Art & Commerce: SAG-ging Fortunes

As month two of the strike begins, where will it end?
Last week, as the commercial production industry celebrated the fruits of its labor–The AICP show at the Museum of Modern Art in New York–members of SAG/ AFTRA picketed outside. They hovered around the museum’s entrance, using signs, bullhorns, whistles and obscenities to remind everyone walking into MOMA that the seven-week actors’ strike against the advertising industry is in full swing. The demonstrators were heard, but, as one female guest noted, what did calling her a whore do for their cause?
Tomorrow, the chief negotiators for the actors’ unions and the advertising industry will gather in New York for the first time since heated negotiations broke off in April. The parties aren’t meeting at their own discretion. The session is taking place at the request of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service.
Federal mediators are trying to assist the industry groups–the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) and the Joint Policy Committee (JPC) of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As) and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA)–which have all gotten nowhere during these contract negotiations. Will this intervention work? Will negotiations be jump-started?
Both sides express interest in ending the strike as soon as possible, but don’t expect one to come soon. As the impasse enters its second month, each side claims it’s making some progress for its cause.
The actors’ representatives say more than 1,500 interim agreements have been signed, but decline to name names. The ad industry says if that many have been signed, they have been signed by smaller clients that don’t have much impact on the industry or by overseas agencies shooting here. The peer pressure is there. No major agencies or visible clients have yet to break ranks, they say.
Yet despite the ad industry’s claim of “business as usual,” it’s not. Agencies are struggling to find the talent they need, and it’s getting more difficult to produce commercials. Some are scouting multiple locations to throw picket organizers off and, fearing demonstrations in New York and Los Angeles, taking their jobs to smaller U.S. cities. Others are simply taking their work out of the country.
John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the JPC, says he is discouraged by media reports that representatives of the actors’ unions don’t expect much to come out of the meeting next week.
“Having some talk on any level is better than none,” says Greg Krizman, acting director of communications at SAG. But he cautions that the face-to-face is “just an exploratory meeting with the federal negotiators to perhaps bring both parties back to the table.”
It may be more like mom and dad bringing two feuding siblings together at the dinner table to make peace, but at least it’s a beginning. All parties need to remember human beings are involved. Actors want to get back to work, and advertising agencies want to go back to “business as usual.”
But “business as usual” after the strike will be different. There are compromises to be made and important issues to be sorted out. The biggest issue: Advertisers want to extend the flat-fee pay structure used in cable to broadcast networks, while the actors want the network residual pay-for-play structure to extend to cable.
During a strike, it is expected for people to get emotional, even ugly. But what happens when it’s all over? Actors, directors, ad agencies and clients will all have to work together again, side-by-side. The question is, Will they be able to look at each other in the eye?