Recently the “Vote No” contingent’s Justine Bateman wrote an analysis of SAG’s future depending on how the vote goes on the tentative TV/Theatrical Contract. I asked the “Vote Yes” side for a reply and Adam Arkin responded. Justine is on the SAG National Board and served on the Negotiating Committee before the SAG New Majority disbanded it. Adam also is on the SAG National Board. And, remember, to get your ballots there by June 9th you should mail them by Friday:

JUSTINE BATEMAN
For what it’s worth, I recently sent this to an actor who was struggling with how he should vote. Though there’s no way I could vote any way but NO on this contract, I am at a point where I do not tell people to vote one way or another, but simply tell them how the different votes will play out. I believe I am more than accurate. I’ll just give you some facts and scenarios.

In this new proposal, there is really nothing but many, many rollbacks and a “cost of living” raise in “Old Media” . There are a lot of things that bother me about this proposal, but nothing more than the fact that there is no quid pro quo; we are getting nothing in return for giving up so, so much. I feel that this is a proposal for a child. This is not what you hand to a bunch of adults. You can tell, I think this is a disastrous deal (for all the unions). Enough about that, though. It sounds like you’ve had your fill of the arguments from either side, so I’ll cut to future scenarios.

I’ve said that there are three kinds of voters here.
— One wants this to just “be over” and wants to vote up anything in front of them, hoping this action will “make everything better”.
— The second type earnestly believes that we will “attend to this in two years” and “band together with the other unions” and take on the AMPTP for better terms (or terms at all) in New Media.
— And the third kind of voter looks at this proposal and says, “Fuck you, AMPTP. You are doing nothing but trying to break all these unions and, NO, I don’t approve this contract. It’s shit.”

Basically, all those voters are fucked. That’s the real truth. (Don’t worry. I’ve got good news at the end of this.)

Here’s the scenario for the first voter:
Contract ratified. Production does NOT “ramp back up” and continues on this steady quantity decline it’s been on over the last decade. Meanwhile “pilot season” becomes almost exclusively NOT AFTRA, but NON-UNION because of the permissions given in the new contract to the Media Corporations to create non-union work that costs under 15k per minute. That’s 30 minutes of programming for $450,000. Pretty doable, right? (By the way, this budget is doable adhering to independent film UNION minimums, too. Interesting. And “giving permission” means you MAY NOT go in an organize it.)

Hundreds of pilots are shot non-union and the very few that are picked up are recast in their entirety with union talent. The union talent receives no residuals for their work even if it’s a runaway success and after everyone buys the new TV’s with Internet connections within them, the audience no longer notices if they are watching ABC or ABC.com. Children are hurt on the sets of New Media because of the absence of any of the protections for minors that exist in the “Old Media” contracts. Ditto former “stunt safety”. WIth “clip consent” gone, your image is suddenly showing up in places of which you had no previous knowledge and no legal leverage with which to do anything about it. Etc.

For the second voter, they will quickly be reminded that the DGA and WGA HAD the same expiration dates and the DGA threw us all under the bus by negotiating during the WGA strike and setting this useless template for all of us. They will be reminded that AFTRA and SAG both HAD the same contract expiration dates and AFTRA decided to go it alone and chose to settle for the DGA deal while SAG was in the middle of negotiations. They will understand historic characterization. They may realize, too, that the WGA is, though sympathetic, not ready to contemplate another strike so soon after 07/08. They will realize that it takes a lot of time and planning to put together a labor action and suddenly not find enough of the “type 2 voters” willing to attend to this. Even if they are miraculously able to triumph against historic tendencies of this town and assemble all the unions, they will find that the AMPTP does NOT take money out of its pocket that you have already allowed to reside in there (see DVD deal of 20 years ago). And they will be working this bad contract just the same as Voter Type #1.

The third voter will feel happy to vote his conscience, but soon find that the New Majority on the SAG National Board is not at all prepared or willing to walk back into the AMPTP and demand that concessions be made. A fight from Hell will ensue to make sure the membership does NOT vote 75% to authorize a strike (strange) and if one is attained, the New Majority will never vote in the Boardroom to actually CALL a strike, so the leverage will have been for nothing. At this point I believe the AMPTP has the ability to just implement the contract, but don’t quote me. And then Voter #3 will also be working this bad, bad contract.

BUT, the good news is that the TV and Film business is undergoing its most dramatic change since the beginning of film. The bottom of the distribution pyramid has dissolved with the arrival of Internet distribution and the Media Corporations have lost control of the flow of content. We are now free to establish a New Grid, New ways of doing business in entertainment, New models of funding and distribution, New levels of ownership of our content, etc.

I have a production company (www.fm78.tv) with my partners and we like, for example, that early TV model wherein the sponsor funded the entire episode or series. So, we are currently pitching the sponsors themselves to fund our scripted content that we would have otherwise taken to NBC or HBO. We have distribution deals set up with all the main players in Internet distribution as well as an A-list cast and a high-powered PR film ready to launch the shows with the same effort they give Theatrically-released films or broadcast-TV premieres. All our budgets are an independent film model. We don’t give a shit WHAT The AMPTP eventually gets SAG to agree to, we are NOT paying people in ANY of the unions just California State minimum (about $100 a day). We are paying people something they can live on.

What I’m saying with the above is that the real story here is the massive change Entertainment is going through and the Creative Renaissance just on the other side of this change. Actors will no longer be able to make a living as just actors; they will need to multi-task. They will need to not only act, but ALSO know how to do at least one of the following: build a website, edit on Final Cut, write, direct, know how to deal with sponsors, know how to grow a mad following on social networks, have relationships with bloggers, be able to reach out to Internet Distribution sites and create ad-revenue deals for back-end monies.
You have to bring more to the party.

I think it’s THE most exciting time to be in Entertainment since FIlm began. It’s historic.

ADAM ARKIN
Justine Bateman has chosen to focus on three kinds of voters rather than on the two possible outcomes of this contract vote. She clearly dislikes the deal but isn’t really attempting to urge a “no” vote.

Instead, she writes that even if the contract is voted down, SAG won’t be able to improve the deal. She suggests that the AMPTP would ultimately impose a contract – and fails to mention that this would once again put us out of sync with AFTRA and the other unions, leaving SAG to negotiate on our own (and last in line) in the future.

She’s saying, it seems to me, that a “no” vote won’t get us anything better and would likely make matters significantly worse.

That’s why those of us supporting a YES vote have stressed that voting “no” is not a plan. Urging SAG members to turn down the real gains of this contract without providing a sound strategy for getting a much better deal is unwise – and carries tremendous risk. As Justine wrote, “it takes a lot of time and planning to put together a labor action,” yet even President Rosenberg, an equally outspoken critic of this deal, has said he doesn’t know how he would vote on a strike if the contract is rejected. What does that say about the plan?

And what about the three kinds of voters Justine has identified? She concludes that all three types are going to suffer no matter how this vote turns out. Her view lowers the relevance of this contract, in any case, by focusing on a predicted future where the AMPTP is marginalized in favor of self-starting entrepreneurs who will have to wear many hats – including that of actor – in order to survive. I don’t believe the kind of change she’s laid out is going to happen as suddenly or wholly as she suggests, but I genuinely admire Justine’s efforts to adapt and expand creatively. That is exciting, and as a clear early adopter, I think her voice has a valuable place in the dialogue as we confront transformation in our industry, no matter what the pace.

Meanwhile, our ability to provide for ourselves and our families is still firmly rooted in film and television work and I don’t see that changing dramatically in the near term – certainly not over the two years of this contract. Many who oppose this deal see revolution, while supporters see evolution. Some perceive a rapidly dying “old media,” while others see the lifeline that professional actors will depend on for some time to come. If any of us could predict the future with certainty, there would be no need for a debate. But one thing is clear, here and now: SAG members of every kind have an important decision to make, and the outcome of this contract vote will profoundly affect us all.

That’s why I believe we can, and should, vote YES. Here the plan is clear. We’ll put an end to a year of costly uncertainty by getting SAG members back to work with the real gains this contract offers. Not only will it create more SAG jobs, with increased pay, residuals, and benefits – it also affirms SAG’s jurisdiction in New Media and establishes much needed payments for the exhibition of our film and TV work online. This means real money in the pockets of actors who need it to pay their bills and to qualify for crucial health insurance and pension benefits. With a deeply challenging year behind us, we can then turn our efforts squarely to strengthening our relationships with AFTRA and the other industry unions to maximize our bargaining power in 2011 and beyond.

It’s the “beyond” part that offers some agreement between Justine and me. Even if we disagree about the pace and ultimate extent of the changes ahead, it’s nonetheless clear that change is coming. That’s why we must work together to create smart, strategic union representation for all professional performers. Many who oppose this deal have suggested that the goal of working in partnership with our fellow unions is naïve or simplistic. I can’t agree. It’s my belief that greater unity is essential if we are to turn the challenges of the future into opportunities.