Well, it took me a little longer than usual to get ready for the NARC Committee Outreach Meeting, since I decided to go hatless. Hey, a comb-over ain’t easy when you’re using your beard. Takes a while to pat down those damn bushy sideburns.
Anyho’ it was about six thirty when I pulled into the WGA parking structure with memories of the last meeting at the WGA theater sweltering through my mind. I took a big final sip of my coke before exiting the Black Beauty, and scanned the terrain for any remnants of dried bones of members left over from that last fateful meeting, when no water was available, and several members were rumored to have died of thirst. I only managed to survive by finally drinking from the bathroom faucet, Fortunately a sign had been placed on the wall “Dog Don’t Drink From the Toilet.”
Hey, you couldn’t blame Pisano, Melissa and gang. They had just wasted over three million of our dues dollars on two failed referendums and they were trying to cut corners every way they could. Thank God though, that they did have water for staff and certain elected leaders. Ah, the good Ol’ Days. Not!
Anyho’, againwhen I entered the building and saw a big spread laid out that included sandwiches, veggies, water and other goodies, I immediately turned to leave, and was halfway out the door before someone was able to convince me that it was not a meeting just for high profile members, but, but us rank and file members too.
Not wanting to make a hog of myself, and to uphold the honor and decorum expected of rank and file actors, I only had two or three plates of goodies before entering the hall. President Alan Rosenberg was speaking. He basically set up the meeting before leaving. I think he’s doing a play or something. The cast, I believe is somewhat on the lines of “Law and Order” meets “L.A. Law.”
The meeting chaired by the ever-lovely Anne Marie Johnson started off with a slide show presentation MC’d by Zino Macaluso, National Director Agency Relations,. He kept the presentation zinging along, and the audience entertained with several “Zino Zingers.” And for the most part I thought he did a good job with the material available, which included a brief history of the situation, and some facts and figures. It also dealt with the cherry picked responses from a survey of 800 hundred members, half of whom had no agents, back in 2004, in which they were asked a variety of questions including what they might be willing to give agents in order to get them back in the fold, so to speak.
Most of their responses were irrelevant, in light of the fact that none of the proffered concessions would in any way approach what ATA/NATR agents are currently getting by not being franchised. Ain’t gonna work, folks.
I did take exception when Zino implied that the problems, we now face with the ATA/NATR, are because the members voted down the 2002 referendum. Not so! Our current impasse with the ATA/NATR is because the leadership, at the time, failed to take quick and decisive action to enforce our constitutionally mandated right to franchise agents.
The other piece of misleading information was that agents under the Codified Agency agreement already had the right to own ten percent of a production company–rather than the 20 percent offered in the defeated, proposed ATA/NATR agreement. (See update below)
Here’s why the statement was misleading. In the proposed agreement agents could, with a few restrictions, own twenty percent of production companies of their choice. In the agency agreement, that the proposed one would have replaced, agents’ 10 percent is only obtained through one of their clients, and these fees are described as “bona fide commissions.”
This ten percent ownership tidbit is left over propaganda from the previous administration, and should be dropped from any further presentations.
The genesis of the current problems that we face now with the ATA were spelled out by a speaker at the Open Mike session, a former board member, who related how after the ATA referendum was voted down, then NED, Bob Pisano convinced the board to temporarily suspend the enforcement of Rule 16A to give him time to talk to the five major agencies to see what they were thinking.
According to the speaker, Pisano said that he’d come back to them in a month–but never did. He went on to say that the suspension of any part of our constitution including Rule 16A was unconstitutional. He continued that lawyers had relayed to him that members had a reasonable expectation that our constitution would be abided by to protect members on their “no” vote, but the rule that would have done that was suspended.
He also talked about how SAG’s president at that time had Jeff Berg, head of ICM, as her agent. Mr. Berg also was president of the ATA association. The speaker went on to talk about how the National Agents Relations Committee initially only wanted members with ATA agents on the committee because they only wanted “members with a dog in the hunt!” He also answered those who proclaim that agents should get a raise. He said that they have a built in raise available to them “All they have to do is get us more money.” (I would also add that every time we get a raise through our collective bargaining, they also get a raise.}
He talked about how the NARC Committee had been negotiating for years, but that they had been negotiating with themselves, since the ATA refused to negotiate with them.
He said the presentation was great stuff but why would agents come and negotiate with us now, because they have everything they want. The only leverage that we have, according to the former board member, is to enforce Rule 16A mandating that our members can only be with franchised agents. And once 16A is back in place, he believed that agents would be forced back to the negotiation table.
Fortunately, at that point, his time was up. I don’t say that because his was not an impressive commentary, it was, but rather because I was on the floor rubbing my hand, which was experiencing, muscle spasms.
There were several other speakers during Q&A, but I cut back on my copious note taking. One member complained about the fact that an important question asked in the Hart Poll was left out of the presentation. The fact that when 176 SAG members with ATA Agents were asked who they would choose between their union and their agent, only 17% chose their agent.
Now, the fact that the CA labor Commissioner was non responsive to SAG concerns was in there. (Apparently that has since changed under our new NED Doug Allen.) We were told about the 6500 GSA’s reviewed. About how the vigorous ATA membership campaign has upped their membership. A litany of stuff that seems to make our situation look hopeless, and appears to stress our powerlessness. But, the fact that only 17% of our membership would pick their agent over their union was not in there.
He also brought up the fact that according to the survey, only 50% of those polled even knew what 16A was about. He suggested that there should be an outreach program to inform members on things like 16A.
Other members expressed concerns about support from our high-profile members and our leverage with ATA/NATR agents.
Those concerns were ably addressed by our NED Doug Allen. He said our leverage comes from our supreme court right to determine the rules of agents who represent our actors. He went on to say that in sports where he comes from, none of the unions negotiate with agents on the rules. They impose them on them.
After the loud applause died down, he continued, saying that we should work from a position of strength, not one of weakness, to protect our actors. He also said that he believed we needed to reframe the issue.
“No one is going to ask you to choose if you are going to fire your agent or not!” He continued. And added that the choice would be, the choice of the agent to decide whether they wanted to represent actors, or not, or become producers.
Somebody who couldn’t control their self yelled out, “Yes!” Hey, I get excited sometime, okay?
He went on to say that it wouldn’t be the actor that would have to make that decision but rather the membership as a collective unit that would do so. (And ain’t that the way it’s suppose to be. It’s why we have a union in the first place. To avoid being put in that position.}
“Yeah, I’d like to work that extra overtime with no pay as a favor, ’cause, ’cause, you are really a great director– and this, boy, this here is one hell of a movie, which, I am certainly thrilled to be a small part of, but, but if I did what you wanted, and my union found out, I, I could be in big trouble.” Do you really think they’d give sh*t if you tried the same thing, but instead said you were afraid your agent would find out? Hello!
Before, anyone thinks that Mr. Allen is just going to capriciously drop the hammer on agents without trying to get them back to the table, he made it clear that the first path was negotiating, but he also made it clear that if we exhaust our efforts to reach an agreement with the ATA, SAG would do what had to be done to make sure our members are protected.
Look, I could go on. There were those who want to give agents more, and those who think they have too much already. There were warnings about how the big ATA agents (Like ICM and Endeavor) are getting HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars to finance their own productions, and becoming our defacto employers.
A highlight of the evening was when Ralph Morgan award winner, Scott Wilson, after spending an hour standing in line, spoke: A very wise man, and I hope all those there listened very closely. (No I ain’t gonna tell you what he said. A member should always have the expectation that when he speaks in one of these meetings, especially one concerning agents, that his words will not be associated with his name.)
Speaking about those listening. There where only about a hundred, or so, of the 500 that made reservations that showed. What a shame. Speaking of a wise man. I recorded the playoffs and watched them when I got home. And yes, I did have one. Two Olives!
Oh, wait, I forgot to tell you how this post got its title. One female speaker spoke of her appreciation that we finally have a NED who says what he means, and means what he says, with the courage to fight for members! After the applause, she proclaimed. “We finally have a man at our helm!”
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief
After watching the recorded basketball playoff game, I poured my nightly martini and ruminated about the night’s proceedings. First off, Cleveland is in some heavy doo-doo. On the other hand SAG ain’t.
Although, I am the world’s biggest skeptic, I think this Doug Allen guy is the real deal. He gets it. And he has got his sh*t together. I know if I ever had to take him on, I would be shaking in my garter belt. He is prepared, and if you ain’t, you had better put a zipper on it.
Here’s the Ol’ Dog’s concern. Knowing what I know about the leadership here, and in New York, there are those who, no matter what they profess, can’t be happy with Mr. Allen. He is not a “go along to get along guy.”
Look, we have an election coming up, and with a slight swing in the votes, i.e., a few high profile members from the old regime get into power here in Hollywood, and they, ah, combine with those in New York, ah, Membership First and Alan Rosenberg will no longer control the board. It is at that point that President Rosenberg might be in for a rude awakening, along with the rest of Hollywood.
I hope, the Ol’ Dog is wrong on this one, but, but time will tell. In the meantime just keep your eye on who draws petitions to run for the SAG board. It is my understanding that two high profile members from the old regime have already done so.
Stay Tuned. It’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Oh, and to the lovely lady who came up to me with the kind words. Thank you, my dear.
Okay, there was a bit of hyperbole in my post. Ah, ah, I didn’t really fall on the floor rubbing my hand, or yell out “Yes,” ah, all that loud, but, but the part about the female speaker, and Doug being a “Man” was true.
Okay, maybe I am violating Men’s Room Confidentiality on this one, and I hope Mr. Allen will give me a Mulligan! But the Ol’ Dog was standing at one urinal discussing an issue with a member of the NARC Committee when Doug stepped up to the urinal between us, and said with a perfectly straight face, ” I thought, I better step in here and referee this.”
Now that’s my kind of guy.
Oh, and our friends from the AFTRA board were at the meeting, some who were speakers. But rather than accuse them of trying to sabotage our meeting, I say thanks for coming. Under Hollywood’s current leadership everyone’s opinion is welcome.
Here’s Variety’s Dave McNary’s take on the meeting.
SAG seeks agent deal
Allen hopes to negotiate new pact with ATA
By DAVE MCNARY
SAG’s topper has proclaimed that he wants an agent deal in place by the end of the year.
Doug Allen, the guild’s national exec director, told about 75 members Tuesday night that he’s determined that SAG re-establish its franchise agreement over Hollywood agents, under which SAG members could only employ franchised agents. SAG hasn’t regulated the more than 100 agencies repped by the Assn. of Talent Agents and the Natl. Assn. of Talent Representatives since 2002.
Allen’s disclosure came as part of a presentation at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, the sixth in a SAG “road show” for members to spell out how the guild may resurrect its fractured partnership with tenpercenters.
Allen expressed hope Tuesday that he’d be able to negotiate a new deal with the ATA, though no talks have been scheduled. Such a step would require the approval of the national board, which is scheduled to meet next in mid-July.
Tuesday’s event, which included an introduction by SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg, included discussion about the possibility of boosting the agents’ commission structure along with concerns about the potential conflict of interest in agencies assisting with production financing.
Allen was hired last fall in a unanimous vote by the national board, which strongly indicated it wanted the agency agreement sorted out. He came to the job with an extensive background dealing with agents during two decades as the No. 2 exec at the NFL Players Assn.
SAG surrendered oversight of major agents in April 2002, when its 63-year-old franchise agreement lapsed after members voted down a proposed revamp of that pact. The no vote stemmed from concerns that eased ownership rules would lead to possible conflicts of interest.
Since then, agents have been able to sign guild members to less restrictive General Service Agreements that allow bigger commissions than the standard 10% and allow commissioning of supplemental revenues. More than 6,500 SAG members have signed such deals since 2002.
Many smaller agencies still adhere to the SAG franchise rules, but most major agencies — repped through the ATA — do not. That leaves the state of California as the sole overseer of the agency biz through the state labor commissioner.
ATA topper Karen Stuart wasn’t available for comment Wednesday.
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Hey, I just checked, and we have had over a 120,000 visitors throught our turnstile. Yikes
*I was reminded by a watchdog reader of the bigger danger of the ATA proposal, it “would have allowed companies to OWN 20% of an agency and under the previous franchise agreement employers could own ZERO. That was the big difference and Pisano and company continually obfuscated this fact by saying agents could already “own” 10% of a production company. We all know that this is a huge difference, because no agency has enough dough to own a significant portion of a studio or ad agency but when you reverse the equation, of course a studio or ad agency could wind up owning 20% of an agency.”