The open letter to SAG and AFTRA from the Producers released today is being widely interpreted as a message to the Guild leadership that they have to fall in line with the “pattern” set by the previously agreed deals with the DGA and WGA not to mention the deal likely being hammered out this week by the IA. Alex Ben Block at Hollywood Today wrote: “Seeking to send a message to the Screen Actors Guild leadership on the eve of contract negotiations….” and Dave McNary at Variety chimed in with: “In a move designed to pressure the [Guild] into making a deal….”
That’s a mistaken assessment, understandable, but a mistake nonetheless. The Guild leadership already knows the deep hole they have put themselves in after their mistaken “get tough with every one other than the industry” strategy backfired so badly when AFTRA went its own way recently. So the Guild leadership hardly needs reminding from Nick Counter about the pressure they are under.
The real purpose of the letter is to begin the public campaign by the industry to remove the strike weapon from the Guild. There is no evidence from the previous negotiating rounds that the industry can be moved by force of argument, no matter how persuasive or articulate or heartfelt. As even the L.A. Times editorialized during the WGA strike, the Guilds need to make the producers feel “pain” if they are to gain serious concessions. The WGA was not able to cause too much pain and so they came away with modest gains.
So if the Screen Actors Guild is to have a chance of getting anything more than what the Writers and Directors achieved – and who can blame them for trying – they need to think about the pain factor. Of course, the Producers are aware of this and hence this kind of letter and the many previous similar statements from the AMPTP. These always argue that the model being established by the new contracts is reasonable and the only one that can sustain the industry. Of course, don’t expect the studios to give any money back when even Wall Street says they are the beneficiaries of a windfall in the form of billions in DVD revenues.
The problem is that the studios are already controlling the public relations agenda with efforts like today’s letter. The letter is really aimed at two groups: the Guild’s larger membership and the fan base of actors. It is those groups, not the Guild leadership, that needs to understand the actors’ arguments for a larger share of the pie.
1) Because if there needs to be a strike the wider Guild membership must be 100% behind it and so must the fan base who have to be asked to express their support in various ways.
And, of course,
2) The better the membership and the fans understand and accept the argument for the Actors’ case, the greater is the likelihood that a strike will be unnecessary – the Producers will hear that message during negotiations and be far more likely to make concessions, including even the breaking of any alleged “pattern” bargaining.