Artist Unions and Film Groups

October 10, 2012  

Unions and Film groups storyboard artists should look into

Connections and networking opportunities await. Below is a comprehensive list of resources you might be able to use to get involved with the broader storyboarding community:


There are currently two unions in the Los Angeles area that serve the interests of storyboard artists. Both are part of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). They are IATSE Local 800 and IATSE Local 839.

IATSE Local 800 is also known as the Art Directors Guild. Local 800 currently serves the interests of art directors, scenic title and graphic artists, illustrators and matte artists, and set designers and model makers. Storyboard artists and illustrators used to have their own guild, known as IATSE Local 790, until 2008 it was absorbed into the Art Directors Guild. Local 800 currently has about 2,000 members.

Most major live-action films and TV shows produced today in the United States are union signatories. When a film becomes a union signatory, it means the film producers have an agreement with the union to follow certain standards in terms of wages, working conditions, etc. IATSE 800 members all are on what is known as the Industry Experience Roster. This is a list of artists who have accumulated what the union considers to be a high level of professional experience. Producers who are signatories to the local are encouraged to hire from this list before considering hiring anyone else.

Here are some ways of getting work on a live-action production and/or getting into Local 800:

  1. When all the storyboard artists of the Local 800 are working on a film or are otherwise unavailable, producers are free to hire outside of the union. So, if you hear it through the grapevine that all the artists in the guild are currently working, it's a great time to start looking for work yourself! Additionally, if you do get hired and work for 30 days or more on a film, you can get that experience onto the roster and join the union.
  2. Sometimes, a film starts as a non-union film and at some point signs on to become a union signatory. Not all films are union signatories. Often, these are small-budget indie films, but not always. If this happens, and you have been working on the film for more than a month within a 365-day period of the show going union, you may have the opportunity to be grandfathered into the union.
  3. Another way of getting into the union is by accumulating experience in commercials and reporting it to the Contract Services Administration Trust Fund (CSATF). The CSATF administers and maintains the Television Commercial Roster and the Industry Experience Roster. To get on the Television Commercial Roster, you have to work at least 30 days in a job classification covered by the agreement within a 365-day period immediately preceding the date of application. Once you have done that, you may qualify to work on union commercials. Having done that, once you have accrued an additional 60 days of commercial work, you are eligible to upgrade the Industry Experience Roster. Once on the Industry Experience Roster, you will be on producers’ radar and the Local will solicit a membership from you.

If you have some skills or talent so unique that the production will only hire you and not some other member of the guild, someone on the production could vouch on your behalf and make a case to have you hired onto the show. It should also be noted that union freelancers can work on both union and non-union shows, but non-union artists can only work on non-union shows. This obviously makes it hard for a non-union artist.

IATSE Local 839, aka the Animation Guild, serves the interests of people working in the animation industry. Since most animation work is staff rather than freelance, getting into the Animation Guild is generally simpler than getting into IATSE 800. If you are hired at a union company and work for 30 days, you will simply be asked if you want to join the union. IATSE 839 offers a 401K Plan, Pension and Health plans, plus other benefits.


ASIFA is the animation society based out of Los Angeles, California. We highly recommend joining this group, since these are the members that vote on the Annie Awards, which are essentially the Oscars for animation. You have to pay a yearly membership but its well worth the price, since you are mailed DVD screeners of every animated movie released that year so you can vote for the Annies. There are also local chapters of ASIFA in cities such as San Francisco.

Directors Guild of America (DGA) & Producers Guild of America (PGA)

The DGA and PGA are both professional organizations that cater to directors and producers, respectively. As a story artist, you don't actually have to be a director or a producer to join. Anyone can attend meetings by signing up to the guilds' mailing lists and its a great way to network. Directors and producers are always looking for good story guys.

Visual Effects Society

This is another great group to join. Story artists are considered an integral part of visual effects. The group has great networking and you get to vote on the best visual effects of the year.

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