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It’s Time for a Vote, but Many SAG Members Feel Betrayed

Like a small Balkan republic wrestling with political infighting, SAG members continue to be locked in combat with one another over the studio contract proposal.


Although SAG’s national board narrowly approved the deal in April, now it comes down for the members to vote.


And a lot of them are not happy. You think Capitol Hill has knock-down, drag-out fights … you ain’t seen nothing yet.


So what’s the problem?


With SAG members voting on the agreement this week, many actors feel betrayed. Hardliners want a better deal than what the other unions (DGA, WGA, AFTRA) settled for, notably in compensation and jurisdiction over new media.


Certain members see dollar signs when they see content on the web and they want a bigger slice out of those series you watch on Hulu or movies downloaded from iTunes. Problem is, there’s not a lot of money to be found in the Internet and new media. Companies have tried to monetize content for the web but outside of Apple, no one has been very successful.


SAG has been negotiating over the last year without any success. In April, the SAG board finally approved an agreement that’s essentially what studios presented last year and what the WGA, DGA and AFTRA have already agreed to.


It’s a good — not a great — deal, but for the first time, new media was written into the contract. Best of all, it’s only a two-year contract, so all the unions will have a chance to renegotiate in 2011.


The sting of a studio victory is hard to swallow for many old SAG members. After all, they’ve had a winning streak dating back to the 1950’s. But after the pain of the Writers Guild strike and the failing economy, this is the worst time to be fighting over the new media pennies of a two year contract.


Members need to realize they’ve already lost wage increases of nearly $70-80 million after a year of failed negotiations. That’s a heavy price to pay for posturing. Especially over compensation on an unproven platform. Honestly, how many working actors have auditioned for a studio produced web series?


The biggest complaint I have about the whole thing is the time period SAG hardliners are complaining about — two measly years.


Why fight about something so insignificant? The Guild isn’t locked up for an extended time period, making them free to renegotiate in 2011 with all the other unions.


At that time everyone should have a better idea about new media and be able to accurately gauge how much it’s worth. The cost of this yearlong debacle goes far beyond money. A bitter feud broke out between SAG, whose members appear in night time TV and film, and AFTRA, with members including daytime TV stars and radio personalities, splintering actor loyalties.


During this time many actors switched to AFTRA. You reap what you sow and in the end, the Guild lost money, respect and members for its arrogance. Did the studios come out on top in this one? Obviously.


They have beaten back all the talent guilds on most of their demands. They have orchestrated major job cuts. They increasingly monopolize the key release dates. They have cut budgets of films and TV shows and sliced gross participation deals. But 2011 is just around the corner and if the unions come together and negotiate as one they’d present a formidable foe. So I issue a wake up call to SAG members.


Wipe your bloody nose, vote "Yes" on the agreement and start planning for the future. The age of powerful dinosaur unions (think the United Auto Workers) is over. Today, extinction is just around the corner if unions don’t evolve.

Kent Youngblood is a producer, creative director and blogger who writes on film, television and the media. Focusing on the business side of entertainment, Youngblood examines the incongruity of everything from the over-the-top hype of showbiz to the cutthroat nature of an industry that is struggling to find its way. As executive producer at Movie Mogul Productions, he spearheads business development and creative development on all original productions.