Hi Gang, and greetings from Hollywood!
Only in Hollywood, could someone walk off their twenty-million dollar job, get into a seventy-five thousand dollar car, drive home to their twelve-million dollar home, change into a six-hundred dollar bathing suit, head out to their fifty-thousand dollar swimming pool, (not forgetting to grab a twenty dollar designer wine cooler from the fridge,) kick back on their chaise lounge, and refuse to go back to work until they receive adequate compensation for services rendered.
If that sounds ridiculous, it’s not. That’s exactly what the Screen Actor’s Guild is planning on June thirtieth when their contract expires, leaving the whole industry once again in a state of suspended animation. Already, Roman Polanski’s 100 million-dollar epic “Pompeii” has been put on hold, with more to come as the studios brace for yet another strike that will relegate us to the rerun season well into Fall.
The appalling aspect of this is, the SAG is run by and for the approximate twenty percent of it’s membership who can afford to lie idly poolside for lengthy periods of time while their union reps wheel and deal to make their wallets fatter. And before anyone suggests that I am anti-union, let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. My kvetch is with Unions who practice a form of Robber Barony, who’s bread-and-butter comes from hard-working members who have to bus tables just to be able to afford their union dues, but who will never see a dime from what the unions are after. These profits will go to the fat cats whose salaries are up in the six-figure range.
Then, there are the peripheral damages. If SAG strikes, it could affect the whole of the Los Angeles economy to the tune, (or maybe I should say symphony,) of 650 million dollars a month. Not to mention putting thousands of technical people out of work.
I remember the SAG strike of 1973. I was at that time still a member of SAG, and had it not been for the fact that I had just signed a personal services contract to do musical dinner theatre, my career might have ended then and there. Others I knew weren’t so lucky. Pilots for series were cancelled, and the 73-74 season went on hold. With no actors, there was no work for the other people who work behind the scenes and the studios and television stations looked like ghost towns. All because of a little thing called ‘royalties’. And while I agreed that these people were entitled to monies en perpetuity for their work, I thought it reprehensible that in order to achieve this, thousands of other people were sent home with no income to feed their families except for the ridiculous stipend called ‘strike pay’ which is scarcely enough to pay the mortgage.
This time, the SAG’s howl is over what’s known as ‘New-media residuals’. In other words, how many cents they can grab from each time someone downloads an ‘Itune’ or something else off the Internet.
It’s the same story as when the Music industry went amok over Internet entities such as Napster and Limewire, who made available to the public hundreds of thousands of music bytes for free. Only in that case there was an aspect of copyright infringement. As is the case with every SAG strike, it boils down to more money for the stars. Anyone not in the mega-million dollar clubs or under contract to a series will be lucky to see ten cents per million dollars from this venture. Small recompense for people who find themselves out of work entirely, whose dreams and possible whole lives could be crushed by the overwhelming greed of the 21st century robber barons that are calling the shots. Granted, in years to come, this impending strike could be beneficial to all, but for now as has been the case in the past, these poor souls will be the acceptable collateral casualties of war.
Steve Allen put the strike of 1973 this way… “I hear they’re going to make a soap opera out of this mess, called “The Rich and the Greedy!” How right he was, and the sentiment holds true today. Sure, the Unions might argue that this would benefit the whole membership, and on paper that’s true. But the same flaw holds true here as with Ronald Reagan’s theory of ‘trickle-down economics’. In the end, there’s not enough trickling down to reach those who really need it. By the time the upper levels soak up what they consider their fair share, there’s nothing left for those poor souls at the bottom. But this is seemingly inconsequential to SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who sits in his ivory tower like a contemporary Caesar, deciding what to do with his thumb at the appropriate time. I could make a suggestion, but I’m too much of a gentleman.
So, in years hence, when you download a scene from “Youtube” or some such Internet enterprise, remember this…. the rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting…well, Rosenberg’s thumb. You’ll never know these people’s names, since their names never appear in the credits. These are the Peons of Hollywood, who went hungry, maybe even lost the roofs over their heads, so that the movers and shakers of Tinseltown could buy another BMW or spend another week at Club Med.
What I find ironic is, the SAG was formed to protect actors from the duplicity and greed treatment they got at the hands of the studios. But now, who’s going to protect the members of SAG from the duplicity and greed of their elected Union officials?
Till next month, Gang!
The Gantseh Megillah
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