Almost a decade ago, the Screen Actors Guild covered virtually no leading and key supporting roles in shoots outside the United States.
But the union has established a beachhead overseas, in what is being credited to a concerted effort to limit non-union work.
It’s been done relatively quietly, at least following a splashy news conference in 2002 led by then-president Melissa Gilbert and Kevin Spacey. The guild touted what it called a Global Rule One initiative, an informational push to its 100,000 members not to violate a key provision of its constitution that bars members from working for producers not signatories to its agreements. Joining them in urging members not to work on non-union contracts were high-profile members like Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Tess Harper, Holly Hunter and Kevin Spacey.
“Our response to this situation should be clear and simple: No SAG contract, no SAG actor,” Spacey said in a letter.
SAG estimated in 2002 that 1,200 to 1,500 members regularly work abroad and that 60 features and 160 TV projects released domestically were being shot annually at foreign locations without SAG contracts.
The latest figures show that they have made inroads. In 2009, SAG covered 45 theatrical productions overseas 170 actors, six episodic TV series with 12 actors, and 24 non-episodic TV productions with 56 actors.
Among the recent films covered are “Mad Max: Fury Road,” “Hanna,” “Lost Boys 3,” “Soldiers of Fortune” and “Flutter.”
“SAG Global Rule One has been an unequivocal success for the industry,” declares Ray Rodriguez, SAG’s deputy national exec director of contracts. “We have experienced consistent compliance from both members and producers and have benefited from the cooperation of talent agents and other unions. And importantly, Global Rule One has generated significant contributions to the SAG Pension and Health plans contributing to the overall well-being of SAG members.”
Since its inception in 2002, Global Rule One has covered more than 2,700 roles — not a huge amount, but nothing to sneeze at either.
Those figures include 572 theatrical productions that all together accounted for 1,752 roles; 317 non-episodic TV productions that together accounted for 707 roles, and 489 episodic TV series that accounted for 220 roles.
Rodriguez noted that 2009 was a “down” year for productions overall. And 2010 looks like more of the same as the U.S. majors cut back spending on everything except franchises — giving increased prominence to foreign players such as Imagenation Abu Dhabi, Germany’s Constantin and France’s Studio 37, StudioCanal, EuropaCorp, Gaumont and Pathe.
Constantin’s 3D version of “Three Musketeers” will begin shooting in Europe this fall with a reported $80 million budget. Orlando Bloom, Christoph Waltz, Logan Lerman and Milla Jovovich are among the stars.
For SAG, what appears to have diminished as well is friction over the issue with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. In 2001, the AMPTP said SAG was illegally expanding its jurisdiction into foreign locations after the board voted to discipline members who work outside the U.S. for non-signatory producers.
During the 2001 film-TV contract negotiations, SAG sought to expand the scope of the contract beyond U.S. borders and contended that rising levels of foreign shoots in less-expensive locales have led to safety problems and declining pension and health contributions.
The AMPTP responded that SAG needed to address the question internally, noting that the proposal was not a “mandatory subject of bargaining” because the producers in question were not AMPTP members.
Asked if members were ever disciplined and whether SAG made peace with the AMPTP, Rodriguez responded, “We have had no substantive discussions with the AMPTP about Global Rule One since 2001. Member disciplinary matters are confidential.”