It was an honor to be able to interview both Melissa Goodman and Ric Reitz of the Atlanta SAG-AFTRA office for AMTology Blog’s ‘5 Questions’ series. A special thanks to them both for allowing me to pick their brains on everything a local, working actor needs to know. Feel free to take notes, and enjoy!
Susan G. Reid: Can you please define SAG-AFTRA and what it does for the actor?
Melissa Goodman: SAG-AFTRA is a union to protect the wages and working conditions of in-front-of-the-camera performers. We set the scale wages, minimum protections, turnaround time, rest violations, when you eat your first and second meal, and that you have craft services. All the protections that are there; that are set.
Ric Reitz: So that our people are not taken advantage of anything. We advocate for the highest level of professionalism, which we know in this market is both union and non-union.
We advocate for the highest level of professionalism, which we know in this market is both union and non-union.
MG: In addition to that, we have a lot of learning opportunities in our local office. We have a twice a month conservatory. We have the SAG foundation that hosts webinars that teach different programs– from casting sessions online to conversations with stars. There are a lot of programs and classes available through the union, and if you are member in good standing, you can participate in them.
RR: We talk to agents; we talk to casting directors; we ask how we can be better as a market and then educate our members. You’ll always have an office advocate, locally here and nationally. SAG provides a team of people, a professional organization, that can give you legal advice.
SGR: Would there ever be a time when SAG and AFTRA work together with no divisions between the two entities?
MG: Yes. We don’t know about pension, that’s a total unknown.
RR: We’ve merged already, for three years. And now we’ve just merged our health benefits which commence on Jan. 1. We’re working on pensions.
MG: Right now, we have different tiers of television. Right now, all film is done and all money goes into the SAG pension fund. We still have legacy shows that became grandfathered in, such as The Vampire Diaries and The Originals. Those are still under AFTRA. Although, when those drop off, and it’s all new productions, they will be under the SAG-AFTRA standard television agreement. However, if we are not yet merged on the pension plan, there will still need to be a way to distinguish from where money is allocated. It needs to be standardized at some point, we just don’t know when that will be. All these grandfathered shows will have to run their course. Any new shows would be under the new agreement.
SGR: What does the term ‘right to work state’ mean and do you consider this a positive or negative to our market.
RR: The right to work status began in 1947 when a federal law allowed states to individually select whether they would be a union secure state or a right to work state. Here’s the difference. In a union secure state, unions are able to operate really in their own world and without extra influence from the government. In a right to work state, individuals cannot be prohibited from getting union work when they are non-union. A union person, because of our global rule one, cannot work non-union jobs. But non-union perfomers are allowed to work union jobs. So the typical catch 22 actually doesn’t exist here. That sounds like a great advantage for young and aspiring actors and actresses. And it is, because it’s a great way to get into the union, cut your teeth, get some experience, and determine whether you want to join.
In a union secure state, unions are able to operate really in their own world and without extra influence from the government. In a right to work state, individuals cannot be prohibited from getting union work when they are non-union.
We actually don’t advocate everyone join the union at the beginning of their career when they’re first eligible to join. We understand that people have to work their way up.
We benefit because NY and LA are union secure states. All the work that comes into Georgia of a large scale is union bound and we are the beneficiaries of that. Because we’re not in a similar situation, there’s a perception problem that we can’t be on the same level. Are we really working at the highest level all the time? No, we’re not. Sorry to say. Are they in NY and LA? Perhaps not, but they aspire to higher goals, and they’re regarded as the measuring stamp.
Well put it into perspective, you go to LA and you’re not a member of the Union, you’re not working. Go to New York, you’re not working. Then you go, how do I become a member? Well, I can’t audition if I’m not a member—catch 22. There’s NO catch 22 here.
SGR: Can you address safety on set and how you can enforce it?
RR: You’ve got to kind of keep your eyes peeled. In theory, that should be already done in advance for your safety, but we’re never sure. We have a new field rep that goes around and investigates if we hear rumors or get a tip.
When somebody hears something in the pipeline about a serious potential safety issue, we are all informed, and all of our resources are put forward to put an end to it as quickly as possible. You know sometimes we hear after-the-fact. We have an 800 number for safety and you can call from a set. Not that everyone has a phone on the set and that you can immediately call, but we’ve tried to take every precaution. You can always go to the AD department and stage a complaint and follow it through with your agent. Course you could be shooting at 8 in the morning, not a popular phone call, but if there’s a serious safety issue, then the phone call happens. Melissa answers in the middle of the night.
MG: And it’s answered. I mean there’s two of us that keep the phone by our bedside because both of our numbers are on that. It is: 1-800-SAFER SET.
RR: That is for members to call, and even non-union members that are on a union set.
MG: It will be answered by an answering service in New York that will call us.
RR: Now, we didn’t have that in place a couple of years ago, but we’re happy to say that’s evolved and we are really concerned about it. It first begins with education, and we want to remind actors: you always have the ability to say “no.” I want you to do this and the answer is no. I want you to ride on this motorcycle, no. I want you to jump off this cliff into the water; no, I’m not comfortable. If you’re not comfortable doing that and you feel it poses a potential risk for you, you can say no. Oh, they’re going to blackball me, say no. There are more fish in the sea, more jobs, more people.
If you’re not comfortable doing that and you feel it poses a potential risk for you, you can say no.
SGR: What is your best piece of advice?
RR: This market is so uber competitive now. Because of our great success, we all have to be in heightened awareness about what it takes to compete at the new level. So my advice to this market is that you’ve got to invest in your market and your craft every day, find a way to get better, don’t sit on your laurels. Because tomorrow is not guaranteed. There’s only so much an agent can do. They can create opportunity for you, but to pay off the opportunity you have to be ready.
MG: More advice that I have is: we get a lot of calls about people who have quickly signed with an agent before having a courtship. Before they’ve had that opportunity to test the waters, spend the few months and have a handshake agreement first to see if there’s a good relationship fit. We have people signing agreements and two months later asking: how do I get out of this? Why did you get married before you even dated? Have a test period to see if that person is a good fit for you and vice versa. I mean, it goes both ways in that regard. It’s such an important relationship between the actor and the agent that it has to be the right fit.
RR: You work out your expectations with the agent. What they expect of you and what you expect from them. This is a business relationship.
SGR: Alright, that wraps it up, just give us your top pet peeves.
MG: One pet peeve that I have that we’ve heard from a couple casting directors is that when they do hold in-person auditions, as opposed to taping, that people still aren’t going. Actors, members take the opportunity and meet the casting director in person, and be prepared when you walk in that door.
RR: A lot of us have lost the skill and the edge it takes to make good work in the room. The work that you did that got you there is thrown away because it’s not prepared for in person. You’ve got to be ready to move in person. In the old days, that’s all we did, so you got good at it. Now we’ve gotten lazy, and people aren’t good at it. It doesn’t mean you weren’t good, but it means you weren’t at your best. If you’re not at your best, you’re not getting booked.
You’ve got to be ready to move in person. In the old days, that’s all we did, so you got good at it. Now we’ve gotten lazy, and people aren’t good at it.
MG: My pet peeve is that we get phone calls and people say “well I didn’t get fed until 7 and a half hours but I’m afraid to file a claim, or a cancellation fee, I may never get work again.’ The rules are there for a reason. Don’t be afraid to file a claim.
MG: Read your contract. Don’t sign anything that has blanks in it, don’t sign blank production time reports, make sure they’re filled in. Take photos. Make sure you have the right materials. You wouldn’t buy a house without knowing the interest rate. A producer should not say, I’ll fill that in after the fact.
RR: We all have a cell phone, so take a picture and use it as your receipt. Don’t wait for them, because chances are you aren’t going to get a copy or a receipt from them. It’s good business.
Images: With permission, Melissa Goodman and Ric Reitz