It’s potentially a really big day in Hollywood, as this is zero hour for the current negotiating window for SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP. By the end of the day, on-camera talent may join their WGA friends not only in solidarity but in an actual strike. I’ve seen many people I know and care about on the picket lines, passionately pleading their case to what has to date been a tone-deaf group of studios and platforms who have been actively trying to avoid the GPS-like tenacity of social media-savvy writers to try and shut down productions. I personally know a few such productions that were able to do that, occurring far from the New York and Los Angeles-centric picket lines, and some truly talented people that were able to shoehorn horn a fairly decent last-minute paycheck to help sustain them through the summer, and the chance to work on their tan lines.
But there are plenty of others who aren’t as fortunate and, what’s more, the potential impact of a concurrent strike by actors could very well shut down almost all productions going forward, which would potentially have a devastating effect not only on its union members, but those of other unions and freelancers attached to productions. Not to mention businesses that rely upon them to provide customers for them to sustain their own goals, including a whole lot of coffee and doughnut shops that fuel them.
So I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say of the two people I grew up not far from in Queens who became presidents, the one who has more potential to immediately impact lives of others I still care about passionately, far more so than the privileged FOJ who currently (thank G-d) does not hold office is the one who grew up closer to me, in more spartan surroundings who currently does. SAG-AFTRA President Fran Drescher.
Drescher has been making the rounds of news and talk shows this week, maintaining what to some has been a surprisingly optimistic outlook even amidst the WGA impasse. As DEADLINE’s David Robb reported yesterday, she began the week like this:
On Saturday, Drescher and Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, the guild’s national executive director, posted a video in which they told their members that the guild’s contract negotiations have been “extremely productive” and that they “remain optimistic” that a fair deal can be reached with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
But as she explained to GOOD MORNING AMERICA’s Michael Strahan yesterday, as Robb also reported, that optimism is qualified, particularly in light of the reaction of a large and publicly visible subset of the 98% of the membership who on June 5 authorized a strike:
“Are you making headway?” asked host Michael Strahan.
“You know, in some areas we are, and in some areas we’re not. So we just have to see. I mean, in earnest, it would be great if we can walk away with a deal that we want. And at the end of the day, you know, we’re living in a time that’s very different from the last few decades when the foundation of the contract was forged. It’s the digital age now and the age of streaming, and it’s a whole different business model. So it really begs that we stand firm and hold strong and do right by the members in this industry and honor the massive contribution that they make. So I’m really in it to win it on behalf of our 180,000 members. And we stand by the Writers Guild, too.” (M)ore than 1,000 actors – including many prominent SAG-AFTRA members – signed off on a letter to guild leaders saying that they’re “prepared to strike” if the guild doesn’t “get all the way there” during talks with the studios. Drescher herself even signed the letter.
Despite the spectre of a midnight deadline, much like that which was in place in “Cinderella”-the inspiration for Drescher’s breakout series THE NANNY–there is at least some growing belief that the imminency of the July 4th holiday will at least stop the clock for at least another week, giving Drescher and company timing that the WGA did not have in May. And from personal experience, I can tell you that she has negotiating expertise that few union heads ever have had.
Not only has she stared down cancer. Not only has she been able to maintain a friendship with her childhood sweetheart and fellow alum of my public school Peter Marc Jacobson after he chose the only possibly legitimate (IMHO) reason to leave someone like her–coming out. I assure you, while plenty of girls I grew up with SOUNDED like Drescher, few looked like her.
My confidence is based upon the fact that in what is amounting to a high-stakes game of chicken with the AMPTP, Fran has deonstrated experience in being able to get the most desired chicken in the borough of Queens.
When I attended a Paley Festival event celebrating the end of production of THE NANNY in 2000, I wound up seated next to the real Morty and Sylvia, not the unseen henpecked dad or the food-addicted Mrs. Fine that Renee Taylor so hilariously portrayed. But people who did love their chicken, served best by a beloved take-out store called Mauzone’s, which on winter Sunday mornings would see people lined up like those in FIDDLER ON THE ROOF’s Anatkevka, long lines of hungry early-rising (mostly) Jews sent to pick up Sunday dinner. Mauzone’s had two speciality receipes–the more common and far greasier fried recipe, and the rarer and healther broasted, brimming in juices whose aroma would cut through a grey frigid Flushing morning like the oasis of hope I suspect most of Hollywood is praying for this weekend.
And as Morty and Sylvia Drescher explained, Fran was in those lines with me, and she was specifically sent because, as they explained to me, “Fran could sweet-talk the owners into making sure she always brought home the healthier kind, because she was hoping to audition for acting roles and she didn’t want them to have the guilt of having her put on a few extra pounds that could cost her the chance”.
I have no idea if they, like proud parents, were exaggerating. I do know yours truly almost always was stuck with the fried variety, and I know I looked a lot less attractive as a kid than did Fran.
So if anyone has the capacity to keep people working and potentially avoid Hollywood armageddon, I have faith in Fran. The SAG issues are consistent with many of those that the WGA has, along with the specific issue of being compensated for self-tape auditions, which as, Anousha Sakoui of THE LOS ANGELES TIMES pointed out, it’s a very valid point, one that I saw played out in front of me by people who really do care about the art of acting:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a shift to have actors tape their own auditions from home. This practice has continued, much to the chagrin of performers who say self-taping has become both time-consuming and expensive, requiring them to learn too many pages of dialogue in short periods of time and saddling them with the cost of the audition process.
SAG-AFTRA has called the trend “a massive, daily, uncompensated burden on the lives of performers.” The union is seeking rules and limits on the use of self-tape auditions.
So yes, I fully support being compensated for the chance to try out. But when it comes to SAG’s embracing of Parrot Analytics as a viable metric for determining compensation, I need to point out: Parrot Analytics measures demand, not consumption. No one makes money from people who browse; only those who buy, You wouldn’t expect to be paid for a role you auditioned for–only the ones you actually BOOKED!! Using metrics that measure the equivalent of an audition that theoretically equate to revenue you may be entitled to is misguided, to be kind.
THE ANKLER’s Sean McNulty pointed out in his podcast yesterday that this may merely be a tactic that SAG is using to force greater data transparency with something else. We’ve already reported that Netflix is providing such data to content creators in several European territories. To my fellow Flushing ex-pat I urge you and your team as I did your WGA counterparts: get your hands on that data. Use it as a test case to determine how similar data can and should be used globally for your union members to get the compensation you deserve. Hire someone experienced to parse that data and use it as a negotiating tool. I’ve got my hand raised as always, but there are plenty of other experts available who would be more than willing to help you. A couple I personally know are married to SAG-AFTRA members. My attachments are to people I care tremendously about but aren’t quite as connected. I am confident we can help you help your constituency. Consider this an expression of my solidarity for you.
And then perhaps we can all celebrate with some broasted chicken. In my case, it’s a few decades overdue.
Until next time…