With their strike against advertisers in its fourth month, union actors have clearly succeeded in one area — persuading producers to not shoot in Los Angeles because of potential disruption from pickets.
July’s off-lot ad production in Los Angeles County hit the lowest level since tracking began six years ago with a mere 190 days of production permits, according to figures from the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. That was 24% below the previous low in October 1995 and a stunning 66% decline from July 1999.
For the first three months of the strike, permitted ad shoots totaled 887 days, off 45% from the same period of 1999.
“If the objective was to drive production out of Los Angeles, then they’ve achieved that,” said Matthew Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers.
But producers and advertisers insist the overall level of activity has remained constant since the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists launched the work stoppage May 1.
SAG and AFTRA supporters routinely target several non-union shoots in Los Angeles and New York each day. On Wednesday, they picketed a McDonald’s shoot in Hollywood and outside Universal Studios, where a Texaco ad was shot.
“We really think twice about shooting in Los Angeles and New York,” said David Perry, director of broadcast production at Saatchi & Saatchi. “We still prefer to shoot there because the best crews are there, but we’ve been finding very good non-union actors in secondary markets like Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Minneapolis. And the Canadian markets in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal are close to saturation.”
Perry said foreign locations such as Australia, France, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain have become increasingly popular during the strike. He also predicted that ad shooting will rise soon due to the need for spots for the Summer Olympics, the fall TV season and car launches.
Union activists contend the overall level of activity has gone down and assert that production values and performance have declined in non-union spots that air.
“The quality has deteriorated, and we’re seeing a lot more ads without actors,” said SAG member Kevin McCorkle, who has appeared in more than 100 ads since 1982. “There’s a definite quality drop-off in deadline-intensive spots.”
SAG board member Chuck Sloan said the union’s objective in picketing is to increase production costs and pressure advertisers into returning to the bargaining table. “And the real cost to advertisers is coming from airing bad commercials,” he added.
Perry insists that advertisers and agencies are intractable in their ongoing refusal to shoot spots under union-approved interim agreements. “The temptation is great but any agency that signed an interim deal would be a pariah,” he added.
The unions claim more than 1,800 such agreements have been signed and have disclosed three dozen major corporations that have approved such ads including recent shoots for Carl’s Jr., Voicestream and Longs Drug Stores.
Attacks on industry
The ad industry will be attacked today in Beverly Hills when the unions demonstrate outside the Family Program Awards Luncheon at the BevHilton. The event is sponsored by the Assn. of National Advertisers, the trade group repping advertisers in the stalled negotiations with the unions.
Commercial producers will also face the added headache of the West Hollywood City Council considering a motion at its meeting Monday by Mayor Jeffrey Prang to bar shooting of non-union ads in the city while the actors are on strike along with tightening the requirements for permitting such shoots. The city usually permits about 50 ad shoots per year.
Prang noted that the 90046 zip code, which includes many West Hollywood households, has the largest number of SAG members in the country. The two-square-mile municipality has 38,000 residents.
“The city of West Hollywood has a long-standing history protecting and supporting union members and their activity, and this item is consistent with the values of our community,” he added. “We need to make a statement that the actions of the advertisers are inappropriate.”
The AICP has already protested the proposed ban, as it did when similar measures came up for consideration in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. It has argued that such bans — none of which has yet been enacted — will force production away from the region.