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What does the WGA strike mean for SAG?

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Dd_l

Dd_lIt’s been touching to see all of those pretty actors on the picket lines showing face and muttering the word “solidarity” out of the kindness of their hearts, but the truth is they too have a lot at stake. You see, whatever the writers get in their negotiation with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will set the precedent for what the actors and directors guilds will expect the AMPTP to pony up for their own contracts next June.

So, at this stage, what is it that the actors want? Even though home

video royalties have been at the forefront of the negotiating table for

more than 20 years — a battle the studios always seem to win — perhaps

the WGA’s move to take the DVD issue off the negotiating table Nov. 4

is a sign that all of the guilds have bigger fish to fry: the

inexhaustible power of Internet distribution. (Currently, writers and

directors get about 4 cents per DVD sale to an actors’ 12 cents, and

none of the talent gets anything for streaming video.)

Delineating who gets paid for what

is not an easy task. It’s been said that some creatives have

independent deals with the studios, but nobody’s revealing the

going-rate — for competitive reasons, of course.

To get a feel for what the concerns are, Hollywood Insider recently

sat down with a few actors, who also happen to be New York-based Screen

Actor’s Guild officials, for a casual lunch to “unofficially” talk

about their concerns. “In a sense, the WGA is negotiating for all of us

right now because they’re setting the temperature and tenor,” says Sam

Freed, who has a role in American Gangster and is the current

SAG-NY president. “And again, this is speculation: a lot of the things

the WGA is going after are the Guild’s concerns. The critical issue is

new media.” So if writers were to, hypothetically, get 1.2 percent of

Internet streaming revenue, by golly, actors are not going to ask for

less.

With rising production costs, the prospect of doling out more money

to talent does not make for a happy studio exec. If they had it their

way, they’d probably be in favor of emblazoning Mount Lee’s Hollywood

sign with the late Lew Wasserman’s motto: “My plumber doesn’t charge me

every time I flush the toilet.” In truth, today’s execs have

Wasserman’s generation to thank for the advent of the residuals model.

According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications,

the idea of royalties goes back to the early days of live radio when

performers had to put on a show twice a day, once for the East coast,

and again for the West coast. As recording technology evolved in the

’50s and ’60s, so did artists’ fears that they wouldn’t be able to put

food on the table without pay from that second act.

What the SAG folks are worried about in 2007 is that the corporate

heavy-hitters running the show today are more out of touch than

Wasserman was and think talent is dispensable. “There’s the reality

that you’re not talking with Warner Bros at the table, you’re talking

with General Electric [or] Viacom,” says Freed. “Those are the people

who are ultimately making the decisions. And when they’re looking at

their large books, they can take a little hit from the strike.”

The last time SAG had a theatrical walkout was a three-month strike

in 1980 over Pay-TV and those clunky rectangular boxes called video

cassette tapes. (There was also a commercials actors strike in 2000

that lasted six months.) Because writers, directors, and actors haven’t

gotten any hikes on DVD residuals since the model was implemented in

1985, they’re hell-bent on not getting burned again. “The landscape has

changed,” says former SAG-NY prez Paul Christie, who still serves on

the guild’s board. “You’re going to have to change [so] why not now?

Eventually you’re going to have to work this out.”

With the industry on lockdown, and no scheduled talks between the

WGA and AMPTP, Hollywood’s year-long forecast looks bleak. “There are

some people on the other side who are chomping at the bit to take us

out because they’re annoyed that they have to pay us at all,” explains

Freed. “In the same way, there are more aggressive folks on our side of

the table. What you don’t want to do is have those people driving the

argument.”

Given that the only thing all sides can agree on is a bigger cut

than they’re getting now, the entire business could be on the picket

line come next June (though the directors have only struck once in

their history — for a whopping three hours and five minutes back in

1987). “I don’t think there’s any sane actor in the country that wants

to go on strike,” says Christie. But it’s a potential scenario that

even writer-director-actor David Duchovny (pictured with Robin Williams) half-joked about last week

while picketing in front of New York’s Time Warner Center: “The guilds

are interrelated. If the actors and directors strike, I’ll be picketing

12 hours a day. Triple duty.”

Additional reporting by Missy Schwartz.

Delineating who gets paid for whatis not an easy task. It’s been said that some creatives haveindependent deals with the studios, but nobody’s revealing thegoing-rate — for competitive reasons, of course.

To get a feel for what the concerns are, Hollywood Insider recentlysat down with a few actors, who also happen to be New York-based ScreenActor’s Guild officials, for a casual lunch to “unofficially” talkabout their concerns. “In a sense, the WGA is negotiating for all of usright now because they’re setting the temperature and tenor,” says SamFreed, who has a role in American Gangster and is the currentSAG-NY president. “And again, this is speculation: a lot of the thingsthe WGA is going after are the Guild’s concerns. The critical issue isnew media.” So if writers were to, hypothetically, get 1.2 percent ofInternet streaming revenue, by golly, actors are not going to ask forless.

With rising production costs, the prospect of doling out more moneyto talent does not make for a happy studio exec. If they had it theirway, they’d probably be in favor of emblazoning Mount Lee’s Hollywoodsign with the late Lew Wasserman’s motto: “My plumber doesn’t charge meevery time I flush the toilet.” In truth, today’s execs haveWasserman’s generation to thank for the advent of the residuals model.According to the Museum of Broadcast Communications,the idea of royalties goes back to the early days of live radio whenperformers had to put on a show twice a day, once for the East coast,and again for the West coast. As recording technology evolved in the’50s and ’60s, so did artists’ fears that they wouldn’t be able to putfood on the table without pay from that second act.

What the SAG folks are worried about in 2007 is that the corporateheavy-hitters running the show today are more out of touch thanWasserman was and think talent is dispensable. “There’s the realitythat you’re not talking with Warner Bros at the table, you’re talkingwith General Electric [or] Viacom,” says Freed. “Those are the peoplewho are ultimately making the decisions. And when they’re looking attheir large books, they can take a little hit from the strike.”

The last time SAG had a theatrical walkout was a three-month strikein 1980 over Pay-TV and those clunky rectangular boxes called videocassette tapes. (There was also a commercials actors strike in 2000that lasted six months.) Because writers, directors, and actors haven’tgotten any hikes on DVD residuals since the model was implemented in1985, they’re hell-bent on not getting burned again. “The landscape haschanged,” says former SAG-NY prez Paul Christie, who still serves onthe guild’s board. “You’re going to have to change [so] why not now?Eventually you’re going to have to work this out.”

With the industry on lockdown, and no scheduled talks between theWGA and AMPTP, Hollywood’s year-long forecast looks bleak. “There aresome people on the other side who are chomping at the bit to take usout because they’re annoyed that they have to pay us at all,” explainsFreed. “In the same way, there are more aggressive folks on our side ofthe table. What you don’t want to do is have those people driving theargument.”

Given that the only thing all sides can agree on is a bigger cutthan they’re getting now, the entire business could be on the picketline come next June (though the directors have only struck once intheir history — for a whopping three hours and five minutes back in1987). “I don’t think there’s any sane actor in the country that wantsto go on strike,” says Christie. But it’s a potential scenario thateven writer-director-actor David Duchovny (pictured with Robin Williams) half-joked about last weekwhile picketing in front of New York’s Time Warner Center: “The guildsare interrelated. If the actors and directors strike, I’ll be picketing12 hours a day. Triple duty.”

Additional reporting by Missy Schwartz.

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