SAG background players in focus

Committee may require at least 10 days of work

Leaders of the Screen Actors Guild have taken the first step toward tightening eligibility requirements for background actors, who comprise nearly 25% of SAG’s 98,000 members.

The change, designed to replace the much-criticized “three-voucher” system, could go into effect as early as this summer.

Currently, SAG allows background actors to join if they present vouchers for working three days in guild-signatory productions and if they pay a $1,310 initiation fee. But SAG insiders contend that significant numbers of new members are skirting the spirit of the requirement and obtaining vouchers without actually working.

Corrupt practices

“There is substantial evidence that the three-voucher system has fallen victim to corrupt practices by casting agents, producers and individuals seeking membership into the guild,” SAG’s national board said in a unanimously approved resolution.

The board has told its background actors committee to formulate tougher entrance requirements after obtaining “substantial” input from members. That committee has been instructed to present its recommendation at the next national board meeting in July.

Speculation has already emerged that the committee will recommend the requirement be increased to at least 10 days of background work.

The action by the SAG board came at the same time it OK’d the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger, which will create an umbrella union with three affiliates if members approve in a June vote. The proposed merger language permits the SAG affiliate to tighten membership rules during the so-called interim period, which would last up to a year following the merger vote before the final provisions are implemented.

The resolution also includes language that gives the SAG affiliate the right to offer less stringent rules for members in smaller branches and “right to work” states.

Extended to extras

SAG took on responsibility for background actors in 1991 when it merged with the now-defunct Screen Extras Guild after negotiating an agreement with the producers to extend union coverage to SEG’s 3,600 members.

SAG currently has jurisdiction over film, primetime TV work and TV commercials while AFTRA’s coverage of acting work includes gameshows, variety shows, soaps and radio ads; the SAG affiliate will cover all acting work if the merger goes through. AFTRA’s current “open door” entrance requirements are far less stringent than SAG’s.

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