Hey, Union Friends! Here’s Your Real Enemy

I’ve had a little time to digest some of the spirit and energy I saw first-hand on the now joint picket lines of SAG-AFTRA and WGA on Friday.  I listened intensely as an actor, being interviewed at length by an outstanding entertainment news reporter I happened to run into chronicle in detail one particular issue that has inflamed them.  The AMPTP’s desire to pay background actors exactly once for their services, digitally capture their images and then reserve the right in perpetuity to utilize them, therefore denying these talents the chance to earn a day rate,  more than once for a particular project or producer.

The actor, whose voice began to shake as he attempted to describe the issue to the intrepid journalist, explained: “SAG-AFTRA requires that a member earn a minimum of $27,000 a year (actually, per the union’s website, the actual key line is: You must earn at least $26,470 in Covered Earnings in your Base Earnings Period to receive Earned Eligibility for Active Plan health coverage.).  Those day rate gigs are not only what folks like myself need to earn for basic needs, but they also contribute quite a bit toward that minimum.  We can go weeks without being cast in something of consequence.  We’re not fighting just to keep our homes.  We’re fighting to be able to see a doctor”.

When it became amplified by the details being provided in union narratives throughout the day that barely one in ten current SAG-AFTRA members make enough now to qualify, and that some fine print on their website reminds:  Note: In future years, these minimum earnings requirements may increase. If so, the number of days required for Alternative Days Eligibility will be increased proportionately, it becomes pretty apparent that a sizable percentage  of the roughly 16,000 hard-working talents who actually do qualify will now also  lose out.

Knowing this, it becomes far easier to grasp why as the chiding, lecturing remarks of Disney chairman Bob Iger, delivered to a fawning CNBC reporter on the same morning that they enacted a decision that 97% of them had already authoritzed to fight for their right to earn a living have struck such a nerve, not just with their fiery leader Fran Drescher but with the rank and file that turned out in drove at almost every production facility of consequence in Los Angeles and New York.

The actor wstuck around to chat with me.  I asked him to try and forgive me, I was a studio “suit” for years, but I’m there in solidarity (and, yes, I did accept the delicious home-baked oat cookie I was offered when I picked up a sign).  The first question out of his mouth was “did you hear what Iger said this morning?!?!”.  I explained that I saw he and his peers simply as faces of a system that is subservient to their boards and investors and contains numerous financial loopoholes and incentives to reward their companies for the kind of writeoffs and layoffs that they are more than ever choosing to take advantage of to meet their goals.  We also talked about the report from earlier in the week (Dominic Patten’s DEADLINE exclusive) which included these memorable grafs:

I think we’re in for a long strike, and they’re going to let it bleed out,” said one industry veteran intimate with the POV of studio CEOs. “The endgame is to allow things to drag on until union members start losing their apartments and losing their houses,” a studio executive told Deadline. Acknowledging the cold-as-ice approach, several other sources reiterated the statement.

“Yeah, I heard that quote came directly from Bob Iger”, said my actor friend.  “You must know him.  Would you be surprised if that was the case?”

Actually, I don’t know Iger that well, though I do know plenty of people who do.  The Bob Iger they knew was an instinctive, hard-driving leader who loved to encourage creative efforts.  One of my staffers who knew him from ABC played tennis with him on weekends at his home.  When he confessed to Iger he was far more interested in pursuing a writing career, Iger not only encouraged him to pursue his dream, but personally made a few phone calls to help set up meetings with department heads.  When he resigned from my team, I was disappointed but ecstatic.  He and his writing partner have now entered their fourth successful decade as top-flight talents on numerous sitcoms.

So based on that, I was initially reluctant to attribute something that heinous to him, even amidst his tone-deaf teaser for the earnings call he will deliver later this week that will reflect some of the savings he was able to elicit by dropping shows from Disney+ and ending the ESPN careers of the likes of Ashley Brewer, who is now off on her honeymoon.  And then it hit me–what if who is really running Disney ISN’T Bob Iger?

In that CNBC interview, the person interviewed all but put a for-sale sign up in front of his linear television networks, including the ABC he rose through the ranks of long before Mickey Mouse became its business daddy.  The ABC he helped make number one in sports and entertainment and even a leading destination for younger adults well into the 2010s.   What will ABC in the fall of 2023 look like?  A fourth-place broadcaster where the only content fully produced and owned by his company will consist of library product to compete with Sunday Night Football and series produced by its news divisions.   Not a single entertainment series will come from a company owned by Disney.

So when one considers that probably a more upbeat performance of his came in a cameo during Apple’s product launch video for its fall where he enthusiastically touted the potential of its $3499 Vision Pro, where it was envisioned that a viewer to ESPN could immerse themselves in a world that felt like a courtside seat at the NBA Finals, and you’re reminded of the fact he was a member of Apple’s board until he resigned in 2019 when Disney+ was launched, and I’m of the belief that not only is a sale of at least those networks, if not Disney itself, has already been agreed upon in principle, but that Apple’s technology has lined up his successor with something more suited to the role they envisiom will be necesaary

Call him Bob AIger.

Don’t worry, that’s just crude generative AI that yours truly created in a few cynical minutes.  But think about it–if someone with MY skill sets can do even this, can you understand why actors and writers believe that more talented folks could use AI to actually keep them from their doctors?  Or create an entity so devoid of human compassion that it would be capable of making the kind of statement that Patten quoted?   Let alone make the kind of choices of theatrical releases, formulaic and redundant brand extensions that drive away all but the most addicted fans,  manage to piss off both a significant portion of its fan base and the politically devisive governor of the state his largest theme park sits in by supporting their impassioned inclusionary creatives, only then to turn around and then try to lecture them on why it’s a bad time for them to want a living wage?
To me, that sounds like the attitude of someone who’s already checked out, ready to hand it all over to an Apple team whose creative instincts compliment those of FX, and whose attempts to televise major league baseball could sure benefit from the talents of ESPN’s team.  (I actually watched an Apple broadcast of the Mets’ listless loss to the Dodgers, and the talent of Wayne Randazzo aside, let’s just tactfully say I found it form over substance).  Freeform has been made all but irrevocably irrelevant, and with Pat Robertson’s passing there isn’t even a legacy clause dictating it stay in existence.
So yep, I believe Bob Iger has already left the building, if not in body then certainly in mind.  And that Bob AIger is what they should direct their–ahem–AIre toward.
Until next time…


2 thoughts on “Hey, Union Friends! Here’s Your Real Enemy”

  1. Zero downside for the collapse of Hollywood. Nobody of any real value cares. If pipelines and coal mines can be put out of business so can movie studios, actors and writers. They can learn to code and install solar panels. Backing Biden and not the pipe fitters, welders and miner’s unions have consequences.

  2. And is it your informed belief that said invaluable workers would be content with simply watching entertainment created by generative AI, and maybe a few game shows and news, for eternity?

    And would you also contend that people with skill sets that don’t mirror the ones you cite have no reasonable expectation to even have the right to health insurance? Or be housed?

    That’s what 88 percent of those who are striking are fighting for. Just like any other dues paying union member.

    And bringing up Sleepy Joe as a rationale for your belief is a sad testimony to how uniformed you are about this particular subject.

    You have the right to your opinion, of course, and I would never support anyone who might want to silence you, But that freedom of speech you defend so vehemently works both ways.

    Let’s just say respectfully we agree to disagree on this particular subject.


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