Monday, June 30, 2008

Actors ask, “Who’s union is it anyway?” as AFTRA members cast ballots

Reaching a peace accord in the Middle East might be easier than what it will take for AFTRA and SAG, the two actors union, to come together after the eventual end of SAG’s divisive campaign to get dual union members (those actors who belong to both SAG and AFTRA) to defeat the new work agreement assembled by AFTRA that is being voted on right now.

July 8 is D-Day in Hollywood. That’s the date AFTRA officials will announce the results of the voting by their members on whether or not to ratify the new contact. SAG has spent a ton of its member’s money in a nasty campaign to attempt to get this contract kicked out of Hollywoodland. SAG says that it can negotiate a better agreement for all actors. But SAG has also made a lot of enemies in the process of their own negotiations with producers and studios, none the least of which are members of their own union.

Regardless of what happens on July 8, one thing is clear: SAG will have a lot of kissing and making up to do once the dust has settled. Whether or not the AFTRA deal passes, the bigger picture of “What next?” will still linger.

Regardless of how AFTRA members vote, the current SAG contract still expires at midnight tonight. Regardless of whether the new AFTRA contract is approved, SAG will still be contract-less, unless a deal is reached today or night, which no one expects can or will happen.

Assuming the AFTRA deal passes (and many industry observers believe that it will), SAG will be left with a big mess to clean up. But that can only happen after they finally get a contract of their own they can present to their members that is worthy of a “yes” vote.

The (union) actors I have talked with about this issue seem to all agreed that they just want the opportunity to work whenever and as often as they can. Yes, they want to be compensated fairly for their talents and their contributions, but the last thing any of them seem to want is a work stoppage, thus titling the playing field into “out of order” status for a community much larger than just actors.

What a tangled web. This is a crisis of image and reputation that will require lots of strategic PR for both unions to fix. In the end, it’s also going to require a lot of bridge building. The two unions exist to serve the same population, not to pit member against member.

How do you feel about the damage done and the need to rebuild those relationships for both unions? Post your comments here or e-mail me at


Thursday, June 19, 2008

The AFTRA SAG Dilemma - Is an Actor's Strike Now Inevitable?

Could there really be another strike in the offing in the business of acting and, if so, what would that really mean to most “working” and “wanting to work” artists?

As SAG and AFTRA publicly battle out their differences and disagreements with and over a new contact AFTRA has secured that SAG claims is almost evil, what, really does all of this mean? Who’s to blame? Is a strike inevitable? Where do we go from here?

One at a time …

I was one of about 50 or so managers who participated in an invited meeting with SAG leadership last week to hear their side of the AFTRA contract story and to hear them plead their case against the new AFTRA contract, which members will soon be asked to vote on, SAG's position is that the AFTRA agreement is not good for actors of any union nor the business of acting in general. That's what they said, But, let me be honest. What I heard (instead) seemed to me to be a lot of propaganda that seems to be rooted in protecting the business interests of the union and not in the best interests of the members of either or both unions.

It’s all economically-based. The bottom line is always the bottom line. Yes, actors, performers and artists should be fairly compensated for their talents and their contributions in a marketplace that has seen far less of the fair share go to them and more and more going to the studios and the producers. But how do you level the playing field? There in lies what should be the crux of the issue for both sides.

Since union members pay their bi-annual dues based on a percentage of the union work they have been paid for, it is in the best (financial) interests of both unions to scoop up as many production contracts and affiliations as possible. SAG, the long time leader in this area, stands to lose a huge chunk of change if productions that have been (or would be SAG sanctioned), started becoming produced under AFTRA’s jurisdiction. On the other hand, AFTRA stands to gain tremendously by collecting increased dues from its members who would work in formerly SAG jurisdiction productions that they would now control.

Yes, the talent should be paid more for Internet use and downloads of material in which they appear. Yes, talent should share in a greater percentage of the profits from DVD sales on products containing their work. Of course talent should have control over where and how the use of clips containing their images and performances are licensed.

But my fear is that what now seems to be a school yard bully fest started by the SAG leadership isn’t getting anyone anywhere, except closer to a strike that no one can afford.

The long-term solution is unity, not divisiveness. SAG’s behavior isn’t productive in this process. AFTRA played politics, too, in this election season and, for now, seems to be ahead.

So where do we go from here?

It was historic that SAG, who has never before officially welcomed nor acknowledged the role we talent managers play in the life of a client’s career (in fact, they have gone out of their way to take a stand against us, as witnessed in Rick Siegel’s long legal battles in the California State Supreme Court over the rights and protections of managers to be paid for the work they do for the clients who hire us).

Interesting that now SAG thinks we matter; interesting that now SAG recognizes that we have some positive influence with our clients in the decisions they make regarding their careers; interesting that SAG has tried to “sell” us on the merit of our (union) clients turning down the AFTRA deal in support of what SAG claims it can better achieve later. Interesting that SAG now wants us to take that message to our clients.

AFTRA hasn’t invited me to any breakfast meeting, so it doesn’t appear that they’re all worried. It’s not that I’m looking for a free breakfast or a commute to Museum Square at 8:00AM, but it remains interesting that they have been silent to the talent managers community at large on this issue.

What does all of this mean?

Who knows, really? I just get to rant and share my perspective – hoping that you will do the same. For union actors, a strike would be devastating. For non-union actors, I really think that, while things slow down, things won’t stop. Non-union actors will work as they always have (for non-union wages); union actors who elect to take Financial Core status will also have a opportunity to work (in non-union projects), but to what end and how many will actually go this route.

An actor acts – or ought to whenever and wherever possible when it makes sense to do so. For new or young actors, very little will change, strike or no strike. The leadership of both unions say that these struggles are not just for now, but for the future.

I’d say it’s looking pretty bleak right now.

I hope I’m surprised by the outcome of all of this. Agencies, casting offices, managers, writers, producers, directors are all still struggling with trying to emerge healthy from the writers strike of not so many months ago. How possibly could most survive in the climate of another ugly strike?

It’s all perspective and opinion – and I’d love to hear yours. Post your comments directly here or e-mail me at

Here’s hoping for a sane strategy to follow …