A Union is an organisation that fights for workers rights to ensure that they get paid a fair deal and receive all of their benefits (such as pension and healthcare). This post is here to briefly look at workers unions in the film industry.
First I want to start this post by saying I am based in the UK and unions work differently over here when compared to America. I have carried out external research on how the unions work. If I am incorrect or you wish to add your own union experience feel free to do so in the comment section. It is hard to gather information on unions online and some of my knowledge has come from word of mouth and online forums.
What is The difference between UK and USA Unions?
In the UK we don’t need to sign up to a union to work in film. We may sign up to the biggest union BECTU or a performer might sign up to Equity. However there is no obligation to be part of a union and many film industry professionals can carry out their career in the UK without the need to sign up.
This has it's Pros and Cons - whilst as it is easier to be hired on major films sets in the UK, there is no guarantee that you will be paid fairly or have all the benefits of a Hollywood film set.
The American Union system is stricter. In many ways you can not be allowed onto a major film or TV set without being a union member. These unions can call the shots on who is hired. Being part of a union ensures fair pay and that costs like health care and pensions are fully covered. Crew members in America are more secure in there workplace however becoming a member of a film union is very difficult.
How to join a film union
Getting hold of a union card in America can take years. You don’t simple join a union but there appears to be many hoops you have to jump through first – such as clocking a certain number of hours working without your union card.
This can be difficult if the only jobs around require you to have a union card to work. This seems to be a way of making sure that the film industry in Hollywood is more exclusive but also ensures that only the top qualified professionals are working on the bigger film sets. Keeping the quality high and making sure that dedicated union crew are getting first dibs on jobs.
India’s film industry Bollywood runs on unions similar to America however it can be less difficult for crew to get hold of a union card (as far as I could research - correct me if I am wrong in the comments section). Worldwide countries differ greatly - whilst you can work in any country on independent films, getting onto major film sets might be made beneficial by being a union member.
When will you need to be part of a film union?
You are best starting out in the film industry without a union. Begin working on film sets and getting a feel of what job is right for you. When you are certain that working in the film industry is a good fit , ask people in your department what union they are part of (which can differ depending on industry sector and job role). You may find that freelancing in your country suites you well without union membership.
Entertainment Industry Unions -
If there is anything you would like to add on your experience with unions in your country, let me know in the comment section. I'm happy to add more links in this post and info on how film unions work as I learn more.