Monday, June 30, 2008

Strike Two!

So, today is the last day of the SAG contract. Last year the Writer’s Guild went on strike, this year we may see a Screen Actors Guild strike... but probably not tomorrow. SAG still plans on negotiating, which is cool... but the Producers made their “Final Offer” on Thursday, which means the negotiations may end up a little one sided. The issues are the same as with the WGA and DGA - trying to make sure they don’t get boned with new media the way they got boned with home video years ago.I’m not a SAG member, and really don’t know all of the details... except there may be another Hollywood strike that brings the business to a halt, and I don’t think anyone has really recovered from the last one.

Just as the SAG negotiations began, there was a news item about how much money the state lost from the WGA strike - $2.5 billion - which is a huge amount. I kind of wonder about the timing of the story, though - since it seemed to come right when it looked as if SAG was going to play hardball. Was this news, or a threat? That kind of timing makes me wonder about the veracity of the news story itself. But it seems like the news media isn’t questioning the numbers at all, just repeating them. Lately it seems like news (regardless of story) is never investigated, just parroted. Hey, that channel said it, so we’ll say it! No one ever seems to question anything - there is no investigative reporting (unless you call sitting in some house waiting for a child molester to show as “investigative”). When someone in power says something, it’s just taken as truth. I wonder what the real cost of the WGA strike is, once you subtract the “threat-to-SAG-not-to-strike-inflation”.


One of the strange things that has happened as the potential strike gets closer are the waivers. SAG has been issuing strike waivers to any *indie* producer who agrees to whatever terms are in the new deal. These deals have been blasting out of SAG HQ over the past few months - hundreds of them! The deal allows an *indie* producer to make a film with SAG talent during any potential strike. While the big studios will have to shut down all of their movies, little indie films *without distribution* can still make their film as long as they have signed a waiver. This may be the shot in the arm that indie films need right now - as indie distribs are closing right and left as many indie films fail to find *any* audience these days. The only movies actors can work in will be indie films which have signed a waiver... which excludes all studio films. Suddenly, every actor will want to be in some little indie film! Well, not *every* actor - Tom Hanks and those big $25 million stars will just sit out any potential strike - they can afford it. But those supporting actors who have seen their paychecks cut over the years may take a role or two in an indie if the strike continues for a while, just to pay the mortgage. Indies will be the only game in town!


SAG is a split union in two ways...

First, they merged with AFTRA (which is mostly TV & Radio personalities) a smaller union that had some cross-over members. This was originally seen as a great thing, because the combined power of the members was more than each union on its own. Though there are only a couple of TV shows that are under the AFTRA contract, most are SAG - and that side of the union of unions would impact the biz the most. But together, they have the acting thing cornered... Except when SAG began asking for things the producers didn’t want to give, AFTRA decided to split with SAG and negotiate on their own... and closed a deal that would keep it’s members working, even if it didn’t get any of the things SAG is fighting for. Now there is pressure on SAG to make the same deal that AFTRA made.

Second, SAG is divided into regular working actors who have no idea where their next job is coming from and have to keep scoring gigs in they want to keep paying rent... and movie stars who make $25 million a picture. Even the high end TV stars who may make hundreds of thousands *per episode* are a completely different animal than your average working actor. I know a bunch of average working actors - they do a hundred auditions to land one role that may just give them a day’s pay. So the second division is a massive division in pay within the union.

When I worked at Safeway, I was a member of Retail Clerks Union, and we were all paid the same. Sure, there was a difference between an apprentice clerk’s pay and a journeyman clerk’s pay - but after working full time for a year that apprentice became a journeyman and was paid the same. There were also shift differentials - so if you worked graveyards you were paid a little bit more than 9-5 hours... but it was maybe a dime an hour difference. You work graveyards for a couple of weeks, you’d gladly give up that dime an hour for a normal life. But everyone in the union was basically paid the same, so everyone was fighting together. Imagine if one employee makes $25 million for their role in a movie and another is paid $759 for their role?


A more recent split in the union comes from the big name stars - some are lobbying for SAG and AFTRA to just settle so they can keep working, and others are pushing for a rejection of the deal the producers are offering AFTRA so that those $759 actors can get all that they deserve. Tom Hanks wants them to settle, Jack Nicholson wants them to fight... and a steel cage match between the two stars may be the only way to settle this. Well, until Clooney entered the ring with his letter.

Clooney’s letter:

At the risk of being yet another actor giving his opinion about the ongoing fight between SAG and AFTRA, I'm hoping that there might be a way out of this. Rather than pitting artist against artist, maybe we could find a way to get what both unions are looking for.

Both are, of course, right. AFTRA feels that a work stoppage would be devastating to its members and SAG believes that if they don't draw a line in the sand, the studios will repeat what they did with DVDs.

There are a couple of fundamental facts that both sides have to start with ... first is that the WGA, DGA and IATSE all agreed to a certain model (DVDs not being a part of it). Breaking that model for AFTRA or SAG would retroactively break the other models ... so you can be pretty sure that the AMPTP isn't going to do that. The second thing is understanding the way these unions work. They're unique in structure to other unions. Doug Allen (the SAG national executive director) has said on several occasions that this would be a negotiation for "the linemen, not for the quarterbacks." (Doug did a lot of the negotiating for the NFL.) The spirit of the statement isn't wrong ... it's just the structure. Unlike the NFL, in this guild, the quarterbacks protect the linemen. I've been very lucky in my career, which has put me in the place that I don't need a union to check on my residuals, or my pension, or protect my 12-hour turnaround. I used to need that, and may again ... but right now I don't. That means it's my responsibility to look out for actors who are trying to stay afloat from year to year. Anything less is irresponsible of me.

Work stoppage will do a great deal of harm to those actors ... agencies will close ... TV pilots won't get made ... more reality shows ... we all know the scenario. But that doesn't mean just roll over and give the producers what they want ... it means diligence.

The producers say that there's no money in new media right now. There's some truth in that ... for this moment. It was also true for cable, VHS and DVD ... all of which became very profitable for the studios ... and the actors were out in the cold. With new media, we have our foot in the door, but who's to say a year from now, if it becomes profitable, that the same thing won't happen again ... actors out in the cold. So here are a couple of ways that the quarterbacks can protect the linemen:

First, we set up a panel ... Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, for instance ... 10 of them that sit down with the studio heads once a year ... 10 people that the studio heads don't often say "no" to. Those 10 people walk in the door with all the new data that SAG and AFTRA compile, and adjust the pay for actors... once a year.

Second, we go to the actors who make an exorbitant amount of money, and raise their dues. Right now, there's a cap of 6,000 bucks that actors pay their union ... based on $1 million in earnings. Make it $6,000 for every million ... if someone makes $20 million, they pay $120,000 into the union. That could go a long way in helping pensions and health care. The quarterbacks have to do more.

To be sure, I'm not the brightest bulb out there. So maybe someone has a lot better idea ... I just happen to believe so strongly in both unions ... my father, my mother, aunt, uncle, even cousins were all members of either SAG or AFTRA long before me.

What we can't do is pit artist against artist ... because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of the AMPTP.

George Clooney

Wow... that guy impresses the heck out of me more and more. He’s got a great down-to-earth solution that may prevent the Hanks vs. Nicholson Battle Royale. I like the way he wants to pay more to SAG, since he earns more. And I like the idea of a panel of A listers doing some of the negotiation. Nobody really wants a strike - but nobody wants to get boned, either.

As for my upcoming film, it’s an indie... but I have no idea whether the producer got a SAG waiver or not. And he’s been kind of MIA because everyone has been hustling to get films finished before today. So I may or may not have a film shooting in September... but if there is a strike, I hope that it will be over by then... Unless he *did* get a waiver, then I hope Ving Rhames is getting short of cash and needs a job...

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: JUMPER - who's driving? New script tips M-T-W this week!
Yesterday’s Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad at Fuddruckers.

MOVIES: WANTED - or “More Matrix”. Both films are about guys who work in cubicles in *Chicago* who discover they are really the “chosen one” and have superpowers when a hot kick-ass woman enters their lives... and bad guys are trying to kill them. And both films contain “high concept action scenes” - my friend Iain, who writes comic books in London, came up with this idea of the high concept action scene. An amazing mind-blowing action scene unlike anything we have ever seen before... and his example was the “bullet time” scene in THE MATRIX. Well, in WANTED we get a handful of totally cool action scenes unlike anything we have ever seen before on film.

I’ve been told the story is different that the graphic novel source - on screen we have cubicle slave Wesley (James MacAvoy from the great flick ATONEMENT) whose life is a complete mess - his best friend is screwing Wesley’s fiancé, and Wesley can barely afford his anxiety medicine, and when he looks himself up on Google... he gets nothing at all - who is approached by a hot babe Fox (Angelina Jolie - who plays roles like this really well) and told that the father he never knew was actually the world’s top assassin - and killed yesterday. And now the guy who killed him is coming after Wesley. And then the non-stop action begins, and Wesley is swept away into the world of assassins.

Seems that anxiety problem is really a rush of adrenaline that is genetically passed down in assassin families.... and completely at odds with cubicle work. Fox takes him to meet Sloan (the always great Morgan Freeman) who wants him to train to be an assassin and then take out his father’s killer. Wesley isn’t up to it. He thinks this whole thing is crazy and wants to part of it. But when he discovers that his father’s assets have been added to his $14 checking account balance... and he’s now a millionaire, his attitude at the office changes just a little. He tells off his boss, punches his best friend *hard* in the face, and splits with his fiancé. From now on, he’s an assassin.

The film has some good twists, and the cast is great, but I could have done with two brief character oriented scenes at two big points in the film. Though we always identify with MacAvoy as the put upon guy who gets to live this amazing life of action, they could have slipped in a little more character stuff. We’ve had all of these hyper-kinetic action films lately - from CRANK to SMOKIN’ ACES to SHOOT ‘EM UP that were all style, little-to-no substance. WANTED manages to keep the characters real even though the milieu may be cartoonsih. Though part of that may be casting, a major part is the father-son story. MacAvoy ends up connecting with the father he never knew - staying in his room at th training facility and even wearing his old clothes. This grounds the story and the characters in emotions that we understand, elevating it way above those other films.


The film has so many completely mind-blowing high concept action scenes that it can afford to throw some of them away in the trailer. The scene where Jolie scoops MacAvoy up in her sports car is a fantastic idea. And that is what is cool about it - not the CGI used to create it, but the idea itself. Just like “bullet time” - a writer had to *think of that* (writers, by the way, are Michael Brandt and Derek Haas who wrote 3:10 TO YUMA last year, and Chris Morgan who wrote TOKYO DRIFT). The coolest of the high con action scenes is “curving the bullet” - the way Beckham bends a soccer ball around an opposing player to the goal. A preposterous idea - that you can put “English” on a bullet - but it makes for some wild shoot outs throughout the film. I just can’t wait for some stupid gangbanger to try it in real life and shoot another member of their gang. They also have this cool idea with extreme high powered rifles that can fire a bullet *miles* away to its target - and that a master assassin has the ability to chart and control that bullet so that it actually reaches its target miles away (seen through a very expensive telescope). We get a great scene where a car is flipped over another car, so the assassin can fire through a non-bullet proof sunroof. Again - some writer had to come up with that insane idea. It’s not the stunts of CGI that’s cool - it’s the idea of the scene. WANTED is filled with cool high con action scenes.

I didn’t like the completely preposterous method for coming up with assassination targets - I’ll believe a car can fly and a bullet can curve... but not this. But the film isn’t ever set up to be realistic - it’s the fantasy of some guy in a cubicle - so you just kind of go with even the most preposterous elements of the film. By the way, MacAvoy’s accent is amazing - you’d never guess he wasn’t born and raised in the USA. And Jolie - okay, she’s super hot. And seeing her get out of the bath is... well, it’s own high concept scene. There’s a great interview with her in Entertainment Weekly that makes her sound like a normal mom... and a really *good* mom... and a fairly grounded person. Wild, wicked, hot on screen... a mom who changes diapers at home.

Damn that Brad Pitt!

DVDs: I am so far behind in my DVD reviews... but last night I watched THE BAD AND THR BEAUTIFUL again, and I think when I run out of Hitchcock films next year, I may do some reviews of movies *about* screenwriters. There are at least a dozen of them, and I think they tell us all kinds of things about how we see ourselves. One of the interesting things about B&B is the Lana Turner doc extra that gives you a great look at how actors used to be treated by the studio (as well as all kinds of stuff about Turner's life). Because the studio basically assigned an actor their movies, and could suspend them if they didn't like the project, actors were *really* typecast. Once they were in a hit film, they played clones of that role for the rest of their career. So Turner was the "sweater girl" in her first film at 16 years old, and continued to play hot babes in everything else. The studio knew if they cast her as a hot babe, people would pay to see that. What's interesting about B&B is that she kind of plays an odd version of herself... and a subplot has her character being "replaced" by a younger hot babe.

Bicycle: I didn't ride as much last Thursday as I usually do... and because I go to the movies on Friday, I usually don't ride... So on Saturday I get ready to ride... and my back tire is flat. Poop! I hate changing tubes! Didn't take care of it on Sunday, and may not on Monday... though that screws me up for my usually epic Tuesday ride. Maybe I will fix it Monday.

- Bill


Iain said...

Thanks for the plug. I've just posted up the piece I wrote on high concept visuals on my blog in case anyone wanted to follow up on it.

Morgan McKinnon said...

"Except when SAG began asking for things the producers didn’t want to give, AFTRA decided to split with SAG and negotiate on their own... and closed a deal that would keep it’s members working, even if it didn’t get any of the things SAG is fighting for. Now there is pressure on SAG to make the same deal that AFTRA made." Martell

Here I go...knocking the dead horse in his head. Oh well.
I’m going to make a statement, that I know you will be very surprised to hear…

“Writers are ASSHOLES!”

I continue to crass…

“A long long time ago - the various parts of the body decided there needed to be a boss.

The brain said since it's smart - it should be boss
the eyes said since it sees everything - it should be boss
the stomach said since it provided fuel and energy - it should be boss

there was much arguing and debate. then the asshole spoke up and said it should be boss

the other parts laughed and laughed, and told the asshole to shut up

well, the asshole got very angry, and did what it was told. it shut up, it shut up very very tightly

in a couple of days, the stomach didn't feel so good

the asshole asked if it could be boss now. the stomach, eyes and brain all said no

a day or so later the eyes got very blurry, and again the asshole was rejected

the next day the brain became dizzy, the stomach was very very sick, and the eyes were whirling

Finally, the brain, eyes and stomach so sick, dizzy and blurry relented

and that's why the boss is the asshole “ Anonymous

There is a point in there somewhere (I'm sure.)

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