Trish and Harold's Weblog

News, information, and random thoughts from the busy lives of Trish Egan and Harold Phillips.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I'm Not A SAG Member, But...

...that doesn't mean I'm not watching today's SAG elections closely. Look, I'm a non-union actor, but what happens within the guild (and within AFTRA, the television and radio union) affects me - and more importantly my local market - a great deal.

Hey, it's no big secret. My business is changing; we saw more than a few nods to that fact at Sunday's Emmy Awards when half the jokes were about the "death of traditional television" and the rise of "new media." The amount of work I've been doing over the past couple of years is directly related to the way the industry is changing - inexpensive equipment and editing formats, digital self-distribution, "web-tv," and increased state incentives have all conspired to make this a golden age of opportunity for actors around the country. Now more than ever, you don't have to live in New York or Los Angeles to have a career in the entertainment industry.

As I said before, I'm a non-union actor... but that doesn't mean I'm anti-union. The reality of the Portland market is that, currently, there's more non-union work available than union work. Union actors are barred from working non-union jobs, and that's posed a real catch-22 for SAG and AFTRA members here in town - most union actors weren't able to work more than a couple of jobs a year, unless they wanted to work "off the card," withdraw from the union(s), or go "financial core" - any of which would serve to weaken the purpose of the union, which is to provide uniform protection and collective bargaining for the acting profession.

Looking at that catch-22, I've opted to stay non-union... for the time being. Recently, things have been shifting in the Portland market. Big out-of-town productions such as Leverage, Twilight, and Untraceable have been shooting here regularly. More importantly, support for the actors unions has been growing within our local industry; I've talked to at least four filmmakers in the past year about projects they're planning to mount in coming months - all of them plan to be SAG or AFTRA signatories. The official announcement has been made that Electric Entertainment is going to bring Leverage back to Portland third season... and then there's that Daniel Baldwin guy...

Besides, I may have to join the union(s) before too long... generally speaking, you can only work one union job as a non-union actor (under the Taft-Hartley law). In order to work on another union shoot, you must join the appropriate union. I and other actors here in Portland are thinking that our non-union days may be numbered... which, given the circumstances I outlined above, isn't as scary a prospect as it might have once been.

What keeps it from being so scary is the increase in union work in my region... and that's why I'm watching this SAG election so carefully (you didn't think I'd ever get back to the point, did you?). For those of you not following SAG politics, the two major candidates for president this year are Anne Marie Johnson (representing the "Membership First" faction) and Ken Howard (representing the "Unite For Strength" faction). I'm not going to go into the differences between the candidates and the factions... click the links if you want to find out more about them.

What's got me watching so closely is Johnson's recent statements of support for the SAG "Branches" (Portland constitutes one of these), and the Regional Branch Directors responses to these statements. Now, generally speaking, the respondents to Johnson's statements have been in support of Howard, and I haven't seen a similar breakdown of Howard's attitudes and opinions on the branches... but that last article from SAGwatch gives me pause, and makes me wonder just how much support SAG Portland is going to get from a Johnson presidency.

I'm not a SAG member, but that doesn't mean I won't become one. Whether I, and other non-union actors in the branches actively seek membership in the unions depends largely on the amount of work we can expect in our areas... and that's going to depend on how much support the branches get from the national union. Look, guys, production is not going to stop leaving Los Angeles for other areas of the country; as I mentioned above, technology and incentive programs have made sure that you don't have to be based in LA to get films and TV shows made. It seems to me that it would be in the union(s) best interest to strengthen their presence in these outlying areas, to preserve the overall amount of union work. But hey, what do I know... I'm just a non-union actor in a Branch, not a "real" actor in LA, right?

I hope that SAG voters think about the future, and the way the industry is changing when they cast their votes. I guess we'll find out when the results are announced tomorrow...


Labels: , , , ,