Sunday, May 25, 2008

Actors Strike Over Clips?

The question I get with regularity is: "So are the actors going on strike?"

Like I know. But a weekend ago, another union rep and I fell into conversation about it (we were hiking up the side of a mountain, so the talk occurred between huffing and puffing). He told me what he knew about the AFTRA talks that are going on:

"The big issue now for SAG and AFTRA are clip usage. The studio have had to get clearance from actors before using clips for half a century. Now the studios want automatic permission, and they say they'll pay for usage.

But AFTRA is saying what SAG did: 'Hell, no!' The congloms have got to get consent from the actors. The studios don't want to have to keep doing that, and AFTRA isn't budging on the point anymore than SAG. There's a lot of pressure on AFTRA not to cave in and look weak."

The same point was made day before yesterday in VARIETY:

Both unions have told the companies in no uncertain terms that actors must still be asked for their consent for clips of their work to be used online, as has been required of clip use since the 1950s. At a May 19 SAG townhall meeting, the clips issue generated by far the most emotional reaction, even though other unresolved issues -- DVD residuals, product placement, force majeure -- carry far more financial heft.

Studios and broadcast networks raised the clips issue as a win-win: Actors could make more money if the companies develop a market for clips to compete with the massive amounts of pirated footage on the Web, but only if the consent requirement is dropped.

The majors assert that tracking down all the thesps in a scene would be such a headache that the business would be unfeasible.

"The 50-year-old union rules at issue were intended for the few cases where a producer needed to license a film or TV clip for use in another program," the AMPTP said the next day. "No one envisioned that the Internet would come along and allow public usage of clips before either the producers or performers would create a market."

This is where things could get sticky. The unions have the weight of longtime practice on their side, and the studios want to change the practice. Changing something that old and established is hard to do, especially when the membership feels passionately about it. And if the studios don't blink, there's more than a small chance they'll strike over it.

Studios arguing that it's "too difficult" to track down actors to get consent is laughable. The real issue, as I look at it, is the majors don't want to leave the power to say "no" in the hands of actors. They want to be able to run clips without anybody having a veto.

This could be a toughie if the studios don't change their position because it's always hard to sell a major movement of the goal posts ni the best of times. And this is definitely not the best of times.


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