Reality Check

Collateral damage is a military term that’s the equivalent of a surgeon saying “Oops!” in the operating room. It means some innocent has been seriously screwed by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. A peasant farmer whose fields are bombed by a plane 10 miles off target. A guy in the hospital for a checkup whose chart is switched with a patient getting a prostate probe. The rats on Survivor island.

Collateral damage is doing its devastating worst in the SAG/AFTRA strike as well. In a long and impassioned letter Adweek received recently, freelance commercial production manager T. Michael Cordner asks us to con sider what he calls the “refugees of this war”—the commercial production community’s support troops, the technical crews and other innocents laid low by the vitriolic conflict between the ad industry and the actors.

Although he doesn’t mention them specifically, T. Michael is also reminding us to think about the vendors, crew members, messengers, suppliers and others losing their livelihoods in the shadows of this endless labor contretemps, the ones who toil far away from the flamboyant public displays of outrage, whirring cameras and dueling press releases.

“Let us not forget that the ‘advertising industry’ is more than large companies and actors hawking soap,” he writes.

The letter is stridently anti-actor; Cordner compares the actors’ position to “a plight more closely associated with the NBA Players strike than with the cause of the working man. … Five hundred dollars for an eight-hour day is beyond most of America’s wildest dreams.”

Still, he has a point about the invisible working men and women who are this strike’s collateral damage—the “people who can afford it least,” as Steve Caplan, a spokesman for the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, puts it.

I confess that until this letter arrived, I hadn’t given much thought to the wider implications of the strike. I live in Los Angeles, work in Hollywood and write about advertising, so as you can imagine, I’m up to my eyeballs in strike-related claims, counterattacks, accusations, conflicting statements and clashing statistics. I feel like a war correspondent on his third tour of duty in ‘Nam.

By now, all I want to do is go home, pop open a cold one, watch a ball game and forget about all of it.

But nowhere in the blitz of data bits are any estimates of the number of support jobs lost as a result of the strike. The closest anyone has come is Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Council, who estimates that the strike has cost Tinseltown $2.5 million a day—a considerable figure now that the strike is going on 120 days old.

Much of that money is being taken from people who don’t write, direct, act or produce. Regular folks who are bearing the brunt of the collateral damage in a commercial war of attrition.

Forget Richard Hatch. This is reality.