By Christina Velocci
The birth of a newcomer into the large world of film and television can be a bright but confusing entrance. Whispers of unions echo around you like the first words you heard after your birth into the real world.
Unions are often of great interest to industry newcomers because they offer job security, good pay and success. They’re exclusive clubs that open doors unavailable to outsiders.
IATSE and NABET are the two largest unions representing motion picture film crews, from makeup artists to grips. If your sights are set on the sets of Hollywood North, your first destination should be the union office.
“Any trained technicians that seek membership with us, that have the training
and appropriate background pertinent to the job, can be part of the union,” says Bob Hall, president of IATSE Toronto Local 873.
If you want to join a union, there are a few prerequisites. You must attend an orientation workshop. IATSE offers a two-day weekend training course, the Toronto Film Industry Orientation Workshop, and NABET’s NABETiquette runs half a day. You also need set experience. NABET requires 40 hours of industry experience. With IATSE, the number of hours varies from locale to locale. You can volunteer or work on low budget sets to accumulate hours.
“Student films are a good option,” Hall says. “There is also the commercial industry. They’re great places to learn how the industry works.”
Keep in mind each section within the union has an additional set of requirements.
Once your application is accepted, you start off by permitting which is similar to being on probation.
Permitting allows newcomers to get started on their way to membership status. This system allows unions to try you out and vice versa. Like any other employer, unions want to make sure you’re committed to the industry. And Hall says it gives you access to the industry and the opportunity to get experience on a big set.
Makeup artist Vicki Syskakis is a permittee with IATSE Toronto Local 873. Her film credits include Final Destination 2, Dark Angel, House of the Dead and Resident Evil 2. She says the union gave her the opportunity to work on film sets which wouldn’t have happened with non-union status.