Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The SAG saga: the ending has been written on the wall

The reports of the Monday night SAG discussion indicates the kiss of death for the militant's strike vote proposal. This article from The Hollywood Reporter gives a very good feel for the depth of conflict within SAG. Here's a short bit from the long article:

"The contentious and at times bitter meeting capped a roller-coaster four days for SAG, in which opposition to the guild leadership's call for strike authorization has crystallized."

Perhaps what's most disturbing is that many of the well-known millionaire "actors" leading the opposition have resum├ęs filled with "producer" credits. None of these people are facing their elder years supported by income from being a Walmart greeter.

The question is: How can a new bargaining committee get more than $46 a year for new media "rerun" views as opposed to what they get from network and syndicated reruns and from DVD sales? And if they don't get more, can "day performers" survive?

Right now we see younger familiar faces with no name recognition doing bit parts within the "CSI" and "Law & Order" families of shows. Reruns on the various cable channels give them some income to keep them going.

If in the future, rerun views shift to the internet derived from source sites such the GE and News Corp. owned Hulu, that $46-per-year typical residual won't be much of a long-term income plan even when combined with waiting tables. If nothing else, those rerun residuals created a "ownership society" cushion during the wrenching mid-life career change away from acting.

It's difficult to understand why GE and News Corp. don't understand the risks of reducing the incentive for younger actors. Do they have in mind a return to a "contract-class" of studio-owned actors like in the mid-1930's through the early 1950's? Or do they have no idea what they're doing just like the major financial institutions? GE in particular focuses entirely on next quarter's profit increases and dumps any subsidiary that fails to meet the goals. The problem is the subsidiaries aren't allowed much room to invest profits into planning for the long term.

Now probably isn't the time for an actors strike, because GE and News Corp. would be happy to let them be on strike during the time ad revenue plunges in 2009. Reduced production costs would mean better quarterly net revenues.

Had SAG and WGA coordinated an approach to shutting down production in a single strike beginning on April 1, 2008, they might have achieved their objectives within 60 days. Now the economy is in the tank, a shocked WGA is in a legal wrangle with the conglomerates over the post-2007 new media residuals clause in their contract, and SAG is tied up in a bitter internecine power struggle.

Welcome to WalMart folks.

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