Friday, August 15, 2008

SAG Still Talking? And What Next?

Frustrating bloggers and reporters who hoped the week's business was done, SAG sent out another weekend evening email an hour or so ago. The previous such email, released about two weeks ago, is discussed here -- and, on a personal note, I managed to beat the MSM with my report on that one. See the "P.S." in this article from Back Stage magazine's Blog Stage blog:

Based on the time stamp of Handel's email and the Variety report, it appears that the blogger beat the reporter by almost five hours. If that is the case, harumph. We don't like new media anymore; we prefer the olden days of media-elite hegemony, when lawyers knew their place.
In any case, today's email claims that "SAG negotiators and industry representatives continue to have informal discussions regarding a successor TV/Theatrical agreement." The email two weeks ago made the same claim, and was met with much skepticism, and a denial by the AMPTP. Harrumph indeed. My view: I doubt there's much going on now. Unless you're a stunt performer with enormous endurance, don't hold your breath expecting anything to happen until after the SAG elections, which close September 18.

The email also notes that SAG has signed 658 Guaranteed Completion Contracts (GCC) with independent producers, representing a numerical volume equal to half the feature films produced in 2007. Those contracts mean that even if there were to be a strike, the actors wouldn't walk out on that producer's film (that's why these contracts are only for independent producers, not studios).

In addition, the email claims that "the expired TV/Theatrical contract remains in effect." This must be something of an oversimplification, since SAG surely doesn't mean that the contract's no-strike clause (Art. 3(a)) is still in effect. In any case, the whole question of what aspects of an expired union agreement remain in effect, and for how long, is too vexed for my mind at this hour.

But speaking of the SAG elections, what might happen after September 18? There are three scenarios.

If Membership First is overwhelmingly reelected -- SAG releases vote totals, thus we and the candidates will know the margin of victory -- then SAG leadership will take that as a resounding endorsement, and might seek a strike authorization vote. They'd probably first try to reopen discussions with the studios. If the studios stick to their guns, which seems likely in the absence of an actual strike, SAG might then seek an authorization vote. That process takes 2-3 weeks. Even then, there's no strike -- the board would then have the right to call one, however, but that probably wouldn't happen overnight. So, if you add up the timelines (September 18 plus a few weeks of attempted negotiating plus 2-3 weeks plus some further delay), it becomes clear that there won't be a strike before Nov. 1, if at all.

On the other hand, if Unite for Strength (the challengers' group) wins enough seats to take control of the SAG Board (about 5 seats would be needed, apparently), then they will probably fire the SAG Executive Director, change the negotiating committee, and do a deal with the studios. None of those steps will be easy. Thus, the earliest I would expect a deal would be mid-October to early-November.

For those of you with a sentimental streak, note that Nov. 5 will be the one-year anniversary of the start of the writers strike. A great day for a deal, I suppose, or, more darkly, what better time to cripple the industry with another work stoppage.

There's a third possibility: Membership First retains control of the Board, but not with an overwhelming vote. Perhaps they lose some seats, but not enough to shift control to Unite for Strength. In this scenario, it'd be foolish to expect anything by the end of October except Halloween candy and continued stalemate.

Meanwhile, one other note from today's SAG email: "Watch for an extensive “Contract 2008” printed mailer--- coming to your mailbox soon." We will indeed be watching.

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