Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

I am not a political person but it has been impossible to ignore the circus of this year’s election. I am thinking about the way the process works and the amount of strategy used. I started to think about the SAG commercial contract, when it was expiring and the  renegotiation. I never thought of two smart sides using strategy to come to a fair settlement. I actually think I was very naïve in believing it was actors on one side and producers on the other. I was very sure that actors were feeling the lack of union work and were afraid if they went on strike, the union would never bounce back. I do not think for the everyday actor that they were concerned about rates, increases, or rule changes.

Actors getting involved in an increase of day rates, or first class airfare, or an 8 hour work day are not things the average voting actor was concerned with. I have found that most commercial actors do not know most of the rules in the SAG contract. Many do not ever know the rate for an 8 hour work day. They rely on agents or managers to inform and advise them. Agents and managers…that had no say in the negotiation. SAG actors were sitting back and watching while more than 60% of all auditions were non-union. Many actors did not care about the terms. They were so afraid that if they voted for a  strike that there would never be any SAG commercial work again. All they thought or heard about was the last strike and that if they went on strike again it was over for them.

I now believe that they should not have gone on strike because with the all the changes (digital, social media, etc.) that this contract was a good compromise.

We (casting directors, directors, producers and more) have all been hit hard financially while the world of advertising tries to figure itself out.

No matter what, when a client is dealing with a small budget to get their brand out there, they still can’t afford 8 hour work days, work outside the zone, P&W of 17%, etc. I have so many clients that actually investigate going union. It’s not the day rate, it’s all the other things I mentioned. I never thought that they were shooting non-union to prove a point. Maybe it was part of a negotiating strategy.  The buyouts for internet and social media are reasonable for now.  “Broadcast “ union commercials cost so much money in residuals that a lot of what I see is that they run one cycle (13 weeks) and then they move over to internet, where not only are they being viewed more, it becomes an additional buyout which is affordable under SAG.

The truth is, a lot of network commercials are being shot to air on a special events that will be watched live by millions of people. Commercials made for the super bowl are the best example. I felt that if they could have gotten rid of residuals and offer buyouts based on usage, then there would be more commercials running on broadcast TV. The union is never giving anything back. That would be like lowering an employee’s salary. I think continuing to fight for the part of the contract that will end up obsolete instead of trying to figure out the future would be more productive. Find a better balance. 

I hope network TV  will never go away. I watch a lot of it as well as the other available options. It seems to me that people need commercials more then they realize. You go shopping and know the toilet paper you want because you have seen an ad that stuck with you and you don’t even know that it is stuck in your head . If all our watching became ad-free like Netflix, then how would products advertise? It seems to me, as a person that can’t pay my rent without advertising, that it is necessary. Isn’t there a way or a compromise? Even Netflix advertises so people will know that they exist…commercial free. If there was no way for them to advertise then how would we know? How would we know about all the new original programing if they couldn’t promote these shows on Broadcast, cable, etc. Maybe I am completely wrong and uninformed, but it scares me. Social media is so fast and even less clear on how advertising works and how effective it is. Product clients can’t pay SAG rates when they have no idea if it is being watched or selling anything.  It was like going from print to TV. It feels like history is repeating itself when cable TV was added to the contract and the union decided there was no future in it. Having a reasonable union that understands all sides so they can work together seems so important. Talent agents, casting directors, and managers were never asked their opinions. We are on the ground living it everyday. I don’t think the people that were in a position to vote ever felt that everyone’s goal was the same.

I was convinced (since most of the casting I was doing leading up to the negotiation) that after it was over, there would continue be more non-union work then ever. I knew that all the big agencies and their signatories were doing more and more digital work and were stuck in how to move forward. Nobody knew what to do with Twitter, Snap Chat, etc. The actors won with broadcast and the producers/signatories won with Internet and New Media. Everyone knew that Broadcast was getting less and less and just had to hope that as low as the rates were, it would cut down on non union.

I think the point I’m trying to make (and maybe not doing a great job of ) is everyone made the best deal they could. Could they have gotten rid of first class? Yes. Would it have made a difference? Yes. Could they have come up with a tier system for P&W and would it have made a difference? Yes.

What I am understanding now and did not see was the strategy behind the negotiations. You do not flood the market with SAG network auditions before a possible strike. You sit back and let all the SAG actors see how much non-union work there is and they get scared. Great strategy. I actually believed going into the vote that there would barely be any union work again and three years from now everyone would jump ship. After the vote and the contract was passed, I had more union work than I had had in a year.

I was thrilled, but surprised. It would be nice to be able to do every job on a SAG contract while still allowing agents and casting directors to meet and employ new people without the fear of penalties. Creative changes all the time and, often times, we need to search for new types. If we are shut down then creativity will not move forward. Also, the membership amount is higher than actors can afford, since most internet or social media ads pay much less. This negotiation made actors afraid to become union members. Less auditions with more bills. The union said, for the commercial contract, that it was their highest revenue year yet. My answer to that is “celebrity endorsements.” How much of that money came from that?

This strategy (after watching the nonsense of a presidential election) became very clear to me. It was a very smart way to go and I truly think we have a chance of merging the gap even more if people involved would be honest, acknowledge the future, and consider a way for actors to work on union contracts and the advertisers can afford to offer them.

If I am lucky enough to be busy casting, I see they need to try and work together to make things better for everyone, not get political and out strategize the other side. Let’s stop the CIRCUS mentality and in 3 years, maybe ask the opinions of the people who are knee deep in it.

As my mother said, there are 3 sides to every story…yours, mine, and the correct one.

You can’t get there if you don’t ask everyone.

Actors: Life After the SAG/AFTRA Contract

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