EXCLUSIVE: Peter Antico is fighting an uphill battle to become the next president of SAG-AFTRA, but he believes he has enough support from members to push him over the top when votes are counted Thursday. His supporters include Sylvester Stallone, Cuba Gooding Jr, Mickey Rourke, Andrew Dice Clay and Morgan Brittany.
Long an outspoken critic of the union’s current regime, he split from the main opposition group, Membership First, because he said they weren’t doing enough to challenge incumbent Gabrielle Carteris and her slate of Unite For Strength supporters.
A business and financial wonk, Antico blasted the union and its pension plans for failing to prevent a string of embarrassing embezzlements, and is harshly critical of what he sees as lavish staff salaries and reckless spending, including more than $5 million in rent last year for the union’s headquarters in Hollywood and more than $6 million in New York, and over $66,000 annually on SAG-AFTRA pins to be handed out a souvenirs.
“We spend approximately $24 million in rent all over the country that doesn’t provide any equity to the members,” he said in a telephone interview.
Antico, a veteran stuntman who’s outraged by the recent deaths of stunt performers on The Walking Dead and Deadpool 2, maintains that “there is not one safety provision written into our collective bargaining agreement, and the new contract takes away our much needed rest periods.” This, he said, “is criminal negligence and will cause additional deaths on the set.”
He hopes to cobble together enough support from working actors, stunt performers, background players, dancers, singers and voice-over artists to pull off a major upset.
“The singers, dancers, stunt performers and voice-over artists have received no gains but a cost of living increase in the last four contract negotiations,” he said. “This is supposed to be one union, and yet it seems to only benefit a very limited group of actors and the staff. And this year, on TV shows only, stunt coordinators only got a 5% increase in their flat rates, with no residuals.”
“Jobs for singers,” he said, “are disappearing through nonunion choirs, nonunion music library houses, and nonunion trailer music for the major films, whose production companies are signatory to our contract. These jobs are disappearing because we can’t get the union to fight for singers.”
Dancers, he said, are often “doing hazardous work that should come under the category of stunts, with wire work and acrobatics, and their salary does not reflect the jobs they’re doing. The union needs to do a better job fighting for them.”
Most of the union’s contracts have some coverage for extras, but limit the number of union extras that have to be hired. “Background artists didn’t get one more job added in the latest contract,” Antico said. “I believe all union jobs should be required to hire only union background, and there should be no job caps. If it’s a union job, it should be union jobs.”
Background extras, he said, “Should no longer have to pay call-in services to submit them for jobs, but have free access to every show in their region as a benefit of being a union member. SAG-AFTRA should be the call-in service, and refer background actors for all jobs in regions where they live. If you create benefits to belonging to a union, that will give people a reason to join. If there’s no value added, there’s no reason to join.”
He’d also create an “an updated membership portal which with the click of an app button, a performer can submit to any union job in any region in the country.”
An outspoken opponent of the new film and TV contract, which was approved overwhelmingly by members, he said that “enforcing the contract is number one, and it hasn’t been enforced in years.” And using technology, he said, is the best way to enforce it.
“There is widespread underpayment of residuals because of the lack of the proper tools to track them,” he said. “The first thing I’d do if elected is change the entire technology platform at SAG-AFTRA. I would change the way the business is run by using the tools of machine-learning, artificial intelligence and face and voice recognition so that we can track all performers’ content globally, 24 hours a day, in real time. These tools are available now but are not being used because the current leadership does not understand how to run a business. If you could track every time a performer was in an episode of television, a commercial, or film, you’d then be able to go after residuals on a factual basis.”
SAG-AFTRA members working on shoots outside the country, he said, are also only receiving a fraction of the residuals they’re owed, or none at all. “I have found that many American TV shows are being shown in Mexico, Europe, and Asia with the titles changed so that no residuals are paid.”
And he says that when films are shot outside the country under SAG-AFTRA contracts, the American casts are routinely being ripped off by residuals “pooling.”
“This needs to stop,” he said. “When a SAG-AFTRA performer works out of the country, residuals are supposed to be split amongst only the members of SAG-AFTRA. But the current illegal practice is that producers will add in all the foreign performers and dilute the residuals pool, cheating our members out of the correct moneys owed to them. For example, if there are 45 foreign actors and five SAG-AFTRA actors, the five SAG-AFTRA actors are supposed to spilt all the performers’ residuals under the SAG-AFTRA contract. But instead of the five actors splitting 100% of the residuals, they’re splitting 10% and the producers keep the other 90%.”
He’d also launch a major rebranding of the union. “In order to promote more union contracts, we must start branding ourselves. All we have now is a sign on a building and a business card.”
He says he’d also get out of the lease on the current headquarters and find a new location in Los Angeles and create a “Google-style campus where you would have broadcast studios, voice-over booths, miniature sound stages, rehearsal halls for actors and stunt people, a screening room, and computers and cameras so actors could upload and send their video auditions to producers.” Similar “performers’ communities” would be set up “in every major hub where SAG-AFTRA has an office.”
He said he also wants to create a “SAG-AFTRA channel and put it on a network, thus employing our own actors and enriching contributions to our pension and health plan.” All this, he said, could be done for much less than the union is currently paying in rent on buildings that “are not user-friendly and where actors feel like they’re in a government building where you can’t get in to see anyone.”
“I want to turn SAG-AFTRA into a profit-producing business model that creates equity to support all performers,” he said. And he says he wants to do all this with integrity. “I believe that the most important qualities to possess are ethics, principals and honesty, above all things. Since 2009, there has been a gross lack of integrity and financial accountability and transparency at SAG-AFTRA.”