A minor assault took place on June 27 in front of the Knitting Factory music club in Manhattan where members of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) organized a strike action to disrupt the filming of an Amstel Light beer commercial being shot by Hungry Man Productions.
SAG is currently staging a strike, asking its members not to do commercial work. Like film and television actors, numerous theatre actors supplement their income and subsidize their theatrical careers doing commercial work.
A striking actress and SAG advocate named Kelly, who asked that her last name be withheld for fear of possible professional retribution, told Playbill On-Line that she was attempting to take a photograph of a non- union male actor entering the building when she was assaulted by the actor's companion.
Kelly said she had been trying, unsuccessfully, to get the man to walk away from the non-union job and join the union instead. Things went sour when the actor revealed that he was struggling to pay rent and needed the work badly. At that point, Kelly countered saying that all actors needed work and that the actor's future eligibility for the union might be jeopardized if he went ahead and accepted the non-union commercial.
When the man tried to walk off and cross the picket line anyway, Kelly said she tried unsuccessfully to get his last name and then raised her still camera to take his picture. The man's companion reacted emotionally and allegedly assaulted Kelly, hitting her in the neck. Kelly said she is 5' 8" and 120 lbs. "This is the first time someone's assaulted me on [the strike] line," Kelly told Playbill On-Line. "I was talking to this gentleman regarding his status in SAG, and when I mentioned that his eligibility status could be in jeopardy, he got pissy with me and a little upset. He said, `I have to work.' As he was walking away, I pulled out my camera and then the girl he was with reached out and lunged at me and hit me on the neck."
The actors were up for what was described as non-union "background work" in the beer commercial. The identities of both the man Kelly spoke to and his companion (the alleged assailant) were not released. A call to Hungry Man Productions was not returned at press time.
Norman Siegel of the American Civil Liberties Union's (ACLU) New York office told Playbill On-Line that he sometimes recommends to demonstrators that they videotape their actions to provide a record of events. "I am not sure about the California law," Siegel said, "but in New York a citizen has the right to take pictures of someone else unless it's for commercial gain. The young woman [Kelly] was within her legal rights and the woman who assaulted her violated her rights, assuming they [SAG] were just taking the photograph to show who was crossing a picket line.
"Should SAG misuse a photograph that it takes on the strike line," Siegel said, "the party concerned could fight back on the merits, but you don't prohibit someone taking a picture."
Siegel said that unions, which are often struggling for power, historically want to record who was a "scab" and document who actually crossed over a picket line. "They have a right to use that photograph within limits and to inform people as to who did what. You may remember the schoolteacher strike in the late '60s. Even today, I still hear people identified by others saying, `I remember her, she went in,' or `she stayed out' and that strike took place 30 years ago. So, if that's all they're (SAG) doing it for, which is to document and record who went in across the strike line, then I see nothing inappropriate."
Kelly told Playbill On-Line that she has been photographed on numerous occasions by various representatives of the commercial producers, the union's opposition in the strike. The actress feels that she was photographed for what may be a possible blacklist effort.
While Kelly said while she initially felt no reservations about carrying a camera and taking the strike photographs on her own, the alleged assault has given her pause. "They come take pictures of us as an intimidation factor," Kelly said. "I've never taken one of these pictures before and I have never been face to face with someone who was violent. But, having been on other end of that and having had mine taken by all these producers, I know what it feels like to be threatened and intimidated. Even so, I don't think I'm changing my mind."
In an interview conducted over the din of car horns and shouting being generated by the SAG strikers, a SAG team captain named Rob said that the police were called to the scene after the alleged assault but that no arrest was made. "There may be some harassment charge," the team captain said.
The SAG team captain implied that Hungry Man was "notorious" for this sort of activity and that the company had a "reputation for treating people poorly." "There was a Nike commercial last week," Rob said, "they were shooting in New Jersey and apparently they manhandled one of our people."
Rob said that when the SAG commercial strike first began in early May, the union was lucky to get 10-15 people together for a strike action. Momentum has built, Rob said, to the point where there are 30 to 40 team captains on call with outreach actions taking place at three to four locations a day. "Now, we have lists of hundreds of people available to show up and walk all day in the hot sun," the team captain claimed.
-- By Murdoch McBride