Calm Down. SAG Will Not Be a WGA Strike Sequel. 

But when will Hollywood ever get back to work?

Wednesday, Jul 2 2008

The sense of panic among actors, writers, directors and below-the-liners is palpable in Hollywood right now, matched only by the angst of agents whose phones aren’t ringing, and out-of-town journalists struggling to write “strike scare” stories. Strange, isn’t it, that the only Hollywood types without any visible flop sweat from the de facto shutdown of production are the network and studio moguls — because they are the puppeteers pulling everybody else’s strings.

From behind the scenes, they order Hollywood to jump, and the town asks how high. And never more so than during all these guild negotiations. If only the entire industry could stay focused on the actions of big media and start pressuring the Hollywood CEOs to put people back to work. Instead, everyone’s attention has strayed to the carnival sideshow of SAG vs. AFTRA, and AFTRA vs. SAG, and Big Star vs. Big Star, and all the other diversions in an already-confused situation.

Now, take a deep breath and calm down. To understand what’s going on right now, I first need to ask you to do the following: Reflect on everything you knew surrounding the writers strike, and then throw it all out the window when considering if there’ll be a strike sequel, this time by the actors guilds against the big media behemoths.

click to enlarge NOEL VASQUEZ/GETTY IMAGES - The "Two Allens": SAG's Doug Allen - and Alan Rosenberg want the moguls - to get involved.
  • Noel Vasquez/Getty Images
  • The "Two Allens": SAG's Doug Allen and Alan Rosenberg want the moguls to get involved.

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What’s going on with SAG and AFTRA and AMPTP is the opposite of what happened a few months back, when the writers were, for the most part, united. The actors are divided to the point of distraction. The writers went after AMPTP and the Big Media behemoths. The actors are going after each other.

The agents and moguls back-channeled negotiations with the WGA. Hardly any back-channeling is going on right now between the moguls and SAG, while the agents are sitting on their hands. The result is that Hollywood has to rewire, reboot and rethink everything. In this case, past doesn’t have to be prologue. There doesn’t have to be a strike. In fact, I can definitely tell you that SAG has “never suggested that a strike was an objective or essential,” I’m told by an insider.

“Yes, it is an option. But SAG leadership have not been the ones threatening it or saber rattling,” according to this source.

Another insider puts it even more forcefully: “Not only is there no strike plan, there is no strike authorization, and there is no requirement that SAG has to go on strike once the contract expires on June 30.”

And yet there are highly organized factions at the top of the studios and networks, IATSE locals, AFTRA leadership, and even SAG’s own board that want to scare everyone into thinking a walkout is inevitable unless there’s complete contract capitulation by SAG leadership.

I’m here to tell you this is untrue.

Yes, there was an uneasy countdown to June 30, when SAG’s contract with AMPTP expired at midnight. But by midweek, not only was there no hint of a walkout, there was also no hint of any real movement on either side.

A more important date is July 8, when AFTRA announces its contract-ratification vote results. So what happens then? Again, not a SAG strike. The guild’s leadership understands that there’s no urgency within the membership at this time for such an extreme call. Which is precisely why there’s no impetus atop the guild to even consider holding a strike-authorization vote.

If one were held and no authorization given, SAG would suffer a psychological blow from which it probably couldn’t recover this contract cycle. Ergo, no push for a vote.

Thirty-six hours before SAG’s contract expired, Screen Actors Guild released the following statement from SAG national president Alan Rosenberg, which confirmed my Deadline Hollywood Daily posting on June 27: “We have taken no steps to initiate a strike-authorization vote by the members of Screen Actors Guild. Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction.”

Meanwhile, the question is, will AFTRA members ratify the new contract with the AMPTP? Two weeks ago, I would have said definitely. And this week, I really don’t know. All anyone is operating on are anecdotes and tea leaves. But every day that passes, 77,000-member AFTRA gets more shrill and hysterical, and 120,000-strong SAG gets more over-reaching and arrogant, as they battle over 44,000 dual members.

Which is why I feel that SAG efforts to convince those dual members to vote against AFTRA’s contract is a big waste of time. Even SAG’s board is divided on this issue. SAG leadership’s explanation to its members is that a “no” vote is crucial to let the moguls know that AFTRA’s lousy deal (undermining residuals, clips consent and other prime-time network issues valued by actors who have those protections under SAG) won’t go down with dual members.

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