Monday, July 28, 2008

Stalemate with a Big "?"

The question that I'm most asked (after When is hiring in teevee animation going to pick up?) is:

"What's the deal with the SAG negotiations? They going to go on strike?"

I'm always pleased to answer promptly. I tell people: "I don't know." *

But now my not knowing has reached a deeper, cloudier level because of this:

SAG's national board has unanimously backed its negotiating committee's stance that the majors' final offer is unacceptable because it allows non-union work in new-media productions.

The vote, taken at an all-day meeting Saturday, probably means the month-long stalemate between SAG and the congloms will persist for the foreseeable future.

The resolution said, "It is a core principle of Screen Actors Guild -- That no non-union work shall be authorized to be done under any Screen Actors Guild agreement and; That all work under a Screen Actors Guild contract, regardless of budget level, shall receive fair compensation when reused."

It seems to me that there's a big, fat impasse here, with immovable object bumping up against irresistible force.

Last week I was telling people (based on scant knowledge) that I didn't think SAG could muster a 75% strike vote if it polled its membership; therefore, no strike.

Now, I guess I'm not so sure. But I'm even more not sure whether SAG will risk taking a strike vote, since if it fails to hit 75% -- certainly a possibility -- it will really have nowhere to go.

Why is all this important? Because as long as there's a modicum of strike threat (no new contract), work will inevitably slow down.

Right now, although television production is going great guns, fewer theatrical features have been started. There's the palpable fear that if a longer shoot begins and then SAG manages to pull the strike trigger, millions of production dollars could go down the drain.

On the theatrical side, fewer people are willing to take that risk.

Happily, thus far the stalemate has had little impact on animation, but it has had an impact on cash inflow into industry pension and health plans, including the Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan, so to say that we're completely out of the line of fire would be wrong.

My main hope is that some creative minds on one side of the negotiation table can soon produce a solution that will get the entertainment industry out of its present conundrum. But I'm not holding my breath.

(* Full disclosure: this is a direct lift from Mark Twain's "Life on the Mississippi," but I've never been shy about stealing it, as it's now in the Public Domain).


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