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How and why actors might join the IATSE 480 union

If you’re anything like me you don’t have just one passion. As an actor, I am always looking for new experiences and opportunities to improve my flexibility of abilities. Joining the 480 Union is a great way to gain new skills relevant to the industry while saving up a decent chunk of money to reinvest into your acting career. This blog will cover the different opportunities provided by joining the union and then I’ll talk about how to apply and get started.

According to their website, “IATSE Local 480 represents professional film technicians working “below-the-line” on TV and movie productions in the state of New Mexico.” The union offers a way for crews to work within their department while being protected with the benefits of safe working conditions, health coverage, and retirement. The financial qualities of working in a union department are far larger than stand-in and background work. If you're willing to learn a craft and can get on a crew for a few months, the opportunities are wide and vast.

Now I’ll admit, film crews work long hours that frequently amount to over 14-hour work days, 5 (sometimes 6) days a week. But let's say you get on a show as a set dresser like my dad does in the art department. On average, that pays around $30 an hour. After working 8 hours, you start getting time and a half, and double time after 14 hours. If you work consistently on a show, you could be bringing home close to $7000 a month or more. It takes up all your time and energy, making it difficult to submit auditions or go to acting classes. This is why I don't recommend working full time if possible and just taking day player work whenever different departments need it.

That doesn’t mean it’s not possible to work full-time and still get your auditions in on time. But it takes lots of dedication and commitment. I’m only presenting it as an option, or if you want to take time off from acting to build up your savings. But that’s not the only benefit of it. If you’re ever interested in producing your own films (which you should be), you'll need to have an understanding of all the different departments and how they work. I learned that from speaking to Julian Cavett, a passionate man of many talents in the entertainment industry who I met at a local networking event. Without even joining the union, Cavett started working in every possible department he could get into on set to understand the entire process before producing one of his own films. This leads me to one other great benefit of working in many different departments on film sets. It allows you to network with everyone you work with on every show you work on!

Here is a list of all the different departments covered by IATSE Local 480 union. Go through it and make a note of the ones that look interesting to you, or click the hyperlink for an extended list with descriptions of each.


Art Department



Craft Service





Hair & Makeup



Office & Admin

Paint & Scenic



Set Dressing


Special Effects

Teacher/Welfare Worker


If you're working as a background or stand-in on set, keep an eye on each department and what they do to decide if you'd like to learn that craft. You might even try getting to know some of them since you’ll need two letters of recommendation to apply, and what better recommendation than from people already working in the union?

So how exactly do you get into the union? Well, it can actually be kind of a long process. Along with your letters of recommendation, your application must be approved before you are added to the overflow list. Once on the overflow list, you don’t have to pay union dues until you have worked at least 30 days in any department. This is a great way to try out lots of different departments whenever there are blast calls for day players to work. You can accept any job that gets sent out and will never get penalized for turning it down. The union office also frequently has valuable free training courses that can get you quickly certified in things like CPR or operating mobile elevating work platforms. I highly recommend signing up for and attending every course that is offered by IATSE once you join. Once you have your 30 days, you can pay your dues and get signed into the union to work full-time in whatever department you fell in love with, or just continue accepting day player works for a nice paycheck and continue pursuing your acting career with all the valuable information you have learned from this experience.

As an actor, it is important to go out into the world and gain many different skills. It helps you tap into experiences similar to that of a character you may be trying to play. What better way to do that than through all the different departments covered by the IATSE local 480 union? By doing so, you can gain valuable skills and experiences that can enhance your craft and help you better understand the production process. Not only does it pay well, but it also allows you to network with a diverse group of professionals and expand your opportunities for future projects. Ultimately, becoming a member of the union is a wise investment in your career as an actor, providing you with the resources and knowledge to thrive in the industry.

Daniel Ward is an actor, writer, and contestant finalist of Broadway Bound Live Season 2 and can be contacted on Twitter @wordsofward34 or Instagram @wardledorp


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