Talking With ... Paul Christie
On Monday, a group of self-described moderates on SAG's national board fired national executive director Doug Allen and replaced him with David White, former general counsel for the guild, and John T. McGuire, a SAG senior adviser and former associate national executive director. In our continuing series of interviews, Strike Watch talks with Paul Christie, a national board member from New York and the guild's former 2nd national vice president.
This interview was conducted, condensed, and edited by Andrew Salomon.
How does the guild move on from here?
I would challenge anyone to sit in a room with David White and John McGuire and not come away being impressed. Especially, in particular, with David White.
John McGuire comes with his own baggage to this particular debate—some folks in Los Angeles have not been thrilled with him as a negotiator.
John comes with baggage from the same direction that created the problems to begin with. Only the most rabid zealots out there would have a bad word to say about John. John has negotiated more contracts than anybody I know of in my time here. When you sit down at the table, the job of these guys is to not waver and to be even-tempered and to be levelheaded at all times. When you got a guy who’s a hothead or thinks he’s just going to bulldoze everybody, that’s where you’re going to get blown out of the water.
What in particular was the moderates’ beef with Doug Allen?
We had several contracts due in '08, none of them are in the bank. That to me was unacceptable. And the level of dialogue coming from the executive director and toward the rest of us, especially now that there was a new majority, was simply unacceptable. It was just not okay. If national president Alan Rosenberg chooses to go down the path of screaming and ranting and accusing of us being disloyal or us being not good union members, the record is not going to back any of that up. He’s going to have to look in his own [Hollywood board] room and figure out where the problem lies and how to fix it there. The record simply does not back up any accusations that he might make about us not being supportive of him or Doug. They were given everything, for a period of time.
There was a period of time in 2006 where you and Alan and Anne-Marie Johnson seemed to be getting closer.
I lost a lot of friends here in New York. I took a lot of grief over my relationship with Alan, over my relationship with Anne-Marie. Alan and I both said this has got to stop, it doesn’t work. I made a commitment to follow that and, believe me, there are zealots in New York who are just as rabidly insane. When Alan wanted the strike authorization for the basic-cable agreement, he got it. When he wanted Doug Allen, he got it. You did not see one bad piece of bad press from me for a year and a half. I don't know how much more supportive I could have been. And I actually thought it was working. There were people who had vested interests in seeing Alan fail and I think there are people who didn’t want to see it work, either. [Hollywood national board member] Seymour Cassel told Back Stage, “We forced Alan to alienate New York and AFTRA.” If that is what your agenda is, I have no comeback for that. There was a point in time where Alan busted his ass over this thing. The failure was the support he didn’t get out there.
When did things begin to snap?
July 28, 2007. That was the day, the plenary where Doug pushed for bloc voting. [A process that would have, based on the guild's makeup at the time, given all of the votes on a negotiating committee to Membership First.] It was one of the most bizarre days of my life. It was my last meeting as 2nd national VP because the election was in September. [Christie kept his national board seat but vacated the top spot in New York, now held by Sam Freed.] It was the last time we were going to get together, and Alan gave me this rave speech, talked about our friendship, our appreciation, and so did Doug. There was a standing ovation in both rooms, and it felt terrific. By the time the day was over, it had all turned to shit. By the time the day was over, bloc voting was in, and I’m saying, “What the hell just happened here?”
Will merger with AFTRA happen?
If it was my lips to God’s ears, you’d also think about merging with the WGA, you’d think about Equity. I’ve been preaching this for years. I’d go so far as to say IATSE. To me it’s a no-brainer. But I don’t think at the present time, with our history, too many people would want to get in bed with us, at least not yet. We’re pretty bizarre suitors at this point.
Will you be there to make it happen?
My time is probably up in September. I would serve on a committee, but I also believe in term limits. Part of it is, there’s so much in-bred animosity at times it’s impossible to overcome unless those people remove themselves form the process and let some new people come into the room. You’re not going to go to a retreat in Mumbai and come back with a different attitude. It’s simply not going to happen. I think what it calls for is for people to get out of the way. Actors have an overwhelming sense of their own importance and believe that they’re vital to the process. I don’t believe that at all. You need people coming in with a new perspective, a clean perspective on something. I think the blood has been so bad since like 1998, it’s been god awful since then. And the characters, I think, need to change.
The positions on each side seem set in concrete.
It’s frustrating for me and it will always be. It takes more guts to stop fighting with somebody and to try to make something work than it ever took to go into a room with your fists flying. If you wanted me to be the fiery leader of the opposition and screw Alan and Anne-Marie and screw Doug at every turn, that’s a piece of cake. At some point in time [peace is going to have to be made], it’s going to have to be done. If it didn’t work here, it isn’t because good people didn’t try. And it’s going to have to be done for this organization to survive. It’s going to have to be done.