Blurbmeisters tout non-union paydays, prod'n

Advertisers, tweaking striking union actors, announced they have paid non-union performers nearly $3 million in session fees during the last five weeks for shoots in the United States, or 15 times what non-union actors were paid during the same period last year.

The announcement is the latest public relations volley by the ad industry to underscore two points — that it is maintaining significant production of commercials since the strike began on May 1, and that members of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists are turning their backs on serious money.

“The fees paid non-union actors and the residuals yet to be paid will never be made up by the SAG/AFTRA rank and file,” said Ira Shepard, a negotiator for the ad industry. “This work is lost forever.”

Advertisers committed

Although the $2.98 million in session fees — the upfront money paid on the day of the shoot — is relatively small in comparison with the typical monthly total of SAG session fees, it demonstrates that advertisers have clearly committed to making spots at domestic locations in defiance of picketing from SAG and AFTRA. Advertisers also claim foreign production is booming.

“The numbers are really a signal of continuing activity throughout the country,” said Dan Jaffe, spokesman for the Assn. of National Advertisers. “Even though it’s down in Los Angeles and New York, it’s up in other places like Bakersfield.”

Off-lot commercial shoots in Los Angeles County for June through Thursday total 128 days, down 66% from the same period last year, according to permits filed with the Entertainment Industry Development Corp.

The advertisers said the session-fee information came from Talent Payroll Inc., which provides payroll services to 80% of the industry.

SAG spokesman Greg Krizman said SAG members received $13.3 million in May 1999 for session fees and $16.5 million in May 2000, with the latter figure increasing due to large numbers of renewals of previously shot commercials that members agreed to prior to the strike. “So SAG members who do commercials are not exactly hurting financially right now,” he added.

April offer

The joint policy committee of advertisers has recommended that actors be paid at the rates proposed in their final offer, made in mid-April, but producers are not obligated to follow that. SAG leaders pointed out the daily fees paid by advertisers to actors have varied wildly, ranging from as little as $175 a day to $10,000 for actors threatening to walk off sets during shooting.

“The non-union actors are often given one price when they’re hired and then a lower fee on the set,” Krizman said. “The situation demonstrates the need to have a uniform contract in place.”

Advertisers are seeking elimination of residuals for network TV and have portrayed union demands, which include residuals for cable TV, as asking for 500% increases.

“By demanding unprecedented increases which are completely out of line with union demands in all other areas of the economy, SAG/AFTRA continues to assure solidarity among the advertising industry,” Shepard said.

The unions have said advertisers are using misleading examples and contend that the ad industry is offering a 14% increase for a typical three-actor ad while the SAG/AFTRA proposal calls for a 25.8% hike.

In another development, strike coordinator Todd Amorde disclosed on “Good Morning America” that SAG and Shaquille O’Neal have discussed the possibility of O’Neal issuing a statement of support for SAG. O’Neal, a union member, became a strikebreaker Monday when he shot a Disneyland commercial moments after leading the Los Angeles Lakers to a championship, but his agent has already indicated O’Neal will not appear in another spot during the strike.

Unionists in Los Angeles picketed shoots Thursday for Allstate, Daimler Chrysler and DirecTV and demonstrated at Grey Advertising. They plan to continue picketing today outside Universal Studios Hollywood, site of several shoots and hit AT&T and Nike Town sites in New York.

During the weekend, activists plan to demonstrate in Orlando, Fla., at an event organized for retired Gen. Colin Powell’s “America’s Promise” charity. Powell incurred the wrath of SAG last month by using non-union actors in a commercial for the charity.

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