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Understanding the Unions on a Film Set

Understanding the Unions on a Film Set
Photo Courtesy: Leesa Rowland

The world of filmmaking is as complex as it is fascinating, involving a myriad of professionals each playing a unique role in bringing cinematic visions to life. Behind the scenes, various unions represent these professionals, ensuring their rights, wages, and working conditions are upheld. Actress Leesa Rowland, known for her contributions to both independent and mainstream cinema, emphasizes the importance of understanding these unions for anyone aspiring to work in the film industry. This article provides a comprehensive overview of the key unions on a film set, offering insights into their roles and how they contribute to the filmmaking process.

The Major Film Industry Unions

The film industry is supported by a network of unions, each representing different segments of the production workforce. These organizations play a crucial role in negotiating contracts, setting industry standards, and advocating for their members. Here are some of the primary unions you’ll encounter on a film set:

Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA)

  • Members Represented: Actors, announcers, broadcast journalists, dancers, DJs, news writers, news editors, program hosts, puppeteers, recording artists, singers, stunt performers, voiceover artists, and other media professionals.
  • Key Functions:
    • Negotiates and enforces contracts that ensure fair wages, working conditions, health benefits, and residuals for its members.
    • Provides workshops and resources to help members develop their careers.

Directors Guild of America (DGA)

  • Members Represented: Film and television directors, assistant directors, unit production managers, associate directors, stage managers, and production associates.
  • Key Functions:
    • Secures commercial creative rights for directors and their teams.
    • Ensures proper compensation and working conditions for its members.

Writers Guild of America (WGA)

  • Members Represented: Screenwriters, television writers, news writers (broadcast and cable), computer game writers, and new media writers.
  • Key Functions:
    • Protects the rights of writers in the motion picture, broadcasting, and cable industries.
    • Negotiates and enforces contracts that include fair wages, health insurance, pension plans, and credit determination.

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE)

  • Members Represented: Behind-the-scenes professionals in all aspects of entertainment, including live theater, motion picture and television production, and trade shows.
  • Key Functions:
    • Represents technicians, artisans, and craftspersons in the entertainment industry, including those in wardrobe, makeup, lighting, sound, visual effects, and set construction.
    • Negotiates contracts and provides benefits for its members.

The Teamsters

  • Division Represented in Film: The Teamsters’ Film and Theatrical Trades Division
  • Members Represented: Drivers, animal handlers, location scouts, casting directors, and more.
  • Key Functions:
    • Focuses on the transportation and logistical aspects of film production.
    • Ensures fair working conditions, wages, and health benefits for its members.

Why Understanding These Unions Is Crucial

For newcomers and seasoned professionals alike, a thorough understanding of the various unions on a film set is essential. Here’s why:

  • Professional Representation: Joining the appropriate union provides protection, representation, and numerous career benefits.
  • Career Advancement: Union memberships often come with access to resources, workshops, and networking opportunities that can significantly advance one’s career.
  • Legal and Financial Security: Unions negotiate contracts that ensure their members are fairly compensated and work under safe conditions.

How to Engage with Film Industry Unions

Engaging with these unions begins with understanding the specific requirements for membership, which can include fees, professional credits, or recommendations. Here are general steps to consider:

  • Research: Visit the official websites of the unions relevant to your role in the industry to understand their membership criteria and benefits.
  • Network: Attend industry events, workshops, and seminars to connect with union representatives and members.
  • Apply for Membership: Once you meet the requirements, apply for membership to gain the protections and benefits offered.


The unions on a film set play a pivotal role in ensuring the film industry operates fairly and efficiently, protecting the rights of everyone from the leading actors to the crew behind the camera. As Leesa Rowland highlights, understanding these unions is not just about knowing whom they represent but recognizing their integral role in the filmmaking process. Whether you’re an aspiring actor, director, writer, or technician, familiarizing yourself with the landscape of film industry unions is a crucial step toward building a successful and sustainable career in cinema.

Published by: Nelly Chavez

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