Robert B. Martin, Jr., is running for the SAG-AFTRA presidency in an unusual campaign — no endorsements, no fundraising, no attacks on other candidates, and no position on the contract ratification.
His most notable roles were as the first teenager to be “call blocked” in a national ad campaign and as Billy Hillbilly in 1999’s “Mystery Men.” He’s starred in hundreds of commercials and was the spokesperson for Pace Picante Sauce, Taco Bell, Blockbuster, Jiffy Lube, Snapple, Coke, Diet Coke, and Geico.
“The office of SAG President is not a vanity position or about how many celebrity endorsements you have,” said Martin. “The office of the president is and should always be about having the experience and expertise in negotiating and most importantly, executing our contracts in the best interest of the membership.”
He’s running against current president Gabrielle Carteris, national board member Esai Morales, stuntman Pete Antico, and actress Marilyn Monrovia. Martin has been campaigning since April and presenting himself as the voice of the working-class actor, a casting director and an expert on the intricacies of working with ad agencies, brand owners, and production companies on SAG-AFTRA contracts.
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Martin said he believes the union leaders have erred in scheduling the contract ratification vote, which concludes Aug. 7, in conjunction with the election, which concludes Aug. 25. About 144,000 ballots went out for each election, sent to dues-current SAG-AFTRA members.
He decided to run last year after he attended the wages and working conditions meeting for the commercials contract and conclude. “Digital disruption is real and one of my major goals as president will be putting SAG-AFTRA in a place of success, place us ahead of the game, rather than playing catch up,” he said.
Martin believes the union is not putting enough emphasis on the impacts of virtual reality and augmented reality on the entertainment industry.
“With IBM’s Watson, Google’s Deepmind and Matthew Zeiler’s Clarifai we are on the verge of these technologies erupting and forever changing the landscape of global industries and entertainment,” he said. “The common denominator for their success will be big data and the Internet. It is imperative that these technological advances and their definitions be included and reflected in SAG-AFTRA’s ‘internet contracts’ across the board.”
So Martin has been on the road, meeting with groups of members in an array of cities — Atlanta, Houston, San Diego, San Francisco, New Orleans, New York, and Portland.
“It’s been an exhilarating experience,” he said. “And it’s humbling for me to meet the members, who are so diverse and so talented, and hear their concerns.”
Martin also said that no matter how the election turns out, he plans to continue to educate brand owners, brand managers, and executives on the cost advantages of deploying diverse contracts over unpredictable and unstable non-union projects.