I wanted to wait until I’d received at least half a dozen reports to post about what happened at Thursday night’s SAG Informational meeting held at the Hollywood Reneaissance Hotel about the tentative Theatrical/TV Contract with the AMPTP now mailed to the members in good standing at the big actors union. (Hard to take seriously Variety‘s account, especially when the trade IDed SAG Interim Executive Director as “David Young”. Wrong union. Dave Young is executive director of the writers guild while David White is IED of the actors guild. In addition, the Variety story was time-stamped at 7:41PM but the meeting didn’t finish until 10:01Pm.)
It was not a friendly room towards white or Ned Vaughn of Unite For Strength, part of the so-called SAG National Majority now leading SAG. Both were booed. While SAG President Alan Rosenberg and Ed Asner received standing ovations. There were over 600 people based on staff’s count, described to me as a broad mix of “working, kind of working, rarely working, and never working” actors. Everyone I spoke with agreed that the members opposed to the contract outnumbered those who favored the contract by as much as 75% “Vote No” to 20% “Vote Yes” with 5% undecided.
Anne-Marie Johnson convened the Hollywood Division meeting and joining her on the dais where White, Vaughn, SAG Chief Negotiator John McGuire from NY, Stacy Travis, Connie Stevens, and Ray Rodriguez. A slide show covering the contract’s major points was shown. Then it was Q-and-A time with questions from the floor alternated with questions submitted on cards.
Several attendees told me Ned Vaughn made many misstatements, while Stacy Travis appeared overwhelmed by the task of answering queries. White is known for his calm manner but, when the crowd was not pleased with many of his answers, he began to get hot under the collar. Even more so when Rosenberg, Stevens and Johnson repeatedly voiced their opposition to the contract due to very fundamental issues such as the high budget threshold for made-for-New Media productions enabling rampant non-union productions, as well as the virtually non-existent residuals structure for network primetime content streamed on the Internet. “You can make a hell of a TV series for $300,000,” Stevens said.
Vocal “Vote No” advocate Scott Wilson said from the floor that “it is stunning” that SAG was creating a space for non-union work funded by studios.
One “Vote Yes” supporter claimed more pilots were going to AFTRA than SAG. So White was asked specificxally how passing the contract would bring TV producers back from AFTRA. He had no clear answer. A “Vote No” backer said what mattered was the pilots’ success ratio. Said another, “The union we do pilots under is relevant because of thresholds towards penions and health. We’re dishonoring prior generations who fought for residuals and P&H.”
Regarding the latter, Ned Vaughn was asked if he thought SAG was throwing under the bus those older members who’d worked prior to 1971 when it came to residuals. Vaughn stated that their work was so old that they’d gotten paid already years ago. “It’s such a small amount of money anyway…” he added. The crowd didn’t like that reply at all.
Vaughn later told Variety that the “Vote Yes” contingent asked Rosenberg repeatedly to explain how voting the deal down will lead to a better agreement when the AMPTP has said repeatedly it won’t sweeten the terms. “I think a lot of members don’t believe that voting no is going to get us a better deal,” Vaughn told the trade.
Some questions from the “Vote No” contingent caught White in inconsistencies. For instance, on the issue of force majeure, White has continually insisted in the past that an issue like that in this contract will never be negotiated again with the AMPTP, not even in 2011. And, because this is all the guild could get on the issue, this contract should be ratified. (“We will never be able to get anything back in force majeure, that’s for sure,” White has said.)
But when during last night’s questioning, White’s answer suddenly was not as definitive. “He sugar-coated his answer to make it appear as if SAG could go in and renegotiate things,” one “vote No” attendee told me. “He claimed the Sunset clauses allowed for that. Well, you could hear a collective moan from the crowd.”
White also tried to get out from under his quote “This deal sucks”, which I reported he said during a National Board meeting and which the “Vote No” contingent is now using in its campaign to reject the contract. White stated Thursday night that he should have used another word — not because he felt “suck” was an inappropriate word for an Interim NED to use during a board meeting, but because he was misunderstood and wanted to make it clear that there are good things about the contract. “Moans again,” a source told me.
Towards the end of the evening, Ed Asner spoke and received a standing ovation for expressing deep concerns about the contract. Frances Fisher expressed concern about clip use going forward because of the contract.
In all it was a 3-hour meeting with cheers and boos and a few calls of “bullshit” (but Johnson had that person removed from the room). No fights broke out although there were disagreements. Even though questions had been limited to 2 minutes each, there was still a long line of people waiting to speak by the time the meeting was ended.