SAG’s global rule golden

'Celebrity task force' to advocate policy

The Screen Actors Guild has proclaimed success in its year-old Global Rule One campaign to beef up contract enforcement on productions shot outside the United States and aimed at the U.S. market.

The guild declared Wednesday its members had worked in more than 100 features shot under SAG contracts in foreign territories during the past 12 months, compared with 32 in 2001-02. Foreign TV productions covered by Global Rule One jumped to 138 from 47 in the same period.

SAG also asserted its members have “overwhelmingly” supported Global Rule One and that no disciplinary actions have been taken. The rule requires SAG members to work only under SAG contracts, but it had not been enforced before May 2002 on work outside the United States.

SAG spokeswoman Ilyanne Kichaven said the guild has continued to investigate potential violations, adding those currently amount to less than a dozen.

“It is very exciting to witness solidarity at work,” said Suzanne Cryer, who chairs SAG’s Global Rule One committee. “SAG members continue to display true unionism and strength in changing an established industry practice.”

SAG has estimated that about 1,200 to 1,500 of its members — many of them among the most high-profile in showbiz — work regularly on projects shot outside the United States. Cryer said her panel’s next step will be to establish a “celebrity task force” of high-profile members to help advocate the policy.

“We’ve mostly been concerned with getting our stars to recognize the importance of union membership,” she added.

SAG has limited its policy to productions destined for distribution in the United States rather than projects for local foreign markets. And task force member and former co-chair Tom Bower noted many of those productions hire only a few SAG members beyond the lead actors, opting for local thesps instead.

“We’re trying to increase the consciousness of our high-profile members to push for hiring more SAG members on foreign productions,” Bower said.

Bower said Wednesday that producers on foreign shoots face average hikes of 2% to 3% in overall costs by hiring SAG members.

SAG’s initiative followed a decade of growing numbers of its members working non-SAG contracts on runaway productions, shot in foreign locations to take advantage of cost savings and incentives.

SAG’s national board, which often has been split on key issues, has displayed a rare unity on this point since voting unanimously in 2001 to implement the Global Rule One policy with a start date of May 1, 2002. Its first major shot in the campaign came early last year, when it warned SAG members in San Diego to refuse non-union jobs on 20th Century Fox’s “Master and Commander,” shot in Baja California.

SAG subsequently disclosed half a dozen foreign projects that were signatory — Warner pics “The Last Man” in Australia, “The Last Samurai” in New Zealand and “American Girl” in London; and, in Canada, MGM’s “Agent Cody Banks,” Paramount’s “The Perfect Score” and USA Network’s cable series “Monk.” It also reached agreements last fall with actor unions in Australia and Canada, spelling out details on jurisdiction and pension and health contributions.

SAG said Wednesday that member earnings under Global Rule One for foreign productions had topped $45 million, with more than $2 million contributed to the pension and health plans. Member P&H contributions are capped when pay on a project hits $500,000.

The driving force behind the campaign was the decline in P&H contributions from SAG members working non-SAG contracts on runaway productions. SAG asserted last year that the number of such productions had risen by 54% over five years, leading to a $23 million decline in P&H contributions. That shortfall was projected to hit $36 million over the next five years had Global Rule One not been instituted.

Studios and nets initially balked last year at the announcement, with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers alleging SAG’s move would hike costs significantly for producers and represented an illegal expansion of its jurisdiction. But SAG argued it had the right to enforce its internal rules.

“We believe that the numbers show that producers agree with our position,” Kichaven said.

SAG’s leaders have said Global Rule One will remain a permanent part of policy if members approve the proposed SAG-AFTRA merger, under which SAG will become the acting affiliate of an umbrella Alliance of Intl. Media Artists union. But Bower, who opposes the merger, said he was concerned that AIMA could overrule SAG policies on such issues.

The Assn. of Talent Agents promised a year ago, when SAG launched the policy, that it would support thesps even though the guild’s master franchise agreement expired a year ago and left SAG without oversight. “It’s sometimes difficult for agents to insist on it, but even without the franchise agreement, our members have been diligent in supporting Global Rule One,” said ATA exec director Karen Stuart.

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