The Quiet American: LA Times Profiles SAG President Ken Howard

howardWe learn two things in the LA Times profile today of the new SAG president, Ken Howard.

First, the Times confirms what was rumoured in the run up to the SAG election – Howard was not the first choice of the moderate alliance that backed him, he was not the second choice, but he was the third choice.  More prominent actors Sally (“Norma Rae”) Field and William H. Macy turned down the opportunity. In fact, Howard himself initially turned down the gig.

Second, Howard only became active in SAG politics “several years” ago and his limited political experience shows in the article – not a word in this first high profile article about what he actually plans to do or what his view is of the problems facing SAG members.

Howard did say he hopes to chair SAG board meetings “fairly.”  One can only wish him well with that job in light of the contentiousness that is inherent in SAG’s clunky and undemocratic governance structure.  His major opponent in the campaign, Anne-Marie Johnson of Membership First, was recently re-elected as SAG’s First Vice President by SAG’s Hollywood Division (the largest of three  divisions in SAG). In light of the churlish comments by outgoing MF President Alan Rosenberg in the Times piece, MF is hardly giving up their ambitions for the Guild.

One key issue to hit the new team immediately will be a decision on whether to keep Interim NED David White on board or open up the selection to a full borne search process. The moderates will likely push for the first while MF will push for the latter.

An equally critical issue, as I discussed in detail here and here, is that SAG is locked into early bargaining with the Producers, which limits the ability of the moderates to rely on support from the other unions including AFTRA, a major campaign goal of Howard and the moderate team.

Howard also said he intends to do a lot of “listening.” Hey, listening is good, but leading is better.  And SAG desperately needs leadership. Howard has played any number of presidents in his long and successful career so he knows what it means to lead.  His low key demeanor will certainly be a breath of fresh air after the years of mindless militancy from the prior administration.

But there is clearly a strategic vacuum at SAG right now as the industry in which its members live and breath is being torn apart by technological change and financial restructuring. So far no sign of how SAG intends to deal with these issues.

That can either mean there is intense work being done on these issues by the senior staff and new leadership and they will be brainstorming a new strategy to roll out very shortly, or, well, it can mean nothing at all is going on and no one has agreed on anything and the staff are either clueless about what to do or helplessly wondering what will come next from the still divided SAG leadership.

SAG has a national board meeting coming up later this month – we will likely get the first hint at which of these situations is reality.

1 Comment


  1. The problem here is, Steve, that SAG has had more striving to “lead” – and they never listened.

    The job of the SAG President is to “represent” – not lead. The National Board leads. The more Ken can listen without imposing his filter between himself and those he is listening to, the better it will be for all members.

    The Art of Listening has been ignored by too many – personally and professionally – to the extent that I see it as a primary cause of unrest in the world today. Ken is a master of that art form.

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