Sunday, November 30, 2008

SAG Strike Update

Here is an e-mail I got from SAG that addresses many of the questions that members might ask about why we should authorize a strike right now. It is especially persuasive when discussing the raw deals actors got back in the 80s about 'home video' and 'cable TV' when those mediums were new and experimental (a la "new media"/internet right now) Those deals were never renegotiated even though now DVD sales is HUGE for the big studios, and more than a quarter of all television ad dollars are spent on basic cable shows. So, to think that years down the road, the media moguls will be willing to give more in regards to New Media seems pretty absurd.

I don't agree with everything they say, but some very valid points are made. Anyway, here are the Q's and A's:

Why should we vote to authorize a strike?
We need to show management that we are willing to fight to preserve our ability to earn a living as union performers; otherwise, management will take that away from us. Nearly half of our earnings as union performers come from residuals, but management wants us to allow them to make programs for the Internet and other new media non-union and with no residuals. This means that as audiences shift from watching us on their televisions to watching us on their computers and cell phones our ability to earn a living will go away and future generations of actors may never be able to earn a living through their craft. This change will happen faster than you think.

To add insult to injury, management also insists that we eliminate force majeure protections from our contract. These protections have existed since the first SAG contract in 1937 and protect you when production stops as the result of an “act of God” like a natural disaster or a strike by another union, such as the WGA strike earlier this year. This is an enormous rollback that will leave actors without one of the most basic protections of a union contract.

What is the effect of voting “yes” to authorize a strike?

Voting “yes” does not mean that there will automatically be a strike. A strike authorization is a tool that gives us more leverage in negotiations and we intend to use it to try to get a fair deal. If we receive “yes” votes from at least 75% of the members who vote on this referendum, the National Board will have the ability to call a strike, but it must vote to do that, and that won’t happen before we attempt further negotiations to reach a deal with management.

Why does management believe we should endorse non-union, residual-free work in New Media?

Management claims this bad deal is necessary because they need to “experiment” with new media and they claim they will renegotiate these terms with us in the future. We have already agreed to most of management’s new media terms, however, and have proposed, in the areas where we still disagree, extremely flexible terms for new media based on our successful low budget theatrical contracts and our nearly 800 made-for-new media contracts with independent producers. Our terms will allow management the latitude to experiment using union actors.

And how can we believe that management will ever improve these new media terms when they still won’t improve the home video residual formula after 22 years? Right now all the actors on a given cast share 1% of the revenue generated through DVD sales because of a formula we agreed to in 1986 when management needed to “experiment” with home video. In this negotiation, we have asked only that management at least make pension and health contributions on DVD residuals, rather than making us pay them ourselves out of our paltry 1%. They have refused even that!
The basic cable residual formula was also negotiated early in the history of that medium to reflect the then “experimental” status of basic cable programming and pays only a small fraction of network television residuals. It is now over 20 years later, 27% of all television ad dollars are now spent on basic cable, and the basic cable formula still pays only a small fraction of network television residuals.

Management simply does not have a history of ever ending their “experiments” and paying us fairly.
The reality is that management is opportunistic and they believe they can force these concessions on us because they believe we are weak and divided. We need your vote to prove them wrong.

Don’t all these terms just go away at the end of 3 years anyway because management has agreed to a “sunset clause”?

All the “sunset clause” means is that if management wants to maintain in future negotiations the bad new media deal they want to force on us now, they must write those terms down on a piece of paper and give it to us as a proposal. Do you really believe that this will provide us with any protection in a future negotiation if management decides that they like making non-union, residual-free programs in new media? The fact is that once management establishes a business model that relies upon non-union, residual-free production, it will be even harder to change their minds. Just look at how hard they continue to fight to avoid improving the home video formula, well after DVD’s have become their richest source of revenue.

Haven’t the other Hollywood unions accepted this deal already? Why do we need a better deal?

We are not looking for a “better” deal. We are looking for a deal that is different and that recognizes the unique needs of actors. No other union represents the actors who appear in motion pictures or the actors who account for over 95% of the earnings in primetime network television. While management likes to pretend, when it suits them, that “pattern bargaining” is somehow obligatory for unions in this industry, the fact is that we have a legal right to negotiate our own contract. And for good reason—the “pattern,” in many cases, affects us differently: The impact of sanctioning non-union made-for-new media programs is different for us.

Many performers must rely on the collective bargaining power of the union to obtain fair terms of employment. Unlike the writer or director, a day performer or background actor may not have the leverage to negotiate fair terms for themselves. Performers, especially stunt performers, also have health and safety issues on the set that aren’t shared by writers or directors and they rely on the union to look out for them. And unlike writers or directors, our union faces a significant threat from non-union performers who want to provide producers with an alternative workforce they can use to make their product without having to comply with union terms and conditions. Allowing our employers to make non-union new media productions will allow these non-union actors to gain credits and experience, which will make non-union production easier and more attractive and thereby reduce the opportunities for union actors like us to get work.
Allowing residuals-free new media production also impacts performers differently.

Unlike writers and directors, most performers don’t earn enough in initial compensation to live on. Instead, we rely on residuals to get us through the lean times. As production inevitably shifts from traditional media to new media, the lack of residuals in new media will eventually choke off that vital source of income that enables us to stay in the profession even when we aren’t working so that we can audition, hone our craft and remain available for new roles. In such a world, many of us will be reduced to amateurs working day jobs to support our acting habit.
There are already lots of differences between management’s new media proposal to us and their deals with the DGA and WGA. For example, management has agreed to set minimum payments for writers of made-for-new media programs, but refuses to do so for actors.

Why doesn’t the pattern apply to this critical issue? There are other differences. The minimum residual for a TV show rerun on the Internet for six months is over $600 for a director or a writer, but only $22.77 for an actor who works as a day player. On the other hand, use of clips of an actor’s work on the Internet requires consent by the actor, but a director’s or writer’s work can be used as a clip on the Internet without their consent. Is that better, worse or just different? Management talks about their new media template like it is exactly the same for each union and can’t be changed. In fact, management has proposed varying new media provisions to different unions when it suited them, but they have refused when we have proposed reasonable and modest changes, like making sure all made-for-new media productions are done union and pay residuals.

Are we sure that we have exhausted every opportunity to make a deal before asking for this authorization?

We shouldn’t have to exhaust every opportunity to make a deal before asking for a strike authorization. Most successful unions ask for a strike authorization early on, sometimes before they even start bargaining, because management is more likely to take the union seriously if they know the members are willing to fight. We didn’t do that this time because the WGA strike had just ended, but our union needs to get back to the routine practice of approving a strike authorization well before we get to the expiration of the current contract. Actors elected by the membership to the SAG National Board decide by a vote if and when a strike should be called.

As it happens, we have absolutely exhausted every possible opportunity to make a deal before asking for this authorization. We spent 42 days between April and July in hard bargaining with the AMPTP. In the months that followed, we bargained informally, met with CEO’s and educated our membership about the issues. Finally, we asked for a federal mediator to intervene. After nearly a month, management agreed to return to the bargaining table for a marathon mediation session that ran late into the night on two consecutive days until the mediator finally declared that it was pointless to continue.
After all of that, management’s positions on the fundamental issues at stake in this negotiation are the same as they were on the first day of bargaining. On the other hand, we have pared down our demands, made painful concessions and offered compromise after compromise, all to no avail. It is crystal clear that without the support of our membership for this authorization, we will have no choice to but swallow whatever management sees fit to give us lock, stock and barrel.

Is a strike really feasible considering how bad the economy is right now?

The bad economy hurts management just as much as it hurts us. As uncertain and anxious as our employers are about the future of their businesses and of their own jobs, the prospect of a SAG membership willing to go to the mat and fight them is the last thing they want. Yes, the bad economy means that it will require more of a sacrifice from some of our members if in fact a strike becomes necessary, but remember that this union was founded and obtained its first contract during the depths of the Great Depression. Hard times do not mean that we stop demanding fair treatment from management.

What can I do to help?

Vote “yes” on the strike authorization referendum. It’s our best hope of obtaining a fair contract. Talk to your fellow SAG members wherever you can find them and convince them to vote “yes” too. Read your email and visit the SAG website to stay informed and learn about town hall meetings and other events in your area and make sure you attend. Better yet, bring another member with you. If you can’t attend, or prefer to express yourself in writing, email your thoughts and suggestions to We read every email that comes in.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NorthWORST Air

Every time I've flown Northworst, er Northwest Airlines, there has been a screw-up. Every. Single. Time. I've spent countless hours in the lovely Minneapolis and Detroit airports thanks to their problems. I can't believe this absolute turd of a company is still in business... So, you can imagine my chagrin when NW bought out the best airline in the country (and the one with the most flights to my hometown) Midwest Airlines last year. Of course, they would bring things down. Nonetheless, because they now have a virtual monopoly flying direct into Milwaukee, I booked my flight home for Christmas aboard Northworst a couple weeks back.

After midnight last night, I get an e-mail from Expedia saying "Urgent: one of your flights has been canceled. Call us immediately." Surprise, surprise, after 40 minutes on hold, they tell me that my return flight to LA has been canceled and in its place I've been booked on a flight that stops in Minneapolis. Now, I don't really like flying (maybe it's the 100-ton metal tube defying gravity thing...), so the fewer take-offs and landings the better for me.

But, in this case, more than that it's the principle of the thing. I said I was willing to take a direct flight on a different day - "None available." Okay, well, then the price should be reduced right? I mean since I booked a non-stop flight and now you are stopping? "Nope. Since it is a non-refundable fare we can't have to give you a reduced price." But, wait a minute -- I'm getting WORSE service since now it will take longer, not to mention the stopping thing. "No sir, you are still getting the same class of service." And no chance to get a flight on another airline at this late notice -- oh, and it doesn't matter anyway since the fare I bought was non-refundable, remember? So, they can dick me around and I just have to take it.

Can you imagine this clever trick in any other business?? You order tickets for baseball opening day, then two weeks before the game, they tell you you are now sitting three sections behind where you bought tickets -- for the same price! No chance to get other tickets since they are now sold out, no sorry, no refund, no explanation, no recourse. Classy.

Seems like I'm not the only one to get screwed by Northwest. Here is some fun reading -- remind yourself that this company is still in business. (by the way, I found the picture of the plane up on top on another disgruntled passenger's blog, and it was entitled, "One of their better flights" - funny...)
30 Hours in Detroit Airport- Ugh.
Northwest Blames Pilots for Cancellations - Blaming everyone else. Very Mature.

Note to self: avoid Northworst. No matter how sweet their siren song, they will inevitably disappoint.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Gas Relief!

Huzzah-- managed to fill up for $1.99/gallon! Or about $3/gallon less than it took this summer out here. Let's hope those oil prices keep dropping so they can pass gas (savings!) on to the little guy.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

Once again I am away from home for Thanksgiving - I miss the friends, family, and food! But, I am thankful for everybody's support, even from parts distant. Hope each of you has a wonderful holiday. Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

November Rain

Last night brought the rain. And I mean real rain, not the typical 20 minute LA shower. It rained steadily all night and most of today - feels like home! That should help take care of some of the intense dryness that has plagued Southern California which has enabled the spread of those wildfires over the last few weeks. Now though the worry is potential mudslides in those burn-out areas. It's always something I guess...

Monday, November 24, 2008

SAGging Hopes for a Deal

I received an e-mail from SAG today announcing that attempts at mediation regarding the labor contract impasse between the actors' union and the studios have failed. SAG has decided to seek a strike authorization from its members. This does not mean there WILL be a strike, but it means that the SAG negotiating committee will at least have a little bit of leverage in negotiations. (Who are we kidding though? These talks are not, nor have they ever been, a negotiation. The AMPTP has laid down some not-so-great terms, especially regarding New Media, and will not budge.)

Excerpts from the e-mail:
Management continues to insist on terms we cannot responsibly accept on behalf of our members. As previously authorized by the National Board of Directors, we will now launch a full-scale education campaign in support of a strike authorization referendum. We will further inform SAG members about the core, critical issues unique to actors that remain in dispute.

We have already made difficult decisions and sacrifices in an attempt to reach agreement. Now it's time for SAG members to stand united and empower the national negotiating committee to bargain with the strength of a possible work stoppage behind them.

We remain committed to avoiding a strike but now more than ever we cannot allow our employers to experiment with our careers. The WGA has already learned that the new media terms they agreed to with the AMPTP are not being honored. We cannot allow our employers to undermine the futures of SAG members and their families.

SAG needs 75% of its members to vote yes in order to pass the strike authorization. I think that the vote will fall short of that, which is too bad, because I fear that the things the union will be forced to give up if they take the current deal will be things that we will never be able to get back. If the AMPTP won't negotiate now, why would they be willing to give things up down the road? When all media is "new media" (internet, etc.) in a few years, why would they be willing to give back anything they have? (by the way, as mentioned above according to the Writers Guild, the AMPTP has already failed to comply with terms of the new deal they signed last spring - nice precedent)

All of the creative types (writers, directors, producers, ALL actors) need to get on the same page so that we can have a unified front in dealing with these mega media giants next time. Unfortunately, it's too late for that this time anyway, and even up against a strike authorization from SAG, I doubt the big studios will budge. They are rich. They can afford not to.

As usual, Nikki Finke has some great information about the labor dispute on her Deadline Hollywood Daily.

I guess it seems too much to ask for both sides to actually negotiate in good faith... I don't want a strike. Nobody does. But, if SAG doesn't get this authorization, I'm afraid it is a slippery slope down...

Friday, November 21, 2008

Money. Big Money.

So, the new Bond flick Quantum of Solace opened in the US to the tune of an $82.1 million first week which was 30% higher than the last one, Casino Royale (which was by far the biggest grosser in the series' history). Since, unlike most big blockbusters, Solace opened overseas first, it now sits at a worldwide cumulative gross of $355 million. Them's big numbers! It no doubt means that another big budget Bond with Daniel Craig is in the pipeline. But, more importantly, many industry pundits are pionting to the Bond success (as well as the huge buzz and pre-sale for this weekend's teen vampire flick, Twilight) as evidence that the film/entertainment industry is recession proof.

It may be a bit early to declare that, but it is a good sign for those of us out here working -- and trying to work. By the way, anybody see Quantum of Solace yet?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Something in the Air

As many of you have likely heard, wildfires have again struck Southern California. With the Santa Ana winds spreading the flames, thousands of people have been displaced and many homes have been destroyed. Millions of Californians have been affected since even miles and miles away from the fires, the air quality is pretty bad -- In fact, I showed up at my softball game yesterday morning only to find out it was canceled because of all the ash in the air. Of course, even though everybody is walking around coughing, it is really only a minor annoyance compared to what so many other folks are having to deal with. Here are some pictures of this weekend's fires and the resulting devastation...

Thursday, November 13, 2008


Anybody, especially if you're a boy, of a certain age remembers the TV show CHiPs which was on in the late 70's and early 80's. One of my favorite shows when I was a kid. Well, now that I live out here, I occasionally see the California Highway Patrol (CHiPs) in action. And every time I see their bikes and those cool, tight, light brown uniforms, it makes me think of Ponch and Jon. Last night, on the way to my workshop, one such officer pulled behind me on the highway and stayed behind me until I got to my exit. Usually when an officer of the law is driving behind me, I get kind of nervous, but this time I actually thought it was funny -- I kept remembering how Ponch would always pull women over for "being too beautiful" or for "driving without my number" -- what a smoothie.

Of course, all night, while people (including me!) were doing their scenes in class, I had that amazing synth CHiPs theme song running through my head...

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

What Recession?!

As a proud alum of the University of Chicago, I get occasional updates from the school, as well as those inevitable post-grad requests for cash. Unfortunately, I can barely pay my bills now, so I can't afford to help a prospective student pay his bills just yet. But, I digress... The latest e-mail I got was a jaw-dropper. David Booth, MBA '71, just donated $300 million to the business school at U of C. Yes, that's right - Three Hundred MILLION dollars. That is mindblowing, especially in today's floundering economy.

This is the largest gift ever to a business school (besting Nike founder Philip Knight's $105 million gift to Stanford) and one of the largest of any kind. Of course, U of C will name the school in honor of Mr. Booth. Good for him, and good for the school. Go Maroons!

Full article HERE

Monday, November 10, 2008

Soaps on the Ropes?

I took a couple of great workshops over the weekend. One was part 1 of a 3 part Soap workshop -- yes, those wonderful sudsy daytime shows that housewives/househusbands watch. Or that they used to watch. I guess fewer and fewer people tune into the melodrama these days. In fact, I hear that many of the ones currently on the air might be canceled relatively soon. Still, the ones that do remain provide steady work for the lucky ones that get on.

And, no, working on daytime TV isn't really my first choice -- but it would be working, which would be good. And, no, I wouldn't get cast as the strapping 23-year old hunky love-muffin (I'm afraid my age, chest hair and my not-quite-less-than 5% body fat body would preclude me ;) But, that being said, I would love to be a cop or a lawyer or private eye or some such other thing while I am pursuing what I really want to do. At least, I think I would. Part 1 on Saturday was with a manager who only reps daytime actors. He was very forthright about what it takes to be on a soap and the direction that daytime TV is heading. And the next two weeks are with the casting director of one of the big daytime shows, so I guess I'll see what she thinks of my 'soapability.'

The other CD workshop was with Lisa Loia-Bourne, and she was really wonderful. Rather than the usual "start with questions," Lisa gave us her (very diverse and impressive!) background, and had a bunch of industry advice -- what to do and not to do, both in general and specifically for the office she works at. She similarly took the time with each of the scenes to give notes and feedback, both good and bad, and allowed the actors to do each scene multiple times. It was a very informative session overall, and I hope to read for her again someday soon.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

First Teaser Trailer for Angels & Demons

The first teaser trailer for next May's Angels and Demons is up, and it looks pretty slick. Click A&D Teaser to see it.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Greeting Seasons

There IS weather out here - and maybe even a season or two. How can I tell? Well, the days are getting shorter - I notice mainly because it is getting darker and darker as I drive to my Thursday night class each week at the same time. Of course, with daylight savings, it is now very dark as I drive down Santa Monica Blvd. at 6:30. These longer evenings mean that the weather cools off (sans sun) earlier and earlier which is great.

Also, we have had a few rainstorms recently (which I guess signals the start of fall? winter? out here -- I keep hearing Jim Rome plugging Rain X on the radio, so it must be somewhat routine this time of year.) Now most of these storms are different from the usual in the Midwest: there is a lot of wind, and torrential rain -- but it's all over in about 15-20 minutes tops. Then the sun breaks out of the clouds, and within an hour or so a few small puddles are the only reminder that there was any rain at all.

Some days (maybe 1 every few weeks) it remains overcast all day which is quite nice - though after that day, I usually find myself ready for some sun again. So, maybe I'm getting soft, and maybe the weather here could be considered a bit fall-esque, minus the falling leaves and random frost coverings, but I don't think there is any winter snow on the horizon...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Returns

Well, we now have a President-elect, Mr. Barack Obama. I watched his meteoric rise through the Democratic party firsthand as I lived in Chicago when he went from a local politician to the party's darling at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to the US Senate. I think he is a bright, energetic guy who will be a wonderful leader for our country.

Out here in California, there were several resolutions/propositions on the ballot -- many were confusing in terms of what they would mean as well as there financial impact on individuals. But, there were a couple such propositions that I thought were no-brainers. Proposition 2 is a very, very minimal farm animal rights measure that simply states that by 2015, farm animals have to be in cages large enough that they can stand and turn around most of the day. As it is now, virtually all factory farm animals --especially chickens and pigs-- are kept in cages barely bigger than the animals. It really is sickening, but most people don't even realize that this is the case. Anyway, the proposition is an absurdly small step towards treating animals as the sensitive, sentient beings they are, but baby steps are better than nothing. Thankfully Prop 2 passed.

A disturbing turn: Prop 8 which was a hotly contested proposal to ban gay marriage in the state also passed - by a close margin of 52% to 48%. Even out here in 'liberal California,' apparently there are many folks who believe that they have the right to tell others who they should and shouldn't love and who they can and can't marry. In this day and age, for a state like California to legislate such personal decisions -- and in my mind, rights -- is disappointing. Apparently though, some people are very excited -- see the clowns in the accompanying photo, pictured after hearing the results -- geez, as if two men or two women being married would make this dude's life any worse.

So, in summation, I feel uplifted by the direction of the government after yesterday, but also realize that we have a long way to go...

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

"Wanna Get Away?"

Yesterday I worked downtown as an extra on a Southwest Airlines commercial. It wasn't, in fact, one of the company's famous "wanna get away?" spots, but it seems to be pretty funny. I think it's part of their new ad campaign focused on how so many other airlines have add-ons for additional services - bags, ticket changes, etc.

The commercial was shot downtown on the 29th floor of the AT&T building in a conference room. I played a business man at the conference table with the main actors. I'm not sure if even a glimpse of me got into the shot and/or will make it into the final commercial, but I'll let you know if I see it on the air...

It was a really easy day; they only really used the extras for about an hour over the course of the day, so I got caught up on some reading. The best part about it (and you may remember me extolling the virtues of SAG commercial work in the past) is that the rate is nearly 3x the rate of film/TV background work. So, needless to say -- until I start getting cast as the principal (main) actor in commercials -- I hope more commercial extra work is in my future ;)

Happy Election Day!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Hair of the Dog

I am dog-sitting this weekend for Kiki. She is very cute and soft and friendly. Her little face reminds me of a Mogwai (for you non movie-nerds, those are the good, cute furballs like Gizmo, before they get wet or eat after midnight and turn into Gremlins) especially the way her ears perk up when you call her. Anyway, she likes to walk a lot, so I'm getting good exercise. Thanks, Kiki!