5 Signs It’s Time For You to Join a Film Union

5 signs it's time for you to join a film union
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It can be confusing figuring out if and when you should join a film union.  As our careers progress, we’re not in the same situation as when we started.

At some point we often feel ready to take a step up from the non-union, often low-paying jobs we took at the beginning of our careers.

Many of us began our careers doing p.a. work, observing each department at work, and deciding where we want to be.  Joining an industry guild or union may have been the furthest thing from our minds.

But once we have more direction in our careers, it’s time to make some decisions and position ourselves towards our goals.  That includes deciding if it’s the right time to join a film union.

Here are five signs it’s probably the right time for you to join a union:

  1. The shows you want to work on are all union shows.

You may be working quite a bit on non-union commercials or feature films at this point in your career.  But without being in a union, you’re shut out of working on some great shows that are probably union.

If working on union shows is your goal, it’s time to think about joining a union so you can pursue those jobs.  Since the advent of streaming, there’s a great deal of work, and most of those jobs are union.

  1. You want to work in a heavily unionized market like L.A.

If your goal is to work in L.A., the sooner you join a union, the better.  When I started in the industry, there was more non-union work in L.A. than there is today, and most low-budget projects were non-union.

Now the unions all have tiered low-budget agreements, so even those jobs are union.

There’s no advantage to delaying becoming a union member if you want to work in L.A.  Union initiation fees are steep, but they will only increase in the future.

And remember, you’ll have excellent healthcare through your union once you qualify, and you’ll be contributing towards your union pension, too.

So once you’re eligible for union membership, jump in.  You’ll have a whole other level of jobs available to you in L.A. and other unionized markets once you’re a union member.

  1. You need better healthcare than what you’ve currently got.

I wouldn’t rank this as the only reason or even the main reason to join a film union, but it is a significant benefit of union membership.  The health plans also include dental, vision, and prescription drug plans in their coverage.

As a thirty-year member of the DGA, I can attest that the level of healthcare available to industry union members is second to none.

Consider joining if you’re sitting on the fence about union membership but are confident you’d work enough union jobs to qualify for the health plan.

As the past two years of the pandemic have taught us, we need to be ready for anything, and it helps to have solid healthcare coverage.  And having a defined-benefit pension plan doesn’t hurt, either.

  1. You want to work with the top people in the industry, and they all work union shows.

Can you make a living in the industry without being a union member?  Yes, but if you want to work with the top people in any department, it’s time to join the union.

By now you probably know whether you want to pursue a career working in commercials, or move on to TV shows or big-budget feature films.

The top people you want to work with in the industry are probably working exclusively on union shows, and to work with them on the kinds of shows they do requires union membership.

Once you’re in the union, you’ll also be required to take safety training courses through Contract Services.  Even if you’ve been working on non-union shows for years, you’ll learn things about set safety you didn’t know before.

And you’ll be ready to work with the top industry players on big jobs.

  1. You’ll definitely get paid on union jobs.

If you’ve ever gotten stiffed on a low-budget job with questionable financing, you’ll appreciate knowing that you’ll be paid on union jobs.

I only had one problem with getting paid for overtime in all my years of working on union shows, and the DGA swiftly got me the money I was owed.  If that had been a non-union job, I never would have seen that money.

While I support and admire the non-union filmmakers who get their projects made on shoestring budgets, the financing can often be unstable, and the risk of not getting paid can be high.

Choose your jobs wisely and consider joining a union if you want the certainty of knowing you’ll get paid for your work.


If you think you’ll join a film union at some point, make sure you’re saving your call sheets and paycheck stubs to verify your employment.  And saving money towards union initiation fees.

Film unions aren’t perfect, but there are benefits to joining that can boost your career.





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