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Talking With ... Richard Masur

Strikewatch_blog  In our continuing series of interviews with key members of the SAG national board, Strike Watch talks with Richard Masur, New York member and former national president (1995-1999).

This interview was conducted, condensed and edited by Andrew Salomon.

How does SAG get a new TV/film deal at this point?

You punt and declare victory. You say, ‘You know what, things have changed, the economy is going in the toilet, we need to go in and make this deal,’ and they go in and they sit across the table and they say, ‘How do we make this stop?’ You come out of the room with the AFTRA deal, which is what you’re going to come out with, no question. This has never been a question. This whole conversation [about getting better new-media terms than AFTRA] has been absurd. How can the Screen Actors Guild make a deal more expensive than the AFTRA deal and expect anyone ever to be coming in and signing our contract in new media? Nobody would ever do it, because they don’t have to.

The firing of Doug seems to be a pretty aggressive and antagonistic move. How can SAG stop the cycle of recrimination and retribution?

I would like to disagree with your characterization of the move. It is a culmination of months and months of patient requests, exhortations and, finally, demands that a change be made and that sanity be returned to the organization, which began with the September election of 19 people to the Hollywood board of directors. Doug Allen has never acknowledged that a shift happened and Alan Rosenberg has never [acknowledged it], and Anne-Marie Johnson—the quote unquote vice president from Hollywood who is supposed to be representing all of Hollywood and not just Membership First—has never acknowledged that a shift took place. Quietly and with tremendous patience requests have been made to change course, to get sane, to come up with a solution for what’s been going on and repeatedly these requests have been denied, ignored, or just thrown out. Finally, when this group of people was no longer willing to sit there and remain silent and remain patient, they went into this board meeting and said, ‘Now we must take action.’ Power was abused, rules were broken, and I believe the law was broken. This is a moderate response, which is a culmination of months of patience and thoughtful attention to handle a difficult situation. To describe it as confrontational and aggressive— If we wanted to be aggressive, we would have walked at the October plenary and we would have fired this guy, which we had the votes to do, we would have changed the committee, which we had the votes to do, but we didn’t.

I guess what I was saying was: The last three national executive directors have all left involuntarily and the position is now a political football. How does the culture of recrimination end and a culture of compromise begin?

It seems clear to any casual observer [that Membership First] is not a group of people who is the least bit interested in compromise or in forming consensus. They have never suggested anything like that, unless they were down on the ground bleeding. With that in mind, it’s my opinion this is now time for the members to decide how this can best be handled. My guess is that they will decide, come September, to repudiate this behavior.

Membership First isn't going to go away. They have close to 48 percent of the votes, and this move to fire Allen doesn't sit well with them.

People keep trying to find moral equivalence between these two methods of doing business and there is none. If anybody can demonstrate to me how in any way this new group of people has behaved badly, precipitously or anything else— If anything, we’ve gotten screamed at for being as patient as we’ve been, and for trying as hard as we’ve tried to make this thing happen in a way that is not as dramatic as the way it is now happening. But there’s no room for compromise, there is no interest in compromise on their part. By the way, compromise on our part? That was October. We had the votes to do much more stringent things than what we did. We went in and in the name of giving them the final shot of going in to make good. They had the perfect excuse. The economy was in the toilet, everybody was talking about it, it was clear as crystal that there was no way we were going to get a strike vote from the membership at this point if we were ever going to get one.

Who do you think will be the next president?

A lot of [high-profile] people have stood up on this thing. Is one of them going to be interested in putting themselves in the lion's den? If somebody believes that there is something better than a 50-50 chance, or even a 50-50 chance to repeat what happened last year in terms of the election in Hollywood [when the moderate faction Unite for Strength won 18 seats], I bet a whole bunch of people would be willing to stand up.

--Andrew Salomon

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