SAG Strike May Not Happen

January 10, 2009 by  

The feared Screen Actor’s Guild strike may or may not happen but the vote, which is a 3 week process, has been delayed, perhaps indefinitely. There has been a lot of dissent by actors in NY as well as in LA and talk of firing the current lead negotiator, Doug Allen and his team.

According to Variety, “The “Call Sheet” newsletter makes it clear that SAG’s Hollywood branch leaders are not backing down from its strike vote push, despite the opposition. It included a lengthy discussion of the terms of the last contract offer and a column from SAG national exec director Doug Allen telling members: “We have exhausting all other options for diplomacy. Now we need you to authorize new leverage.”  However Reuters has learned that the moderate board members are acting behind the scenes to delay or cancel a vote on the strike and oust the more militant members of the guild’s board.

The damages done to the industry and local California businesses by last years writers strike are estimated at 25 million a day and topping out at 3 billion dollars. Taken in conjunction with California’s current economy woes, many members of SAG and almost all of the other affected unions feel a strike would do more harm than good. When viewed in the larger picture of the current recession many part time actors across the country could be financially devastated by a prolonged strike. Big names such as Hanks, Damon and Clooney, who would no doubt weather the strike handily, are backing the bid to change SAG’s management team in a move sensitive to less well off middle income actors and no doubt other associated crew members.

Everything comes to a head on Monday when there is an emergency SAG board meeting scheduled in LA. The SAG pro-strike negotiating team is claiming that a strike authorization vote is not the same as actually striking and merely gives them more negotiating leverage. While technically true, wasn’t that the argument that Bush’s team made about the Iraq war authorization vote? An actors strike is not as violent as a war but a prolonged strike could be financially destructive to many actors especially those whose earnings are marginal or who are on the verge of breaking out. Ask the stars of Moonlight or Journeyman if the writers’ strike didn’t hurt their chances of building an audience.

The writers’ strike can be blamed for many distinct differences in True Blood episode quality as well as the obvious production and air date delays. As discerning fans of the show will tell you, the rhythm of the show most obviously suffered from the writers’ strike between episodes 3 and 4 as well as discontinuity issues between several other episodes.

The pace of the show shifted significantly, the make-up and hair vision was altered, actor accents changed and it generally ‘felt’ off not fully recovering itself until midseason with further lapses late in the series not to regain its former quality until the final episode which was still considered somewhat of a ‘cheat’ by many feeling more like two truncated episodes than one seamless finale. If shooting is delayed mid season again for a prolonged period the second season could potentially not air until two years after the first season. Not only will the actors age during this lapse, a real problem especially for theoretically immortal characters such as Jessica and Vampire Bill, but people will have to find other jobs to sustain themselves undoubtedly leading to a significant change in personnel before and behind the camera. A successful show with an ensemble cast depends on the camaraderie and teamwork of many people not just the actors and while no one person is irreplaceable behind the camera (except perhaps Alan Ball) would not a prolonged strike lead to essentially a whole new crew being assembled and potentially even having to replace on screen personnel or eliminating characters from the show? It would be unfortunate if the ‘magic’ that attracts viewers to True Blood was lost through all these potential changes.

For the viewers of True Blood no SAG strike is clearly the better solution although I’m sure we all will support whatever the actors feel is in their own best interests. But it could be further argued that disrupting the television line up during such a serious recession as our country now faces is unpatriotic. Now is the time when many will be asked to sacrifice, taking pay cuts, giving up bonuses and abridging already finalized contracts. Yet it will be seen that the elite in Hollywood are depriving a weary and cash-poor nation of affordable entertainment and momentary escape from the stresses of these difficult times in order to assure themselves future income from a not yet fully formed media format. While in no position to advise SAG, they might look at the long term effects of the baseball strike before making their decisions. Despite the population increasing since 1994 viewership of the world series has crumbled in the post strike years dropping from 44 million per game in 1993 to less than 10 million per game last year.

Many of us, simply lost interest in the game and found other things to do to fill our time. If there is a repeat of the strike situation that we suffered through last year there is the serious possibility that people might get tired of the disruptions to their relaxation time and find other pastimes. While that might be good for libraries, bingo halls and internet sites I don’t think it’s really the long term goal of SAG to dissuade people from watching television.