One does not have to be a conspiracy theorist to be concerned about three events that took place today in and around the new leadership at the Screen Actors Guild.
1) Former SAG senior staffer Sallie Weaver, who as far as I can tell has barely been heard from since the day she left the Guild several years ago, turns up with a detailed email to SAG Watch, a blog that is part of the New Majority that ousted SAG NED Doug Allen on Monday, which explains how SAG can get to “parity” with AFTRA in the current contract stalemate with the Producers. Sallie Weaver is a partner with new Interim SAG NED David White in a consulting firm that advises various parties in Hollywood how to deal with SAG’s complicated collective bargaining agreements.
2) Richard Masur, former SAG President and NY based leader of the New Majority, is out with an interview in the BackStage blog Strike Watch in which he, too, advocates “parity” with AFTRA.
[Update: Masur, of course, was only referring to parity with respect to the new media template agreed to by all of the guilds other than SAG.]
His argument is that SAG should agree to parity with AFTRA because otherwise it would be a more expensive union than AFTRA and that would incentivize producers to sign deals with AFTRA not SAG. Now that is, indeed, a curious argument. If that is the rationale for the existence of the Guild then, heck, why not just cut your rates by 10%. Presumably the work would just flow in.
Of course, presumably, the purpose of a Union of actors like the Guild is to offer actors the very best possible wages and working conditions and to attract Actors to SAG on that basis so that Producers have to meet those requirements to make their entertainment product, rather than the other way around.
And the presumption going into the recent contract round is that the Producers have been making money hand over fist, largely through the decade long gravy train known as DVDs. Nearly $24 billion a year and counting in revenue from DVDs alone recently. Thus, attacking the lopsidedly unfair DVD formula (which for our non-Hollywood audience allows studios to rake at least 80% off the top for themselves before a dime goes to content creators like writers and actors) has been a central goal of the Guild.
And beyond that the new media environment is coming online, although Membership First and the Guild when MF ran it until this past weekend wildly exaggerated the segment’s profitability. What is required is creative and aggressive pressure to stake out the Actors’ rights to revenue that will, almost certainly, rapidly increase over the next five years or so. To not stake out that ground now is to invite a repeat of the DVD disaster.
But to state now that all you are looking for is parity and that, in fact, to ask for more would actually hurt the Guild is a curious position to take for an experienced union leader like Masur.
3) Now that the negotiations are in the hands of John McGuire (or is it David White? I am not sure under the new structure) the first step that the Guild is taking is to meet, once again, with the very entity that has refused to budge for months on their so-called “last, best and final” offer.
Now what is the purpose of this? What are McGuire and White bringing to the table? A promise to drop new media, to fit into the so-called “template” and then ask the AMPTP to make some face saving concessions as outlined in the Sallie Weaver memo?
Is this why the New Majority went through the misery of resisting the sectarian pseudo-militancy of Membership First?
One would have thought that White and McGuire, as union leaders now, not just outside consultants, would like to meet with their union first, and not just with the National Board members who are paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars, no doubt, to engage in their new roles. But rather with the rank and file membership, with the A-listers who bear significant responsibility here for resisting the strike vote, and then with the leadership to clarify a clear plan to INCREASE the Guild’s leverage BEFORE they sit down with the AMPTP.
This is not to underestimate the damage done by the ultimatistic rhetoric and tactics of the now ousted Allen and his MF backers. No doubt that their go it alone strategy is largely responsible for the hole that the Guild is now stuck in.
But I fear that the Guild may be very quickly digging itself out of one hole and landing in another, dug this time by the Producers’ whipsawing strategy laid out over the last year and a half.