Well congratulations to the current leadership of the NEW UNION, SAG-AFTRA. I mean that both in humor, and quite damn seriously. We all have this wonderful or sick feeling that this arduous process and HUMP is over with. On some levels I agree, but on the other hand, what would the point of all this merger hell for the last 50+ years mean if we didn’t actually have it IMPROVE our profession, income, and contracts? Nothing. So here I am, impressing upon you that in truth, it is a Carpenter’s song: “We’ve only just begun…”Now we have to have divided leadership, within ONE union, actually make progress…and in some ways do what our Congress has not been able to accomplish for oh…about 16 years now. The big difference now is, that we can at least keep our differences and bickering under one roof before sitting down at the negotiations table…and with the current Merger Constitution…I think that is a good thing. However, it does not guarantee progress or success on any level, and unless we address a few of the CORE problems that this NEW UNION has…nothing will change…and that will just plain SUCK. In this 5-part series I intend to address a few of the CORE issues that I see which are not helping actors in their present “state of the union.”
The first item I am addressing is eligibility, and how you become a union card holder. One of the reasons I was “slightly pro-merger” this time around…is because they CLOSED the union, which it should be. You shouldn’t be able to just walk up, write a check, and carry a professional union card. However, ever so close and similar in its absurdity, has been the voucher system which has done nothing more (in my opinion) than make it “appear” to have more cache to have become ELIGIBLE for the union by what…sitting around on a set breathing (3) times. Allow me to be clear, I have NOTHING against background work or calling yourself a background artist…but we all know that the voucher system is totally corrupt and MOST notably…does not engender a “stronger union.” If it does not, then WTF is it doing in our system. It HAS to go. If you’re a pretty gal, dressed just so, and the 2nd 2nd AD is a dude (which they commonly are) all you have to do is sit around (not acting) smile, and maybe get a voucher. Does that mean all background people have this mentality…no. But background work does not require you to audition (perform when the chips are down) in front of the true employers of this industry, and sitting “closer to the camera” to call yourself a FEATURED extra doesn’t mean diddly…at all.
At the other end of the spectrum you have athletes, celebrities from other professions, who sometimes do a commercial or a cameo in a studio feature film…and get their union card. It is quite often possible that they will never really “work the card” ever again, or very little over a long extended period of time. This ISN’T about me suggesting affected voting for actors (not broadcasters) or membership exclusion…but it is about making this union STRONGER with professionally MINDED performers.
I believe there has to be two monster adjustments with eligibility, both how you achieve it, and how you maintain it. First and foremost, let’s take a page out of the Equity book. With all of the modified and new media contracts we should REWARD the actor…who is honestly trying to ACT their way into the union by creating a “points system” whereby if you do a certain number of a collection of “smaller contracts” inclusive of documented student projects and/or shorts…then you should be able to apprentice your way into the union…rather than sitting around breathing eating doughnuts for 3 days. PERIOD. This is easy for our union to track, and would add members to our union nationwide who are striving to audition and participate in ACTUAL WORK, as well as those who are being pro-active enough as actors-creators-producers to create projects and work for others. There will be more later in my series about “LIMITING” this value as well. But in the end, we should be changing our eligibility requirements in this NEW UNION to promote actual acting, not just “learning by sitting around all day watching.” There IS value in the observation gained from doing background work, absolutely, but at the end of the day you’re NOT on the spot, it is NOT on you…and you’re not acting, you’re just sitting.
Finally, there should be some type of “secondary status” (not Financial-Core”) that allows one-time paid performers to remain union members but limit their presence in some way. I’m not talking about the person who has a tremendous history and career who goes cold for several years …not working. NO. I’m talking about the person who did one job, and for whatever reason, never really worked again. Maybe they became a doctor or lawyer or were just the flavor of the week on CNN…or whatever. And yes, there should be an easy mechanism to “upgrade their status” in the future if they become a more active performer in terms of “working the card” but otherwise we have thousands and thousands of members who are not actively “trying to work the card.” This is right in line with the requirements of Unemployment, only I believe in today’s technology world, we can build a better mousetrap to track this, than the city and federal government currently has. So there you have it, think about it, write out notes/ideas and present them at the first ever LA Convention for our NEW UNION. You can bet your ASS…I will be. Cheers always, Kevin E.