This evening I heard that a tentative accord has been reached between SAG and the cabal called the AMPTP, regarding our contract. We’ve been without an agreement for more than nine months and during that time, the industry has changed dramatically. So, assuming (danger, Will Robinson;)…but assuming the SAG Board chooses to offer it to the membership for a vote, it is possible that it will be approved…and production activity may increase. Or not.
So how will I vote? Good question. I am very ambivalent. I don’t need to work anymore…primarily because of past contracts that allowed me to earn my living and my pension. This newest contract makes that an unlikely eventuality for anyone beginning their career these days. Under the present industry realities, if I began my career today and enjoyed identical success for the next 38 years, I would probably not have earned a livable pension…and would probably need to find outside work, simply to live. Without residuals, a challenging profession becomes a hobby for all but the very few who attain stardom.
In Vietnam, there was a tiered reality. For every man with his face in the mud (combat troops) there were nine men in support of his efforts – clerks, transport, supply, medical, admin, etc. That’s a ten to one ratio. I suspect the ratio in show business is more like fifty to one, maybe higher. We don’t often think of the ancillary industries that support our creativity and make their own livings from that support. Again, it’s people in transportation, catering, casting, publicity, management, crews, post-production…a legion of professionals whose faces are unknown but without whom, the movies and TV shows the public enjoys could not be made. They have been brutally disadvantaged by our economic tsuris, our recent labor unrest and diminished production.
As with the general population in these times, the savings, home values and economic well-being of our working pyramid are stressed. Those of us in this industry have always known feast or famine, good times and fallow times…but the game has changed to such an extent that making a living has evolved from “difficult” to “un-fucking-likely”.
The “middle-class actor”, a category for which I am a poster child is fast becoming extinct. You can be an extra (an aspirant) or a “star”…with precious little wiggle room in between.
So, regarding my vote, as I said, I am ambivalent. My present comfortable reality exists because earlier actors struggled to create the labor conditions that allowed my success. I’d not like to surrender those hard-earned gains…but that ship may well have sailed, in any case. And at this time of difficulty and rising unemployment, I would like to see the underlying, anonymous tiers of our industry have a chance to make their living, pay their mortgages, educate their children.
I can play hardball without personal sacrifice, I can play the game, based upon principle and vote NO. It’s a bullshit contract, meaning it exploits those of us on the cutting edge of creativity. In Vietnam, our support personnel were busy getting bullets and blood and pay and equipment to those of us in the killing fields. In a similar sense, the lower tiers of show business want to be busy supporting our creativity…and they need production to make their living.
Sooo…I’m torn. But as I write this, I’m inclined to vote YES. Many professionals need to have work, many actors need the chance to “make their bones” and while principle is a very fine intellectual concept, I’d rather focus my energies on creating ways to circumvent the “suits” ability to run our plantation and dictate the conditions of employment, in time to come. This industry is rapidly evolving.
One thing is for shit-sure: Suits don’t create a damn thing. But at present, Suits get to decide how to divvy up the proceeds of our creativity. We (SAG) have a year or two to determine how best to insure that profits become more equitably shared by the creative forces that generated them.
18 April ’09