6 Things to Do Once You Join a Film Industry Union

6 Things to Do Once You Join a Film Industry Union
Design by Judy Moore in Canva
Share this

You’ve finally become a member of a film industry union.  Congratulations.  Now what?  Union jobs probably won’t be coming your way as much as you'd like in the beginning.

Since you’ve just made a significant financial investment in your union membership, it’s best you make it pay off as soon as possible.  I’ve written before about the many benefits of union membership, but you need to work union jobs to get most of them.

So here are a few suggestions to get you on the right track.

Here are six things to do once you’re in the union:

  1. Make sure all your industry contacts know that you’re now in the union.

A wider range of jobs are available to you as a union member, but you need to make sure your contacts know that you can now work union jobs.  Familiarize yourself with the various union contracts for different types of jobs, as pay can vary widely depending on a project's budget.

(If you’re a member of IATSE, you can still take non-union jobs, but non-union work won’t count toward union benefits.  As a DGA or SAG-AFTRA member, you’re forbidden from working non-union.)

After all, we’re all still freelancers, whether union or non-union, so networking with industry colleagues is essential.

  1. Put yourself on the union roster or availability list for work.

You probably won’t get a huge amount of work that way, but your name will be out there as available for work.

Most of the work I’ve gotten over the years from the DGA availability list has been for short-term jobs.  However, sometimes that short-term work, such as working a few days now and then on shows, can lead to long-term jobs.  It’s happened to me.

I’ve also gotten a fair amount of work on 2nd units from being on the availability list and made new contacts I hadn’t worked with before.  I consider that a win-win.

Union rosters and availability lists don’t take the place of keeping up with your contacts and networking but consider them another tool in your freelancer arsenal.

Don’t forget to take yourself off the availability list when you’re working.  As someone who’s also used the list to search for available people, it’s an annoying waste of time to be calling people for work who aren’t available and forgot to take themselves off the list.

  1. Take all required Safety Pass training courses through Contract Services as soon as possible.

There are numerous safety courses union members are required to take through Contract Services to be on the roster, and each union local has different requirements.  Courses range from ladder safety and equipment safety to on set gun safety, depending on the department.

You can find more information about Contract Services here.

Here's a link to the Contract Services Required Course List by job classification.

Some courses are offered online.  For example, the DGA had a specific COVID-19 safety course that was offered online.  Other courses may be available in person through the Contract Services location in Burbank, CA, which is gradually opening in-person training due to COVID-19.

Your union will inform you of the required Safety Pass courses for your department, and it’s wise to take them as soon as you can.   We work in an industry of highly skilled workers, and the industry and union-mandated safety courses help keep it that way.

Take these professionally presented courses seriously.  You're guaranteed to learn things about set safety you didn't know before, no matter what your experience level.

There's no such thing as too much set safety and refresher training is also required for some courses.

You may be eligible to receive a stipend for attending the Contract Services Training if you're not already being paid by your employer for attending the classes.

You can download the Contract Services mobile app from the website for easy course sign-in.

  1. Save call sheets and check stubs.

Unions have various requirements for moving up to the next category, and you should find out the specifics for your guild or IATSE local as soon as you join.

For example, as a DGA member, I needed to save call sheets from each show I worked on to accumulate enough days to be on the qualification list as a first a.d. and UPM.  I started saving call sheets right after graduating from the training program and starting work as an a.d.

You don’t want to be scrambling to document previous work when you’re ready to move up.  Having all documentation already in place is much easier and less stressful.

  1. Stay current with your union dues.

During the COVID-19 industry-wide shutdown, the unions gave members a grace period on paying dues because of the extraordinary circumstances.  That was an exception, however.

Plan to pay your dues on time or you may find yourself in arrears and unable to take union work.

Years ago, I got a call from a commercial producer who had wanted to hire an a.d. who was behind on their DGA dues.  The guild required that they hire someone who was current on their dues before hiring anyone who was not, so I got a job I otherwise would not have gotten.

Union dues, like taxes, need to be included in your budget as a freelancer, or you may find you’re without work when you need it the most, such as when you need more union income to qualify for healthcare benefits.

That’s not a pleasant situation to be in.

  1. Keep learning and get involved.

Since the pandemic, film industry unions and trade organizations have offered various optional online courses and webinars.  It’s an excellent opportunity for continuing education and keeping your skills current.

In-person industry events are also happening again now, so take advantage of as many opportunities as possible to learn and network with your peers.

I’ve found attending industry events incredibly advantageous to my career, and I’ve enjoyed serving on the committees that organize them.  It’s rewarding to give back and be seen as a leader who helps move the industry forward.

Volunteering to serve will also raise your profile above many of your peers, which will only help your career.


If you want to work on some of the high-profile jobs in our industry, you probably already know that joining a film industry union is a must.

You’ll have a much wider range of job options available when you’re in a union or guild and work towards eligibility for healthcare and pension benefits on union jobs.

That’s a solid start to a long, successful film industry career.


Share this