The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) represents over 200, 000 film and TV performers worldwide. The SAG is a labour union that was founded in 1933 in response to the blatant exploitation of actors by major movie studios. Although it resides primarily over film and TV performers, it partners with AFTRA for radio and internet performers. The main office is in Hollywood although it has several satellite offices. The SAG has had many notable presidents over the years including past American president Ronald Reagan and legendary actor Charlton Heston. The current president is Ken Howard who has presided in that position since 2009.
Any performer is allowed to join the SAG provided that they meet the criteria in any of 3 categories: principal performer in a SAG production, background performer and at least a 1 year member of an affiliated union. In order to meet the principal performer criteria, a performer would merely need to work at least 1 day as the lead in any SAG production. A background performer would need to work at least 3 days on a SAG production before the criteria would be met. For the last category, as long as you were a member in good standing and held an officer position with any one of the other affiliated unions, you would be able to join SAG.
To join, a potential member must pay an initial fee of $2, 277 plus the first semi-annual membership due of $58. After that, the membership dues are calculated based on the member’s earnings from SAG productions. If you forget to pay on time, penalties will be handed out with the maximum punishment being kicked out of the SAG.
SAG rules also state that no 2 members may have identical names while working. Because of this rule, many actors have had to choose a new name because their name was already taken. One notable example of this is actor Michael J. Fox.
In return for following its rules, the SAG protects the rights of its members through standardization of pay and working environments. They also offer pension and health plans.
SAG was founded by 6 actors in March 1933: Berton Churchill, Charles Miller, Grant Mitchell, Ralph Morgan, Alden Gay and Kenneth Thomson. Just 3 months later, Ralph Morgan became the first president and a board of directors was formed. Although the SAG was founded to protect actors, many refused to join initially. It wasn’t until producers collectively agreed not to bid competitively for actors did members begin signing up. In fact, it only took 3 weeks for the SAG to grow to over 4000 members.
Interestingly, the SAG was embroiled in Cold War controversy during 1947. A group of 10 suspected communists (people who were involved with the film industry) were sentenced to prison for refusing to cooperate with Congress. In support, several SAG members flew to Washington in support for the Hollywood Ten (as they were called). These members included Humphrey Bogart and Gene Kelly. The SAG even forced all members and officers to take a ‘non – communist’ pledge in response to Congress.
The SAG has gone on strike 5 times in its history. During a strike, all SAG members must cease working. The latest in 2000 was controversial because many members stated that they felt the strike was unnecessary – they felt that the same results would have been achieved either way. After the strike, the SAG found that some of its members had worked illegally; the most notable being Elizabeth Hurley and Tiger Woods who were fined $100,000 each.
The SAG has awarded the Screen Actors Guild Awards annually since 1995. These awards are considered an accurate indicator of Academy Award success.
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