On Saturday afternoon April 28, with most of the entertainment industry anticipating word on the tense contract talks that were going on between producers and writers, the Screen Actors Guild was working quietly to harmonize its top ranks in a grassroots approach to the problem of non-union filming around the world.
Working outside the United States (often in Canada), mainstream film and television producers have gradually increased levels of non-union work done with celebrity actors over the years. The union refers to this as a crisis in “runaway production.”
Seeking to reverse this trend, the union has launched a campaign to enforce its Rule 1. That rule reads, in part: “No member shall work as a performer or make an agreement to work as a performer for any producer who has not executed a basic minimum agreement with the Guild which is in full force and effect.” The rule also forbids SAG members from breaking Guild strikes.
The union’s strategy, under SAG president William Daniels, is to enlist renewed support from what SAG now calls its “high profile" members (celebrity actors).
To that end, veteran actor Joey Pantoliano (“Matrix,” “Sopranos”) hosted several celebrity members at his Connecticut home on April 28 for the purpose of educating the union’s top ranks concerning Rule 1 and the importance of celebrities abiding by it. The SAG plan is convince the 500-700 top actors in the Guild that they should refuse to accept non-union work anywhere, meaning producers will not even be able to secure the top talent required to get such projects off the ground. Having seen their turnaround provisions and other contract benefits erode over the years, working actors — even celebrities — say they now believe that they must stand together and become better educated and more involved with union issues.
Last Saturday, Pantoliano’s anchor guest and the leader of the meeting was SAG president Daniels, whose agenda included discussion of Rule 1 and certain strategies in the event of an actors’ strike, as well as the introduction of SAG’s theatrical contract negotiator, Brian Walton, and the chair of SAG’s theatrical contract negotiating team, Tom LeGrua.
Present at the Pantoliano home were Richard Dreyfuss, Martha Plimpton, Miguel Ferrer and Ossie Davis among others.
Several days after the meeting, Plimpton and Ferrer spoke with Playbill On-Line and discussed their impressions of the campaign. Both supported the effort.
Plimpton’s only concern was why the effort had not been made 20 years ago. “I also don’t see why they think it will take as long as they say it will to make this happen,” Plimpton said, referring to SAG’s wrangling of its top percentile talent. “It should happen now.”
The SAG strategy builds on momentum begun last year when the union mobilized stars to fight for the pay, residuals, benefits and jurisdiction for commercial actors who were not as familiar to the general public.
Film actor Ferrer, who was visible throughout last year’s commercial strike, said that doing non-union films was akin to “Nike shipping its shoes overseas to be sewn by non-union workers.”
After his experience in last year’s commercial strike, Ferrer said he had vowed not only to avoid non-union work as an actor, but never to cross anyone else’s picket line again.
—By Murdoch McBride