Slanting the SAG Saga

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I'm Matt Holzman with The Business Brief, a guide to what's happening in and around the business.

There's been so little progress since the Screen Actors' Guild contract with producers expired on June 30 that you may not even be aware that negotiations are still going on -- or at least they should be. But nobody's really talking to anybody. And if you're a rank and file member of the union you're getting an awful lot of mixed messages from an awful lot of people about the situation.

You'd think you could just believe in what your leadership is telling you. But SAG members have been fed incendiary misinformation for so long from megalomaniacal factions inside the union that they don't know where to turn.

They certainly can't trust the two main sources of Hollywood "information" the trades and the blogosphere because they paint such different pictures of the situation that it's difficult for anyone to try to make out the truth.

Consider how Variety on one side and Nikki Finke's "Deadline Hollywood Daily" blog on the other covered last week's SAG board election.

"SAG power shifts" was variety's headline announcing the slight victory by a new, less militant SAG slate. "Dissidents," reads the first line of the article, "have won control of SAG's national board in a surprise result that heightens the chances of an end to the guild's contract stalemate with the majors."

Slanting the other way was Nikki Finke, whose headline "So What Do SAG Election Results Mean?" implies they mean nothing. She goes on to say that she "can't see how" the new group's "razor-thin" majority on the SAG board will make any difference to the current negotiations.

How can these two outlets see the same situation so differently? Well, the trades make their money from ads paid for by the Hollywood establishment, so they take a predictable pro-studio spin. When they say "SAG power shifts" they mean it's all over for SAG. And Nikki, who owned the story during the 2007-2008 writers' strike, gets her information largely from people within the guilds. When she says the elections are meaningless, she's saying "surrender, producers!"

Of course, the loser in this swirling sea of opinion is, as always, the little guy. In the three months since the last contract expired, rank and file members of SAG have missed out on any increase in their pay rates and residuals that would have resulted from even the worst new contract. Maybe that doesn't mean much for the leadership, many of whom make a fine living as actors. But it means a huge amount to the people for whom an increase in SAG minimums could mean paying the rent that month or sleeping on somebody else's couch. The men and women for whom slightly higher residual payments could mean the difference between being a professional actor and being an actor/Starbuck's barista.

Look, at this point, no matter how you slice it, any new SAG contract is going to look a lot like the contract signed by the Writers' Guild earlier this year. So I say, SAG members, until your union and the producers have signed on the line that is dotted, don't believe things written by people Who may not have your best interests at heart. And I include myself in That. Instead, demand that your leadership stop their bickering, get back to the negotiating table and get a contract signed. And then let's all move on.

I'd love to know what you think. Send me an e-mail at

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Matt Holzman