Thursday, July 24, 2008

My SAGging Confidence

It's gonna happen again.

Like some sort of James Bond film gone horribly bad, the evil geniuses are going to win. Somewhere in their mountaintop lair, they watch monitors, rub their hands and actually use the "Muhahahah!" laughter to signify that they have triumphed over our hapless heroes.

Very soon, SAG will sign bad a contract with the Studios. Again.

The first one was 20 years ago.. Back when the initials "DVD" meant nothing to the common person. It was new, expensive technology that no one was sure would even work. The Studios asked pretty please, with sugar, if SAG could cut them some slack on this new medium. They wanted to see if it could grow and flourish, and placing the diabolical yoke of fair residual payments for actors - who worked long and hard to get a role in that film and then make the film successful - seemed punitive. They asked for a a favor, a break from the actors - just for now - and the actors, relented.

20 years later, that same agreement is still in place. All actors share 1.7% of the profits between themselves. The studios get the other 98.3%. Checks for $10 grace actors mailboxes while millions of copies are sold.

The studios claim that they won't negotiate on that subject now. DVD now accounts for the most profitable portion of their revenue stream and they won't kill the goose that laid that golden egg. They can neither confirm or deny that a dramatic shift occurred somewhere along the line from DVD's starting as "experimental" to becoming "crucial". Find something else, they told actors for years.

And then, the actors did.

Now, the internet is poised to be king. Online downloads of movies and TV threaten to tear asunder everything. It's virgin territory, a wild west where there simply are no rules. A new "experimental" medium.

Now and at last, the actors thought, we have them! SAG began arming themselves with facts and figures, stirring the pot of unrest among it's union and positioning itself for the driver's seat (at last) in negotiations. this time, it would be different.

Not so fast.

The Studios are full of smart, smart people. Evil, perhaps, but smart definitely. They had time to prepare also (3 years between each contract). They mapped out their strategy and then began to execute it, thusly:

Phase one: Don't negotiate with the Writer's Guild of America (WGA). A small guild, letting them strike served the dual purpose of getting rid of production deals that no longer suited the studios (via a force majure clause) while showing the rest of the town how debilitating a strike can be. WGA and SAG members braved picket lines inbetween Starbucks runs.

Phase two: Undercut the Writer's Guild by offering the Directors Guild of America (DGA) a deal that's still bad, but better than the one the Studios offered the writers. The DGA rolls over and puts pressure on the WGA to take the deal. Eventually, the WGA also signs the below average deal because everyone has mortage payments due. Now the studios look reasonable; they've negotiated with TWO unions successfully. The town now begins to turn it's attention to SAG.

Phase Three: Let the actor's slit their own throats. This was a series of bonuses for the Studios. First, big stars like Clooney and Hanks come out against the strike (and why not? They get paid 25 million a picture, who cares about a few thousand more per picture that could help some OTHER actor insure his familes health. ). Next SAG decides to negotiate its contract without its sister union AFTRA. The SAG higher-ups must still be feeling good about their chances to get a good much so that they kick their partners at the contract table to the curb. The studios salivate at this.

Phase Four: Capitalize on the dischord. SAG's gripes about AFTRA constantly undercutting them with lower wages per shows they represent and bad health insurance are well founded. Unfortunately, the timing was terrible. Like a jilted lover, AFTRA finds acceptance in the big, strong arms of the Studios. They give them a deal, a bad one indeed, that AFTRA takes as if to spite SAG. SAG tries vainly to vote down the deal with dual member votes, but to no avail. Now SAG is the odd man out and if they down't want to negotiate, then AFTRA will fill their shoes.

Phase Five: Cackle with glee as they slide the bad deal across the desk to SAG. Checkmate. Nowhere to go, no more peices left on the board. SAG will hem and stall for a while but eventually, they will topple their king. The Studios will be magnaminous and welcome actors back while SAG spins the deal and deceased SAG presidents spin in their graves. Wait till next contract will be the rallying cry.

But it will be an empty promise. The Studios have already toasted each other with goblets of DVD money from high atop their lairs. They may be evil, but they aren't stupid and can clearly see the next fight long before anyone else does. They'll be ready for the next fight.

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