PYRAMID SCHEME

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

THE SAME OLD WHINE IN A BRAND NEW BOTTLE

Many disaffected Americans (largely those on the Right) are protesting just about everything being done to stabilize our present economic crisis. What’s the point of arguing about prior deficits under different administrations? This is like a homeowner with a house on fire, railing at the firemen for water damage. Would you prefer your house burn down? What is all this whiny shit about?

You either accept this premise or you don’t: We stood (and still stand) upon a precipice of global proportions. IF our economy collapses, pretty much everyone loses out. There will be a waterfall of failures in credit, social services, food supply, power, etc. Cities will be in chaos, there’ll be civil panic and insurrection and getting a handle on that kind of madness is probably a bridge too far, without (and probably even with) martial law. Then all these ammo and gun buyers will find a chance to employ their acquisitions.

So the Obama administration takes a shot…and their weapon of choice is printing money. Will it work? We’ll see. Is there any real precedent for this clusterfuck? Not really, you can draw parallels but this one is unique and NO ONE knows with any certainty how to remedy it. Could it have been done more efficiently? Probably, but any huge undertaking involves wasted effort and resources. There is nothing surgical about this strike, it is hamfisted and desperate and well-intentioned, involving the best guesses available.

Its always easy to Monday-morning quarterback from the perspective of your easy chair…but you are not in the hot seat, making calls left and right, trying to juggle all these volatile lethal balls suspended (for the nonce) in the air.

I’m at a loss to explain the zeal of those so invested in decrying this effort to save and re-start the economy. It reflects a very small-minded and selfish perspective, “I paid my mortgage on time, why are we bailing out less responsible people?” Because their empty homes diminishes the value of your home. Can you grasp that?

The teabag protesters express their fears that future generations (their grandchildren) will have to repay this massive debt. Hmmm. That presumes there will be a world, an America and an economy in the future. If this…reflation or stimulus or bailout or however you characterize it, fails, future generations won’t have to concern themselves with indebtedness…just finding their next meal.

Evidently, the teabaggers expect the actions underway will save the world as we know it, right? Therefore, they are whining about water damage, it seems to me. Big government did not create this mess, big capitalistic greed did. But only big government can prevent a crash of the system (maybe). What is for certain is that grass roots, civilian “I’ve got a better idea” solutions are entirely too regional to mend a national problem. Any way you cut it, some will prosper, some will struggle – always. But with collapse, everyone struggles. And that is the fundamental purpose of our government – to provide for the well-being of all of its citizens. Not trickle-down, that is elitist thinking. If your boat is in calm seas and watertight, good on you…but do appreciate that so many others don’t even have a paddle as they try to negotiate Shit Creek.

4/17/09

WHAT DID YOU DO DURING THE WAR, DADDY?

I saw a recent bio that described someone as “a Vietnam-era vet”. Obviously that means he served during the Vietnam War…but not in Vietnam. This distinction made sense forty years ago (and surely in the ‘80’s), once we’d succeeded in teaching America to not blame the warrior for the war. We were so successful that wannabees (often politicians who’d never served a day) suddenly began claiming medals for valor and citing their combat history. Quite a few have been busted and embarrassed over the years…and well they should have been.

After we came home, some chapters of past veteran’s organizations (VFW, American Legion) did not welcome us into their groups. That motivated us to create our own advocacy group, the Vietnam Veterans of America. And since we were about inclusion rather than exclusion, we welcomed associate members (family members of veterans) and coined the term “Vietnam-era vets.” We vowed never again would a generation of veterans turn their backs on the next generation and we have kept that pledge.

Combat is combat but there are so many dissimilarities in the nature of war today, compared to our realities that those returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have rightfully created their own support groups…and we support them. What I’m puzzled about is any present need to define oneself as anything other than a veteran, if in fact you didn’t serve in combat.

Clearly if you are a Vietnam-era vet, you are old, we know that much for sure;) But why would you choose to specify in which war you didn’t fight? No one asked, few care and it suggests to me an unfulfilled yearning to be part of an experience that defined a generation. This sense of incompleteness appears to remain operative; a lingering regret of having missed out on something.

Many of us served multiple tours, as have so many of our contemporary veterans. I wonder how they would regard someone who chose to define themselves as “an Iraq/Afghanistan-era veteran”?