H’wood SAG votes down agent deal

Motion notes L.A.-based thesps could face a larger impact

In a move underscoring deep divisions within SAG, the guild’s Hollywood board has voted 32-1 with one abstention to oppose the pending deal with agents.

The board’s action, which urges Screen Actors Guild members to vote “no” in the upcoming referendum, came late Monday at the end of a five-hour meeting after key supporters — SAG CEO Robert Pisano, prexy Melissa Gilbert and negotiating committee chair Tom LaGrua — had departed.

In response, SAG staff threw down the gauntlet Tuesday and declared the vote was invalid and that SAG will not allocate any resources to help “no” vote forces. Citing SAG policy dating back to 1997, staff contended the recent pro-deal vote by SAG’s national board precludes the Hollywood board from taking a contrary position.

Hollywood board member Mark Carlton, who made the motion, said SAG’s position is inconsistent and irrelevant.

“Whether the vote is official or not, it is the true position of the Hollywood board,” he said. “We feel that we have the right to communicate our position with our constituents and not be denied access to the Web site and the guild’s spin doctors, both of which are funded by members’ dues money.”

Underwelming praise

The vote came a week after a tepid 57-44 endorsement of the Assn. of Talent Agents deal by the national board and signals potentially tough going in persuading SAG’s 98,000 members to back the ATA pact. Most of last week’s “no” votes also came from Hollywood reps, who contend that eased ownership restrictions for talent agencies will lead to fewer opportunities for actors to retain agents.

Proponents of the deal, which revamps SAG’s master franchise agreement, contend a “no” vote will destroy SAG’s ability to regulate agents and weaken SAG’s clout.

Monday’s motion specifically noted that Hollywood-based thesps — who comprise 54% of SAG’s members — could face a larger impact if the deal goes through, since Hollywood actors are more likely to sign exclusive agreements with agents than those in New York.

H’w’d impact

“The Hollywood membership would be affected differently and perhaps more adversely by these proposed regulations, specifically the non-exclusivity issues in New York and the fact that the majority of film and TV work affected by the newly proposed commission structure is performed in Hollywood,” it read in part.

The tentative deal provides an actor can opt out of such an agency agreement if the agency has an outside ownership interest, but opponents claim that choices will be further limited for actors who take such steps. Opponents also have warned that the deal provides for agents to generate $34 million of new commissions over four years on residuals for video and TV reruns — most of that from Hollywood actors.

The resolution prompted a debate about the finer points of SAG rules as LaGrua, who was chairing the meeting, attempted to rule the motion out of order. But LaGrua was not backed up by the parliamentarian and then departed, leaving treasurer Kent McCord to chair the rest of the meeting.

The Hollywood board, which is composed of 52 members at full strength, also approved motions that its “no” vote be publicized through its membership newsletter and by creating a Web page. But SAG put the kibosh on those initiatives on Tuesday.

“No resources or other assets of the branch, division or office may be used to advocate or assert a position contrary to the national board’s established position,” SAG said. “Consequently, the actions taken by the members of the Hollywood board who were present on Monday evening, attempting to go on record as a board against the ratification of the ATA agreement, were contrary to established policy of the Screen Actors Guild and therefore invalid.”

Pisano said the policy is not meant to stifle any promotion of a differing point of view, so long as it’s not done on SAG’s dime.

“Let me emphasize that we are a democratic institution and welcome debate,” he said. “Nothing in this policy is intended to prevent or limit anyone from speaking or advocating, or using their own resources to advocate, a personal position contrary to that of the national board.”

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