I joined AFTRA in 1972, SAG and AEA shortly thereafter. IMDb lists much but hardly all of the work I’ve done over the past 36 years – soaps, commercials, voice-overs, children’s TV, public affairs TV, prime time, features, and theater. I am a poster child for “middle class actors.”
In my working career, I’ve watched SAG grow from 25,000 to 122,000 members…yet this reality endures. About 10% of SAG will make a consistent living wage and earn health and pension benefits. Five years ago, I saw my peers dying…and took my pension. I’m hardly rich, but I don’t ever need to work again. I have ‘enough’. Yet I’ll bet a SAG actor who begins a career today and enjoys a comparable level of success and consistency to mine will not qualify for a pension, 36 years from now.
Think of the producers as OPEC and we performers as HUMVEE drivers. Simply put, we have zero leverage. We lack sufficient clout to compel them to deal with us in terms we might consider equitable.
Our union leaders are our commanders and this is a time of war. It is not a time for posturing or hubris. A savvy commander assesses the tactical reality and makes decisions that minimize losses, while planning to rejoin the battle at a more advantageous time.
It may be that by next contract negotiation, we have managed to level the playing field and can negotiate with genuine strength. Or maybe not, maybe that ship has sailed. We are comprised of three groups – Stars (and we know who they are), middle class actors (hardly household names but making a living, owning homes, putting kids thru school) and newbie’s (or aspirants or dreamers). Stars don’t need SAG. Newbie’s hope to move up the food chain but have little to lose. The ‘middle class actor’ (like his struggling economic counterpart in American society) is the only one with a dog in this fight.
The issues being contested in negotiations are important in principal but insignificant in pragmatic reality. They are certainly not compelling enough to justify a work stoppage. So why are AFTRA’s 70,000 plus and SAG’s 122,000 plus (given that 44,000 are dual card holders) allowing our leadership to indulge in brinksmanship that endangers not only the opportunity for middle class actors to make what living they may, but also threatening the livelihoods of …I don’t know how many, but a helluva lot! I mean the crews and support people that enable what it is we do?
WAKE UP! It’s 2008, we are a nation a war, an economy in recession, confronting a sinking dollar, soaring energy prices, a housing crisis, global terrorism, massive national debt…have I left anything out? And do you need more reasons to conclude that a work stoppage is an incredibly self destructive choice at this time in our history?
It’s called “show business”. If you want to be creative, do theater. It will enhance your craft and you might enjoy yourself. If you choose to vie for success in what is now prime time or feature films (hoping to buy that winning lottery ticket) well good luck to you! The odds are stacked against you (always have been, always will be) but dreams sometimes come true…and we all have the right to the pursuit of happiness. Just don’t confuse your giddy aspirations with reality, OK?
A strike benefits no one. The producers don’t care. They have product in storage and the belief that viewers will watch any amount of crap they roll out in prime time. The stars care only inasmuch as their big ticket projects will be delayed or shelved…but they won’t miss any meals. The beginners won’t have that chance to show their stuff, make that impression. The crews and behind camera workers will lose income and opportunity. And finally, the class of actors continually held up as “those middle class actors, for whom we’re fighting!” will be those most disadvantaged by a strike.
Approve the AFTRA contract. Compel SAG’s leaders to seek a comparable agreement.
Yes, we got fucked. That sort of thing is going around these days. Tomorrow is another day. But don’t add insult to injury by prolonging this silliness. Get ‘er done! Then use the next 3 years to find ways to insure that what we do is irreplaceable…and therefore valuable…and therefore commensurately rewarded.