Nineteen ninety nine marks the twenty-fifth year that Screen Actors Guild New York Executive Director John Sucke, has been with the union. But this silver anniversary also signifies a pivotal time for the organization and its east coast-based members.
On the eve of the millennium, television and film production are on the rise in the Big Apple. Several successful television shows including Spin City and NYPD Blue are produced in New York. And more major studios shoot feature films here than ever before.
But, even with this heightened production boom, the Screen Actors Guild continues to battle age-old issues like unemployment and complete commercial compensation like they are fresh, new wars.
“There’s an even greater challenge for the New York performer — there’s still not enough work to go around,” says Sucke, a former actor. “It’s very difficult to make a regular living in a profession that is based on the way you look, sound and your skills. An actor can star in a movie and work for 8 weeks, and then not work for 2 years after that. Even though we have more members and more work, we’re still faced with the fact that on any given day 85% of our members are not working.”
Sucke’s plan of action in combating unemployment is to attract as much work as possible to the guild. The hope is the more projects being done under union auspices, the less non-union projects will be in production, thus making more work available to the membership.
Meanwhile, for the working actor who specializes in commercial advertisements, which comprises 50% of the entire NY membership, challenges exist in simply being paid. The commercial contract for SAG originated in the 1950s , and is renegotiated every three years. This January, some of the issues that will be re-examined include foreign use of commercials, session fees, and how exclusivity is measured.
Another problem that has existed for nearly forty years is the monitoring of commercial play, to assure a performer is being paid for all use that has occurred.
“Suppose you did a commercial for Kleenex,” says Sucke. “They pay you for running that ad in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. But you have an aunt who lives in St. Louis who says, ‘Hey, I saw you in that Kleenex commercial.’ But you weren’t paid for St. Louis. How does that happen? Nationally, it raises suspicions about other markets. There should be some kind of mechanical mechanism for being able to check the usage for commercials wherever they run.”
Sucke doesn’t believe he’ll have the answers to the commercial monitoring problem this January, but it is an issue that he’ll be tub-thumping .
Presently, SAG has set up committees nationwide that regularly meet with members to not only discuss problems, but analyze how best to solve them. And with John Sucke championing the cause, expect the enigma of commercial monitoring to be solved way before his next twenty-fifth anniversary.