New proposal has over $200 mil in gains but no added DVD coin

During SAG’s fractious (and ultimately, failed) effort at merging with AFTRA, one SAG wit observed why there was such ferocious membership opposition to the deal.

“SAG could put forward a referendum proposal on instituting immortality,” the wag groused, “and a third of the membership would still vote against it.”

And now, 140,000 members of SAG and AFTRA have to vote again between now and the end of February whether to ratify a new three-year deal covering film and primetime TV — or get ready for more negotiations or possibly another bitter strike like 2000’s commercials fracas.

Though the deal contains more than $200 million in gains over the three-year period starting July 1, and though it’s the biggest gain ever for this contract, there’s still plenty of bitching. Chiefly, it come down to this: No gains on DVD.

The lovely silver disc that’s saved the movie business will throw off as much as $100 billion in revenue during the next three years, and actors, like directors and writers, get a pittance of that princely sum — last year, only about $150 million of the $33 billion in DVD revenues.

But there’s so much more going on here than merely a debate over whether the new contract is acceptable: Nothing less than mutiny at the guild, and for the better part of a year. And all because the guild’s chief negotiator, Bob Pisano, sits on the board of directors of DVD giant, Netflix.

Though internal and external reviews have found no conflict, and a U.S. District Court judge threw out a suit filed by two members seeking Pisano’s ouster over perceived conflicts of interest, the vitriol at SAG has not subsided. If anything, it’s fomenting all the time:

  • SAG’s Membership First faction scored major political gains in last fall’s Hollywood elections on a platform of a more assertiveness — including a big push for more DVD residuals. Membership First won 34 of 35 national and local seats; though supporters of SAG president Melissa Gilbert — who has always advocated a moderate, pragmatic course– still have a majority on the national board, the margin enjoyed by her “Restore Respect” camp has dwindled. Membership First’s goal will likely be to pass the deal, but to do as much damage to Pisano as possible in the process.

  • SAG members Scott Wilson and Tom Bower filed suit last year to unseat Pisano as chief negotiator; SAG’s national board found three times that there wasn’t a conflict but SAG’s Hollywood board issued three votes of no confidence. A federal judge threw out the suit last month but Wilson and Bower appealed to the 9th Circuit and promised to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if the appeal is turned down.

As such, opponents are likely to hammer away over the lack of gains in DVD residuals (as well as another concession that allows nets to re-air a TV show three times in primetime — without paying residuals) but what many of them are really after is Pisano’s hide.

Membership First had no official comment on its plans for the contract, but proponents of the tentative deal are prepped for a major showdown.

Opponents haven’t yet indicated how hard they’ll battle in opposing the deal. Voices should be raised now that the joint board of SAG-AFTRA voted to recommend the deal to its joint membership by an approximate 3-1 vote.

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