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What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild?

Johnathan Paul

What’s required to join the major motion picture industry guilds? What are the benefits? Here’s what you need to know.

Top image via Marvel Studios: DGA members Joe and Anthony Russo on the set of Captain America: Civil War

Since the industrial revolution, workers around the world have joined forces to form unions in order to “achieve certain goals” or standards for the workplace. Many of the unions of the motion picture industry are called guilds. While there are a host of similarities between labor unions and guilds (such as employee rights, grievances, benefits, and wages), there are also stark contrasts.

Unlike labor unions, guilds have great influence — or rather, control — over the longterm careers of their members. This is done through various required qualifications, as well as ongoing professional experience in order to continue to be licensed. Let’s take a look at a few of the major motion picture industry guilds and see what they offer and require of their members.


Directors Guild of America

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? Lincoln DGAImage via Amblin Entertainment: Lincoln, directed by DGA member Steven Spielberg

The guild for motion picture industry directors (both film and television) is the Directors Guild of America. This however isn’t the only directors union. There is also a Directors Guild of Canada and the Directors Guild of Great Britain. The DGA includes directors, assistant directors, unit production managers, associate directors, stage managers, and production associates.

Labor organization that represents the creative and economic rights of directors and members of the directorial team working in film, television, commercials, documentaries, news, sports and new media. – DGA Website

Benefits and Drawbacks

There are many benefits and potential drawbacks to joining the DGA. But the way in which the guild works for you begins with simple economics. As a member of the DGA, you are guaranteed minimum compensation and benefits through negotiated collective bargaining agreements which allow the DGA to “address changes in the industry.” Additional basic compensation that the DGA offers its members: health insurance after “requisite minimum earnings” and a pension plan for retirement. The guild also negotiates residuals (payments) from television reruns, basic cable exhibition, home video, and digital exploitation.

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? The Aviator DGAImage via Warner BrosThe Aviator, directed by DGA member Martin Scorsese

Beyond the economics, the DGA offers its members creative rights, ensuring that directors retain active participation in all aspects of the filmmaking process. These include the rule of one director to a film (though there are ways of obtaining a waiver for this), the right to choose the first AD, the right to engage with casting decisions, the right to direct all reshoots, giving directors a specific period of time to develop a first cut without interference, and legal representation.

Requirements:

  • Deal Memo or Commercial Project Listing Form
  • Council Application Approval
  • Endorsement from Three DGA Members
  • DGA Initiation Fees and Quarterly Dues (Follow the Link and Click “Dues”)

One area where the DGA has really stepped up its game: content on YouTube. The official channel for the DGA is an amazing resource for professional and independent directors. There’s an amazing wealth of knowledge with each one of these videos as you’ll see below (via Directors Guild of America). This goes directly back to one of the main purposes of the guild: educating its members.


Producers Guild of America

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? No Country for Old Men PGAImage via MiramaxNo Country for Old Men, produced by PGA member Scott Rudin

The Producers Guild of America represents producers in the television, film, and new media industry within the United States. The PGA, as it exists today, was formed in 1962 when the Screen Producers Guild and the Television Producers Guild merged. Since this time, the Guild has grown to roughly over 7,000 members in every segment of the motion picture industry.

The Producers Guild of America is the non-profit trade group that represents, protects and promotes the interests of all members of the producing team in film, television and new media. – PGA Website

Benefits and Drawbacks

Much like the Directors Guild of America, the PGA helps its members with networking, staffing, and employment opportunities. The guild also provides its members self-pay health coverage or employer-paid dental and medical, as well as retirement plans. There are also several other economic advantages such as discounted registration to conferences, seminars and access to the PGA Weekly Email Newsletters, which lists job postings for members.

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? Lawrence of Arabia PGAImage via Columbia PicturesLawrence of Arabia, produced by PGA member Sam Spiegel

Beyond economic benefits, the PGA offers its members on-going educational opportunities, multitiered mentoring programs, and member-exclusive video content. The PGA also aids its members by providing complimentary screeners for award consideration. If a film is selected for an award, the PGA offers its members “free admittance (when available)” to theaters as well as discounts on car rentals, hotels, events, etc.

Requirements:

  • No Less than Two (2) Feature Film Productions
  • No Less than Five (5) Short Film Productions
  • No Less than Two (2) Long-Form Television Productions
  • No Less than Thirteen (13) Episodes of “Episodic” Televsion Productions
  • Reference from One (1) PGA Member, and Two (2) Additional Industry References
  • Application Fees – Producers Council ($1,170), AP Council ($595), New Media Council ($595)
  • Annual Dues – Producers Council ($395), AP Council ($195), New Media Council ($195)

*View all requirements on the PGA Website.

The PGA offers a wide variety of video content through its official YouTube channel. These videos offer incredible insight into joining the guild as well as information from working producers. Check out the video below where members of the PGA discuss how to manage 4K technology.


Motion Picture Editors Guild

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? Gangs of New York MPEGImage via Miramax: Gangs of New York, edited by MPEG Member Thelma Schoonmaker

The Motion Picture Editors Guild (MPEG) is a Union Local 700 for post-production professionals. It is affiliated with the national labor organization International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. As of 2016, MPEG currently represents “7,300 freelance and staff post-production professionals.” It is considered to be the preeminent guild for promoting excellence and professionalism in the post-production industry. Just as the DGA and PGA provide their members with a wide variety of incentives and benefits, the MPEG does the same for its members. Let’s take a look at these incentives.

The requirements to become a member of the Guild and placed on our Industry Experience Roster ensures the highest level of professionalism. – MPEG Website

Benefits and Drawbacks

As an affiliate of the IATSE, the Motion Pictures Editors Guild works to ensure that its members are receiving fair wages for work produced. Through their website, members and nonmembers can select a production type and a classification to gain access to all necessary provision information, wage rates, holidays, plus a downloadable contract. In addition to this, the MPEG offers its members Motion Picture Health and Welfare plans, as well as retirement and pension plans.

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? Raiders of the Lost Ark MPEGImage via Paramount PicturesRaiders of the Lost Ark, edited by MPEG Member Michael Kahn

Beyond the benefits listed above, the guild also offers its members access to a wide range of continuing education courses. These training courses take place at participating facilities. While there are fees to attend such courses, “many of the facilities waive the cost entirely.” MPEG also offers post-production practice facilities for its members to gain experience on the latest industry software and equipment. In addition to this, the guild provides access to quarterly magazine CineMontage, private screenings, bi-monthly mixers and annual events, as well as eligibility to join the First Entertainment Credit Union and the Actors Federal Credit Union.

Requirements:

  • 175 Days of Non-Union Work in last Three (3) Years
  • Work Must Have Been Performed in the United States
  • Industrial and Educational Films are NOT Covered
  • Turn Initial Paperwork into CSATF
  • Attend Orientation Meeting
  • Submit Initiation Fees
  • Submit Final Paperwork to CSATF

*Two sets of requirements: one is for working with employers on the West Coast, the other is for working on the East Coast.

While the MPEG isn’t as prolific about video content as the PGA and DGA, it does have a helpful informational video presentation. In the video below (via Motion Picture Editors Guild), MPEG members run through the benefits of joining the guild.


International Cinematographers Guild vs. The American Society of Cinematographers

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? The Revenant ASCImage via 20th Century Fox: The Revenant, shot by ASC Member Emmanuel Lubezki

For cinematographers, there are two potential membership opportunities. While one is strictly geared toward union rights, the other is a society which is an “educational, cultural, and professional organization.” The first is the International Cinematographers Guild Local 600 which, just like the Motion Picture Editors Guild, is affiliated with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. The second group is known as the American Society of Cinematographers.

Advancing the art and science of cinematography and bringing cinematographers together to exchange ideas, discuss techniques and promote the motion picture as an art form — a mission that continues today. – ASC Website

Benefits and Drawbacks

Between these two organizations, it’s really broken down between representation and education. The ICG Local 600 provides its members with medical, dental, pension, and retirement. The ASC is more of a cultural and educational organization dedicated to advancing the art of cinematography. It is a very exclusive organization with only 350 active members, and 800 total members since its founding in 1919.

What Does It Take to Join a Motion Picture Industry Guild? Inglourious Basterds ASCImage via The Weinstein CompanyInglourious Basterds, shot by ASC Member Robert Richardson

The International Cinematographers Guild provides its members with a wide range of wage rates and contracts as well as safety protocols and contact information. The ASC provides cinematographers with a wide variety of master classes to educate professional cinematographers on evolving filmmaking technology. In addition to these master classes,  the ASC and ICG offer an amazing magazine subscription for both members and nonmembers.

Requirements (ICG):

  • Indicate Classification
  • Read the Membership Booklet
  • Read the Roster Placement Letter (Western Region)
  • Send Resume and Letter of Intent
  • ICG Initiation Fees Estimated ($5000 – $10,000)
  • ICG Annual Dues Estimated ($1000 + 1% of Income)

Requirements (ASC):

  • Membership is by Invitation Only
  • Three Active or Retired Members Must Submit Proposal
  • Worked as a Professional DP for Five (5) of Eight (8) Years
  • Work Most be Deemed Worthy of Acceptance
  • Interview with Membership Committee
  • Submission of Sample Reel

Oddly enough, neither the ICG or the ASC have any real presence on YouTube or Vimeo. However, there are countless videos on each platform that offer incredible insight from members of both organizations.

Are you interested in joining a guild? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.