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Look Back in Interactive

Strikewatch_blogSoon after SAG announced last month that they'd sign interim agreements covering some indie productions  in the event of a strike, labor and entertainment attorney Howard Fabrick told me all of his indie production company clients were clamoring for one. It seemed everyone who qualified wanted one of the Golden Tickets that would keep the cameras rolling.

It looks like it worked for The Film Department. The company has become the first to sign an interim agreement with SAG, p ensuring nine of its films will continue shooting if the actors' strike. The Catherine Zeta-Jones vehicle The Rebound and Law Abiding Citizen, starring Gerard Butler, are among the pics covered. That's good news. Hopefully, more indies will be able to sign agreements of their own.

Back in March, Fabrick and I also kibitzed about what was then only a possibility that SAG and AFTRA would call their Phase One relationship quits. Fabrick saw what went down first-hand in the boardroom during SAG and AFTRA's joint negotiations on the Interactive Media Agreement in 2005. "Interactive media" (a.k.a. video games) was the big "new media" issue of '05 -- an unchartered, hot new medium producers were milking for kajillions of dollars.

In that instance, SAG and AFTRA started out together per Phase One, but evenutally broke apart into separate negotiations. AFTRA soon accepted the video-game producers' deal that has been rejected by  SAG's executive committee because it did not include residuals.

SAG's leaders were backed into a corner: their exec. committee had rejected the proposa, but the membership voted not to strike. Now AFTRA was poised to have complete jurisdiction over video-game voiceover work and the producers were not wavering on residuals. According to Fabrick,  SAG accepted the same deal two weeks after AFTRA did in order to gain a foothold in the new medium.

I don't see why this scenario couldn't happen again. Only now there's more pressure on SAG to get a good deal -- including new-media residuals -- and avoid a strike at the same time.  If AFTRA accepts a quickie deal, would SAG be forced to fold and take the same contract? Well, history does tend to repeat itself.

--Lauren Horwitch


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Regarding the SAG/AFTRA Negotiations and their conflicts, I think it appropriate to take a look at an article I recently wrote for The Huffington Post

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-russnow/the-sag-negotiations-two_b_92973.html

It features a couple of one minute videos by German Film and TV actors, Andreas Stenschke and Detlef Behr, who express support for the betterment of U.S. actors and the hopes that they can achieve the same results in Europe.

Your post is incomplete to the point of being inaccurate, especially the swipe at AFTRA.
First, that negotiation was NEVER Phase One. It was "joint" only in the sense that the two unions were, for a period of time, in the same room at the same time. Second, the interactive fight in 05 boiled down to
"how much leverage do the unions have?" With less than 20% of the work under contract, not much. Hard to have a strike when you only affect south of 20% of production. If you'd 'gone out', you might STILL be out. AFTRA signed a realistic deal, staying in the game, as it were, and building business since then, as has SAG.
It's worth noting that it was AFTRA who organized the first video game contract back in the 1990's, doing what a union is supposed to do. That deal was struck with Electronic Arts (EA), one of the biggest producers in the business. Only later, when things really got going in games, did SAG take an interest, and then because it was mostly SAG stars doing the voice work on games that were the extension of stars' movies. And that's basically what SAG had going into the negotiations of '05. So much else was being done by AFTRAns.
It's also worth noting that the same story is true in cable television. AFTRA signed the first deals in cable, organizing shows in the 80's. AFTRA continued to build business with producers, growing the contracts as the business grew. SAG came in later with a one size fits all deal that-to this day-drives filmed projects over the border at the rate of almost 50%. And to this day, AFTRA is the only union who's achieved system wide deals in cable (Comedy Central and Nickelodeon), proving again that AFTRA does what a union is supposed to do: organize work for its members. AFTRAns are not afraid to grow business, because it sure beats the alternative...unemployment. AFTRA is a "we" not an "it". WE, the members, work our deals and we're not out to undercut or give the store away. Why would we? It's OUR STORE.
Strikes are a last resort measure with multiple unintended consequences, usually not pleasant. The commercials industry was changed forever as a result of the 2000 strike, and not for the better. And there, the unions DO have significant penetration.
By all means, strike when we must. But this is the history that you should be thinking about.
Ed Fry
AFTRA/SAG/AEA

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