I gotta do this somewhat anonymously since I work in various parts of the industry. I'm far from being a Hollywood "player." Just another guy with absolutely no axe to grind!
I'm fortunate because I work occasionally in a movie studio as a copywriter. When I'm not working there, I go on commercial and print auditions. Yes, I have an agent. A very good agent. Been there 5 years. And, I'm a SAG member. In fact, just joined less than a year ago, even though I've been eligible for about 3 years now.
Why didn't I join the union right away? Well, for one thing, it costs about $1500 to join. So, after doing my first union gig, I became what's called "SAG eligible" or a "must join" status. I didn't book another union job for 2 years! But booked a sh*tload of non-union gigs. In fact, I'm all over the frickin' Asian cable channels. I've been doing at least 2 Asian TV commercials (for the U.S. Asian market) each year for the last 8 years. Did about a dozen overseas commercials, mostly for Hong Kong and Japan.
I got my start in this business while working for an ad agency as a copywriter. One day, a production company we used needed a last-minute replacement and called me up. It was a TV commercial for a real estate company in Hong Kong. I never saw it. But they paid me, and I got to ride with a pretty girl for about 6 hours from L.A. to Death Valley where we did the shoot. The shoot took 30 minutes. So, we had dinner, then drove back, 6 more hours.
About 3 months later, the same company asks if I'd be interested in doing another one. This was for Owl Coffee. Never heard of it. Still haven't seen it. But I heard it aired in San Francisco. It was fun. So far, I've done about 6 jobs for this production company, usually without an audition.
First of all, I have to make a distinction. I was cast as a "principal" in all these commercials, not an extra. It makes a difference. For one thing, you usually get a trailer (always on SAG jobs). Plus, the pay is a lot higher. And of course, you get the star treatment by the crew. That's always fun. Someone to do your makeup, your hair, dress you, iron your pants, shine your shoes, fix your makeup and hair during shooting, grab you water if you get thirsty. But I have done extra work before. Maybe about 7 jobs, including a famous one on the show, "Northern Exposure." It gives you an idea of what to expect. Exposes you to the work. But there's a huge wall between principals and extras, so I stopped doing extra spots about 8 years ago. But now that I'm a SAG member, I may do some more. It pays about $325 a day for extra work, and that can go toward my insurance. You need to make at least $5000 a year to get minimal SAG benefits. To get the full deal, I think it's something like $14K. (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong. I'm new to this.)
My last job was a commercial for Ford. But I've only seen it in the Asian markets. If it goes general market, then I'll start to smile a lot more, because that's when the residuals kick in and I get PAID! You see, I'm still new to this stuff. Did plenty of non-union commercials that aired nationally, not just on Asian TV. In fact, I'm in a few as we speak, but I won't name them. People tell me all the time that they just saw another commercial I was in. But it doesn't matter. If you like being on TV, then it's a cool deal. Do all the non-union jobs you want. But for me, I want to get paid every time they show the ad. And that means it has to be a union job.
I've been working at a movie studio for the last 3 years. They're not that big, but they're pretty big. Release about a dozen movies a year. Some of them aren't bad even! But they haven't called me for a while, which worries me. Maybe I'm being outsourced. Wait a minute, I was their outsource! Okay, maybe they got someone a bit cheaper. The entertainment industry tends to pay a lot for guys like me. And that's why I'm so worried now. I think I might be out of a job....