Thursday, March 6, 2008

Stupid Airheads Guild aka SAG

OK, I know, I'm being really unfair to the entire membership of SAG. They're not all stupid - just the people who are currently apparently in charge. The situation is similar to my issues with the Writers Guild and their recent strike. The problem wasn't with its membership. The problem was with its leadership, who decided that they needed to make a name for themselves, even if it was at the expense of their members and others in the entertainment industry. They needed to be able to say, "See, see how great we are, see what we got you?" Ummm, yeah, but you could have gotten them that a lot earlier if you'd actually negotiated during earlier discussions rather than just grandstanding.

And now, its the leadership of the Screen Actors Guild that are being stupid. The studios and networks and production companies are just ramping up production after the end of the Writers Guild strike. So the writers are done and the directors are done. SAG's contract is up June 30, the same date that the directors' old contract expires. But SAG has announced that the earliest they'd be willing to start negotiations on a new deal is April. That doesn't mean they'll actually start April 1. They just won't negotiate prior to that. I haven't yet heard a good reason for it. If they want to see what the writers' deal and the directors' deal look like, they've had plenty of time to look at both. They don't need another month for that. The three-month writers' strike has been devastating for a lot of people who work in entertainment, and the industry is not likely to tolerate yet another strike this soon, especially since I think it would be hard for SAG to explain why they can't come to a deal when the WGA and the DGA have. AFTRA (which handles talent for television and radio, whereas SAG handles talent for feature films) has a contract that also expires June 30, and historically, talks with both SAG and AFTRA happen simultaneously. However, because of SAG's insistence on not negotating before April, AFTRA is now threatening to enter into talks alone with studios and producers. SAG has been using the excuse that SAG and AFTRA have to work some things out before negotiations with the producers can happen. Ummm, ok, then why didn't y'all start THAT earlier? And why is AFTRA saying, no, really, we don't need that, we can all start talking now?

In addition to that, some very high-profile members of SAG, like George Clooney and Tom Hanks and Sally Field, are urging their leadership to start negotiations as soon as possible, but those pleas are apparently falling on deaf ears.

If SAG does go on strike, they're likely to be met with a much different tone than the WGA did. Because of the rhetoric put forth by the WGA leadership, there was quite a bit of support for their strike. In the case of SAG, though, I doubt that any kind of rhetoric, no matter how good, is going to garner much support from anyone who has already suffered because of the writers' strike. In addition, I expect it's a lot easier to support the notion that low-paid writers should be paid more for the product they create, but it's going to be harder to champion that familiar actors should be paid more than the millions they're already making. Sure, most of SAG aren't making Tom Cruise's salary, but random unknown SAG member picketing isn't going to nearly garner as much publicity as having a known face picket.

It would also be interesting to see how the WGA would handle a SAG strike. SAG members were big supporters of the writers during their strike, loudly championing their cause and even joining them on the picket lines. It often went unacknowledged that part of the reason for that was that SAG's contract was due to expire soon, and SAG was engaging in a bit of quid pro quo. If SAG goes on strike, the WGA is probably going to feel obligated to support their strike, and SAG is certain to expect the favor returned. But will writers be as eager to re-populate the picket lines when their own union has just ratified a new deal with the same companies that SAG will be issuing vitriol against? And if the high-profile SAG members' request to start negotiations earlier goes ungranted, and a strike results because there's not enough time to negotiate, would those high-profile members really be able to walk those picket lines when they know their own leadership is responsible for the strike?

A new deal can't be made if talks don't happen, and talks can't happen if only one side of the table shows up.

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