in supporting its members.
This ogranisation brings together two American labour unions – Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. SAG-AFTRA represents about 160,000 professionals and entertainers in the USA. They work to negotiate the best wages, working conditions, benefits and opportunities and protect members against unauthorised use of their work.
Both the SAG and the AFTRA were formed in the 1930s, during turmoil. Before the advent of these, actors were working contracts they could not break, for producers who could tell you who to marry and which political opinions to hold. Some actors risked their careers to start the SAG and they began to make a difference to working hours and conditions. Actors continued to rebel against the power the producers and studios had over them. A huge number of lawsuits and actors fighting for what was right has resulted in the industry we know today. Where stars have their own productions companies and are no longer controlled by studios. Safety guidelines in line with new technologies have been issued to help reduce on-set accidents and it working to strengthen its market position.
The APA is the Advertising Producers Association. They represent the interests of music, sound design, VFX, production companies, post production and companies making commercials in the UK. Their objective is to “create the best possible business environment for [their] members to operate in”. They provide advice on production and contracts, copyright and resolution of disputes.
It was formed in 1978 as the AFPA and in1982 it became the AFVPA and remained that way until 2002. It has gone from providing standard contracts and providing production advice to providing training, promoting their members and helping them market themselves and access new markets.
Being a member of a union in the UK does not qualify you for a membership to a union in the USA. They are separate entities, and being a member of the APA won’t transfer to a membership so SAG-AFTRA if you choose to go to the USA. The only time at which you would qualify for a membership would be if you had been hired in the USA and transported by a union signatory production. So, if you are travelling to the US to work in video productions and you want to be a member or a union you will need to sign up.
You don’t have to be a member of the Screen Actors Guild to apply for roles in the United States, nor do you need to be a member to be hired for these roles. You also do not need to be a member of SAG-AFTRA or any other union, to be granted a visa to work on a project in the United States. If you are looking to apply for a visa, knowing you don’t need to be a member is going to cheer you up no end and hopefully reduce the stress of the visa application process.
If you are not a member of these organisations they will still be able to help you by offering advice. Be that union basics or other sources of information which will be helpful to you. The SAG and the APA are there to assist you but they are not there to do everything for you. They do not act as hiring halls or as introduction services to agents or managers. You will need to understand that they are here to help you with problems or any assistance you require, rather than helping you land a new role. The APA is tailored more specifically to advertising production than the SAG is. The SAG covers so many aspects of media and entertainment, whereas the APA is more focused.
If you are working in video production in the UK it is important to make sure you are a member of a union and you are protected. If you are not a member, then they won’t be able to protect you.