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Actor Peter Coyote Writes an Open Letter to "Lead Actors"


Apparently in reaction to the ongoing strike talks, veteran actor Peter Coyote sent an open letter, directed towards the Hollywood actors with the most clout in the industry, to Nikki Finke (Deadline Hollywood Daily) yesterday. Coyote argues that the power of SAG lies either in strike threats or the power of the union's most influential members -- and he prefers using the latter.

From the letter:

A small minority of actors are internationally known, iconic figures, whom audiences flock to see in films and on television. Producers know these actors as the best means to insure return on their investments and reward them appropriately for that security. In addition to talent, these actors have had that extra measure of good fortune, and have been propelled to the very top of our profession. It is to these actors that this letter is addressed, because your good fortune may have insulated you from issues currently afflicting the majority of actors who support you as the ‘friends’, ‘lovers’, ‘cops’, ‘lawyers’, ‘judges’, ‘villains’, and ‘side-kicks in films, and who are also hard-working, talented and skilled professionals...

Our actor’s Guild has two weapons to employ in protecting its members: the threat or fact of strike, and the power of its “star” members. The power to strike is the union's ultimate weapon, but it is a crude and draconian one and wounds everyone in our industry. Consequently, like nuclear weapons, it is rarely used. The industry is currently facing its second strike this year because the majority of its membership is suffering and feel they have no other recourse. If you possess only one weapon, it’s the one you use. Given the radical depression in earnings there’s little wonder that a strike is on the table again.

Coyote's suggested solution is that the most powerful (and profitable) actors look out for the "little guys," in a way:

Once an actor reaches the six or ten million dollar mark for several months work, they are financially secure for life unless they are morons or have extremely bad habits. By the time they’re earning 15-20 million, some measurable percentage of those earnings is meaningless. A major star on a film we were doing together, once told me, (We were discussing this issue) “Hey there’s no difference between 17 and 18 million to me! My agent tells me so-and-so gets it and so should I.”

That “no difference money” is the difference between earning a living or not for most of the rest of us. A modest return to insure the health of the entire community (the principle behind income taxes) hardly seems excessive. While this would not solve all the problems of our community, it would certainly remove much of the desperation and rancor from negotiations and make earning a living once again possible for far more of the membership.

George_clooney Despite his respected status among his peers and fans, Coyote is certainly speaking on behalf of himself as one of the "rest of us." But his statements are similar to those made not long ago by Hollywood superstar George Clooney, as reported by Andrew Salomon for Strike Watch last month.

Clooney said in his statement:

Unlike the NFL, in this Guild, the quarterbacks protect the linemen. I’ve been very lucky in my career, which has put me in the place that I don’t need a union to check on my residuals, or my pension, or protect my 12 hour turnaround. I used to need that, and may again… but right now I don’t. That means it’s my responsibility to look out for actors who are trying to stay afloat from year to year. Anything less is irresponsible of me.

If all of the actors can be on the same page, why can't the rest of the union? And are Coyote and Clooney describing a viable option? Read Peter Coyote's letter in its entirety here.

-- Daniel Lehman

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