I saw this question posted on a popular forum for actors, and I wanted to repost the response I gave over there:
“How do you get SAG vouchers? I’ve been working a lot of extra work lately and I can’t seem to get one. I heard that you get one when a SAG extra doesn't show up and their voucher goes to you. I’ve also heard that each production has about 15 to 20 vouchers half of which go to SAG extras and the rest are for non unions. Which is true?
There are a lot of different stories out there that conflict with each other on this topic- I tried to look it up on the SAG website (I am a member) but I was unable to find complete details. I think your first idea is more true than the second- SAG projects are required to use a certain number of SAG members before they are allowed to bring on non-union talent. This ensures that the project is using actors who are currently members of the union. If one (or more) of those union members don't show up, the production can hand out vouchers to non-union actors to keep their union numbers at the required level.
The 2nd part of your post is partly true, but not in the context you mean. Technically, a voucher is simply a union timecard, which gets filled out by the union member and handed in at the end of the day so they can be paid union wages for their work. So, union members would receive this regardless. The fact that they have a stack of vouchers does not indicate how many SAG jobs they have for that shoot- it is simply a stack of forms that they hand out to the people who need them.
You could certainly give SAG a call (ask for the Membership department) and find out exactly how the voucher program works. It sounds like you are doing the right thing- continue to do background work, prove yourself to be a conscientious worker who pays attention, stays relaxed, and does their job without question, and the SAG vouchers should come your way soon enough.
But there are other ways to join SAG that I wanted to make sure you knew about. One- you can get cast in a SAG project in a SAG principal role and get your card that way. Or, two- you can join a sister union (like AFTRA, which you can simply buy into) and join SAG later. To use the sister-union route, you have to have been a member in good standing for at least a year in the "parent" union (AFTRA, for example) and have had at least 1 principal role in that jurisdiction. Meaning, you can buy into AFTRA, and then get cast in a commercial, promo, or voiceover and be eligible for SAG once your 1 year anniversary hits.
I hope this is helpful- Best of luck to you!
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Erin Cronican's career as a professional actor and career coach has spanned the last 25 years in New York City, Los Angeles and San Diego. She has appeared in major feature films and on television, and has done national tours of plays and musicals. She has worked in the advertising & marketing departments of major corporations, film production companies, theater magazines, and non-profit acting organizations. To learn more, check out http://www.theactorsenterprise.org.