Thanks to a surprisingly bitter strike, the Writers Guild of America has grabbed the Hollywood spotlight since November, with the Screen Actors Guild serving largely as a supporting player.
But that will change soon as SAG steps up to negotiate its own deal for a contract that expires June 30. With the ability of actors to close down production immediately, the town’s already searching for signals that another strike might hit Hollywood this summer.
SAG’s more closely aligned with the Writers Guild of America than any other Hollywood union, and its members have been supportive of the writers throughout the strike, which started Nov. 5. The prospect of a WGA picket line — and the pledge by SAG members to not cross — led to the Jan. 13 Golden Globes being transformed from a gala dinner to a surreal news conference.
SAG president Alan Rosenberg is unapologetic about the actors union’s support for the writers and pledged it will be on display at the SAG Awards.
“I’m sure that the show will be a very pro-WGA event, because we have an alliance that’s very strong by virtue of our behaving like a partner,” he notes. “We’ve been thrilled that our stars are onboard in support of the WGA. I am very excited over this being the (actors) guild’s 75th year, since it’s a great chance to reflect on the sacrifices people have made for the guild.”
Rosenberg’s quick to point out that he’s not happy about Hollywood labor unrest, adding, “It’s a bittersweet thing for people to get recognized amid all this uncertainty. I would rather that there be peace in the valley.”
With virtually no scripted TV series still shooting, the WGA strike is having a profound impact on actors. Roesnberg asserts the pain is a necessary sacrifice SAG members fully comprehend.
“I’m not getting any negative comments about it, because everyone understands what these issues are,” he adds. “I think it bodes well for our talks in June.”
Rosenberg is in his second two-year term at the top SAG slot after narrowly defeating Seymour Cassel last fall. During that campaign, he touted having forged an improved relationship with the WGA over his first term — a move he believes will pay off for SAG, particularly as it seeks more concrete terms in the fast-growing digital world of webisodes and downloads.
“The companies’ strategy has always been to pick off the weakest union for the last 35 years,” he notes. “I’ve had meetings with the CEOs, and their message has been that there’s no money in new media and that the WGA is out of control and unreasonable — even though I’ve been in the room and they’ve been very responsible. We and the WGA are determined to get a fair deal rather than the usual go along to get along.”
In particular, Rosenberg is determined not to repeat another deal like the 1980s pact for homevideo, in which the guilds agreed to an early discount on residuals since that business was in its infancy. Those rates have never changed — much to the chagrin of Hollywood labor — and that means SAG is more determined to drive a hard bargain.
“I don’t think there’s a desire to go back to those days when giving the guilds a 3% increase was good enough,” he adds.
Rosenberg also declares he’s not in the least flummoxed at the prospect of sitting down with moguls — citing the performance of SAG national exec director Doug Allen, who’s been in the top post for a year after two decades as a leading exec at the NFL Players Assn. Allen is asked repeatedly if SAG is going on strike.
“Having the capacity and will to strike when companies are intransigent is something a union has to have; otherwise, you’re engaged in collective begging,” Allen responds. “Given what’s going on, we’d be shortsighted not to be prepared.”
Allen notes parallels between SAG and the NFLPA, particularly in terms of getting the members involved.
“At the NFLPA, the situation was similar in that it was important to get everyone involved no matter where they were in the celebrity pyramid, and that’s why we have reached out at house parties and meetings for the past year,” he says.
And Allen says it’s no accident that SAG’s been supportive of the WGA.
“Fair compensation is something our members care about because they know we have to make sure we don’t get left behind and that fair treatment is important to everybody,” he says. “What I hear most from members is why aren’t the employers coming back to the table? The WGA is not being unreasonable.”
Still, Allen says the SAG Awards are a strong reminder of what actors do.
“The night’s a celebration of talent and wonderful performances,” he notes. “In spite of the difficult times, it’s great to take a moment to realize that this business is all about capturing lightning in a bottle.”