Thursday, July 24, 2008

SAG Challenge Slate to Oppose Hardliners

A slate called Unite for Strength has arisen to challenge the hard line Membership First faction of the SAG Board. Their goals: unseat Membership First, make a deal with the studios, and merge SAG and AFTRA. The move was first reported by the Los Angeles Times yesterday, and in today's hardcopy edition.

The challenge raises hope that reason may eventually prevail in SAG, although this would not be for two more months, since balloting doesn’t close until September 18. The group’s goals include making a deal with the AMPTP and moving towards merger with AFTRA.

However (with all due respect to the slate members), the slate doesn't have any A-list stars on it, although some of its members are well-known. That reduces the likelihood that it will be able to wrest control of the Board from Membership First, notwithstanding the fact that MF's margin on the Board in rather slim – I’m told that a change of four or five members on the Board would apparently change the balance of power.

In contrast, MF does have at least one bigger star on its slate, Keith Carradine. In the next few days, when the list of all candidates will be officially announced by SAG, we’ll see whether MF has any big(ger) stars running. That would make it harder for the challengers to gain traction, because SAG members often vote based on star power.

In any case, these developments make it even less likely that there will be a deal before balloting ends. That's because doing a deal now has little but downside risk for MF, and delay has little but upside.

The downside for MF to doing a deal now: if they do a deal now, the deal would be severely compromised from their platform, leaving them vulnerable to charges from UFS and other critics that MF dragged the Guild and the industry through turmoil, only to achieve nothing that they couldn't have gotten without the work slowdown / partial stoppage.

The upside for MF to delay: if MF refuses to do a deal before balloting closes, they get to tell SAG members "don't change horses in mid-stream, stay the course." Many voters wll find that a powerful message.

If the challengers don't succeed in winning, then there's no assurance that MF would do a deal even after the election. Indeed, MF would no doubt (and accurately) take the results as an endorsement of its hard line position. The AMPTP (studio alliance) and MF are dug in, and the stalemate could drag on for a long time. Recall that SAG hasn’t had a franchise agreement with the talent agents for six years.

If UFS does succeed in wresting control of the Board, it would probably move to fire the SAG executive director and change the composition of the negotiating committee. The studios, in turn, would probably sit down with the new SAG team pretty promptly and negotiate a deal. It’d be a complete game-changer, in the words of the AP.

SAG has a Board meeting scheduled for this Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see how the meeting is affected by the latest developments.