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June 6, 2009, at 1:15 pm — Blogs / /

Collateral Damage: SAG Strike Looms Again

Richard Schiff wrote a blog over at the Huffington Post this weekend drawing a parallel between a strike in England at a FORD auto plant by women workers and the current SAG/Industry standoff. Although the parallels to that women’s auto strike of last century are interesting what Schiff forgets in his Huffington Post blog entry is that we are still recovering in the industry from the writer’s strike of one year ago. Work stopped then and did not pick back up because of the possibility of a SAG strike. There are, as I heard one report, hundreds of films on hold until the contract is signed – that’s hundreds if not thousands of jobs waiting in the wings to be filled once a green light is given, once the smoke clears and the picket signs go down.

And in the mean time guess what’s happened – check your TV’s guide, tons of reality shows. Not many narrative. Notice how many voice actors are in commercials and how many commercials are several years old? It’s not a coincidence. To the studios it’s simply content – they don’t care if it’s narrative or not – they just want content to attract viewers so advertisers have something to advertise on.

And having just gone over the Highlights of the Tentative Agreement as found on the SAG website, I’m a bit confused – it looks like all SAG members, from principle players to extras get an increase in pay. So I’m not sure what they don’t like about this contract. I wish I could hear some specifics to be fair. And this contract is up for renewal in two years – for those coming off of the ’08 election two years is not that long anymore.

I’m one of those folks out of work, not in SAG but dependent on SAG to be a part of the job making industry. I could have joined SAG years ago as a regular on an NBC AFTRA sitcom – I had served enough time in AFTRA and on that show to meet SAG’s requirements but I couldn’t afford their initiation fee. And it’s always bothered me that the initiation fee was so high and that to join SAG you have to convince a producer – not anyone in SAG to let you in, let alone your skills as an actor. But that’s a different conversation for a different day.

I’m all for unions. I think when workers are being abused or misused unions can do a lot of good to correct and protect, but this is not the 1930’s, nor are actor’s at all the same as women needing more rights. There are a slew of labor laws and union created measures that are in place currently to protect the actor’s rights. So that’s not really a fair comparison, even if it’s on Schiff’s mind. It is simply not the same animal. (notice how much work already has gone to Canada and New Zealand and India?)

My problem is not that I think they shouldn’t strike or reject the contract, I’m sure there are pluses and minuses to a yes or no vote – and folks can spin it any way they like. My problem is these issues should have been dealt with nearly 10 years ago. I remember sitting backstage when I was on that TV show and listening to my fellow actors spend all their time not being grateful for making a living as an actor (something our parents said would never happen right?) but talking about insurance and pay rates, etc, in the SAG and AFTRA contracts up for renewal at that time. I mentioned to them what about HD? They laughed. They didn’t care. They weren’t paying attention to how technology was effecting their lives. I was in a unique position because I was also a USC student at the time making my way through the film school there – and the school was a buzz about HD and how it would replace film.

You see SAG back then only had jurisdiction over projects shot on FILM, anything shot on video tape was AFTRA’s jurisdiction. I noticed this could mean SAG losing all footing if it wasn’t careful since HD is shot on VIDEOTAPE (and still is). And in many ways I was right. I also began work in DVD shortly after those conversations and wondered if SAG members were paying attention to how DVD might effect their residuals.

And SAG ignored, mostly, both HD and home video delivery for years.

I guess my point is – no matter how right some in SAG might be, they are well behind the curve and those of us who are waiting for them are growing impatient. I need a job. I do not have the luxury of holding out for an additional percentage point here or there. I need a job. And right now I happen to be trying to transition into directing and producing having launched with my wife and some fellow actors our own web series – and we’d like it to get funded so I can pay everyone fairly and frankly, very well. The benefit of being both an actor, director, writer and a producer is that I want to pay all talent as much as I can but I can’t do that if lines to funding are cut or stalled.

So I look forward to an end to this stand off. It might mean an end to my wife’s and I’s current struggles and it might mean we can create jobs for tons of actors. That would be nice.

I want the actors to get a fair shake but I also want this industry to stop tearing itself apart. I feel like that Israeli, Iraqi or Palestinian family stuck in the middle of a conflict between two warring leadership regimes. I am the collateral damage. Please keep it minimal.

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