Monday, January 26, 2009

Checks and Balances

We just got news today that SAG’s National Exec Director/Chief Negotiator, Doug Allen, has “stepped down” from his position. For those who don’t know, SAG is an acronym for the Screen Actors Guild – the union that represents actors in movies and television (including commercials). As an actor, I’ve been a member of unions since 1997, first with Actor’s Equity Association (the union for stage actors) then less than a year later I joined SAG. I only mention that to be fair and honest about whom I am in this debate.

The big debate lately is whether SAG should strike or not. As an actor, I agree with everything we’ve been asking for. There are so many new forms of media for which we are not being compensated fairly. And by new media I mean cable TV and home video. Well, that’s not exactly the focus of our efforts, but it is something we are still fighting for because actors, writers and directors have been getting screwed since cable and home video were still nascent. And now that the internet has been around for well over a decade we’re keen on awareness. Hell – Marlene Dietrich knew it before everybody else did. She put a clause in her contract to protect her payment for all media known and heretofore unknown, anywhere in the known universe. DAG. Now that’s what I’m talking about!

As a person with a brain, I also fully understand that this is not the time to strike. We all just barely survived the writer’s strike of 2007-2008, and this town cannot take another work stoppage. You see, when writers strike, producers can make the scripts that they’ve already purchased. But when actors strike, nobody works. Including catering, makeup, wardrobe, grips, cinematographers, gaffers, people who build sets, people who design sets, producers, writers and directors. EVERYONE. And most of these people are not getting rich to begin with – they’re struggling with how to keep their houses and pay all their bills as well.

When I realize that SAG was offered a similar contract to the one that writers and directors were offered [and took] a year ago – and that was during far better economic times – I have to put my foot down. No strike, not now. And if it comes down to the one person who was leading us in what I consider to be the wrong direction, then I’m okay with him being removed from that position. Hopefully he’ll find a place with a better fit because SAG is mostly not made up of movie stars, it’s made up of working actors.

He was not alone in his thinking - there were many boldfaced names who made it known that they supported the idea of a strike. Hell, even SAG president Alan Rosenberg was with him all the way. In fact he was quoted today as saying "This is the darkest day within my memory. It kills democracy at SAG."

WHAT? It kills democracy? Apparently Rosenberg has forgotten everything he learned in eighth grade Civics. This would be a good time to remind everyone that democracy in America is made up of three distinct branches: judicial, executive, and legislative. And this situation is an example of the judicial branch [the board members] taking steps to remove the executive branch [National Exec Director/Chief Negotiator] because it became clear he was no longer acting in everyone’s best interests. It’s tough to take, but it sounds exactly like democracy to me.

I’m an actor and even I know that.

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