Vol. 2 No. 6 2009

Rona's Reel Take

To Strike Or Not To Strike

(a question not easily answered)

By Rona Edwards

This has been an interesting time for the entertainment industry. A year ago, we had a writer’s strike that ultimately resulted in very few gains from the original offer made by the studios and networks though the writers may beg to differ. Now, we’ve had an ongoing, on and off again, negotiation between the Screen Actors Guild with the very same studios and networks. Some might say, don’t the actors get enough money? Isn’t this about greed in a time when greed is so prevalent in our society and is basically the downfall of our economy? Others might argue that the studios are the ones who are greedy. They make enough money and should share the wealth a little more. The upper echelon of money makers make more money while the rest of us work hard at more than one job just trying to make ends meet. CEO’s take home record bonuses while laying off thousands of workers.

Then there’s the question of the percentage of the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) who actually work, versus those who don’t; and why do those who don’t work get to vote on the proposal, when it’s those who do that are most affected by the latest offer from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP)?

For more than a year, there’s been a dark shadow covering the industry and everyone has been living in fear that with the economy in the toilet, will Hollywood follow suit or set the trend upwards? In the Great Depression, it was Hollywood who led the way. The industry entertained people at a time when breadlines were the norm and Federal Arts programs vogue. There was a rallying cry, a unity in Hollywood and the country to pull themselves up by the bootstraps and overcome the devastation of the depression. Today, there is no comradery. Companies fail, or are the recipients of a government bailout that seems only to help the top officers of those businesses, not the workers who make those same corporations a success. Instead, those workers are laid off and the companies limp along with a government bailout, while the workers are collecting unemployment.

In Hollywood, it’s a bit different. There’s no bailout. There’s just runaway production. No tax incentives in Hollywood, so production runs to Canada, or Australia, or any country that protects their own people by luring America’s greatest export away from its origins so that they can employ their citizens to the detriment of the Americans. I know this for a fact because being a producer whose projects have been shot in other countries, one must abide by those countries rules in order to get tax credit and money back from the government so the movie can be shot for less money. I have been one of those sacrificial lambs not receiving credit for a movie I developed from scratch or material I’ve optioned.

It’s given away in the name of “getting a movie made” for a fee in which secretaries make more money. Because Hollywood is shrinking, there are not as many places to sell. So when you have a bird in hand, there’s a choice: Say no and risk never selling the film, or say yes and risk getting a lousy deal. There are no unions for producers. The Producers Guild Of America is not a union. It’s just a guild, unlike its counterparts, the Screen Actors, Writers and Directors Guilds. We are also not the producers negotiating with the screen actors at this time, even though newscasts report that the producers are negotiating with the union. This is an old terminology when studios were called “producers.” The negotiation is between the networks and the studios with whatever guild’s contract is up for expiration.

So, because it’s too expensive to shoot in this country, let alone California or ironically Hollywood, production companies have no choice but to find places where it is cheaper to shoot. I question why the state of California in particular has done nothing to keep production in the state. The state government is hurting and yet the most influential, moneymaking industry in California is the movie business. In fact, it’s the greatest export of this country. However, they treat this billion dollar business with little respect.

Now, what does this have to do with the Screen Actors Guild and the potential strike? Well, one reason Hollywood is running away from itself is that “A” actors’ salaries have reached exorbitant levels, and the cost of union employees with residuals and fringes, encourage production companies to film in places that have little to no residuals, and where the minimums and fringes are low or non-existent.

I’m a union person. I believe in unions but I also believe in this economic time, unions should lead the way with an understanding of the limitations we are all facing. In contrast, I also believe the studios and networks need to reciprocate in some way and not use the economy as a weapon to strong-arm the actors to accept a deal that advances their agenda and does little to help the actors or the industry. It’s all about their bottom line. I remember last year when Mobil Oil recorded record profits to the tune of 150% while we citizens were gauged at the gas pump, doubling what it would normally cost us to fill a tank.

I remember thinking, “when is enough, enough?” How much does one have to make to be satisfied with the profit? I feel the same about Hollywood; its studios and networks. Maybe that makes me a socialist capitalist? I believe in making money, but I also believe in sharing the wealth.

We are facing the worst economic era in my lifetime and possibly anyone’s lifetime. We need to come together as a community, as a city, as a state and as a country. We need to look out for each other, help each other and encourage one another. The fighting has to stop and we need to focus on our commonalities. These are hard times. If Hollywood can’t come together for the good of all, then what is going to get us through the tough path ahead? This is not a time for CEOs and corporate honchos to take advantage of government handouts; nor is it a time for the studio and network leaders’ stance to be so firm that they provoke and antagonize the people who are basically making billions of dollars for them. They take home millions in bonuses while laying off workers in these tough times. Shouldn’t they take less now? Wouldn’t it have been a good idea for a cut in their salaries in order to keep more people working rather than laying them off? It’s going to take all of us to get through the next five years (and more). Rich, poor and the shrinking middle class must come together and sacrifice. This works the same way in Hollywood. If the unions take less, so should those same corporate heads from AMPTP. What’s fair is fair.

Motion picture/ television producer Rona Edwards also writes feature articles for Produced By Magazine and co-wrote the critically acclaimed book, I Liked It, Didn’t Love It. (Screenplay Development From The Inside Out) for Lone Eagle Publishing. She recently produced two movies for Lifetime in Canada! She is also the co-founder of ESE FILM WORKSHOPS ONLINE . Be sure to check out her blog.

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