So here we are again, on the precipice of a vote to perhaps MERGE these two performer unions. My desire, as a vested veteran professional actor in this marketplace for nearly a quarter of a century, as well as the Founder of The Actors’ Network…is to inform, enlighten, offer perspective and educate. I rarely get into recommendations or suggestions…but by the end of my 5-part series on this subject…I just might have to. I have sitting on my desktop the SAG By-Laws, the AFTRA constitution, the Merger Agreement and the Merger Constitution. I assure you it is a 190-pages total…of just exhilarating reading. Ahhh-hem…not. We can get incredibly bogged down attempting to read such things but nonetheless, I do think that IF you have a vote…you should do so. Form your own opinion, make your own decision, but for the love of the future of performer earnings…don’t just do so off of one thing you heard from one person you call a “friend” but can’t remember their name when asked “what is the friend’s name?” (Insert a Hollywood wink and a smile). The first part in this series is just to set the stage for all those reading it be them union, non-union, members of TAN or not. I want this Blog to be read by thousands of actors in and out of Los Angeles…so spread the link around.
SAG was established in 1933, when several of that day’s top movie stars…all walked off the set. AFTRA, wasn’t AFTRA it was AFRA, without the T because we didn’t have television yet…just radio artists and it was established in 1937. Since that day, you can get that there was an absolute internal “class war” with Radio performers versus Movie Stars. And as we got into the inception, of the golden age of TV, the T got added. At the time, way back in the day, it made sense that SAG organized the work in Primetime television being shot on film because that is what movies were shot on…as well as organizing most of the Commercials also shot on film in a separate negotiation and contract. It made sense that AFTRA organized all of the Television (mostly sit-coms like All in the Family) that were “taped” in front of a live audience and shot on Video-TAPE. Additionally, Daytime TV which was shot on tape was so clearly and distinctly separate from Primetime it made sense to have a separate contract negotiated separately just like Commercials. So there ya go. Now you have the early formations, and evolutions of the construct of the two. When you add in the clear separation of animation and V/O for commercials and film by SAG, and Books on tape for AFTRA, plus the Broadcasters and weather folks being clearly different, you have a perfect marriage of two unions that makes sense to have the “handshake” agreement to always negotiate as a JOINT collective bargaining arrangement. Just peachy.
The lethal blow, historically and in my very strong opinion, that was leading us to the hell and in-fighting we’ve witnessed for the last 20 years is that neither union either out of arrogance or stupidity cared to address the ONCOMING train way before it got to the tunnel WE actors were headed into. That train was and is today, technology. The concept that film would one day be extinct (Kodak recently filed Chapter 11) and that digital would rule the day…was fairly obvious to John Q citizen by the mid-90’s but these two unions…ignored it. I say this because I feel very strongly all of this mess could have been avoided. It could have been managed without threats, law-suits, one side making a deal without the other union’s approval etc. etc. Why? Because the straw that broke inevitability’s back…was the Primetime Television contract negotiation in which AFTRA made a deal with the AMPTP without SAG.
This could have easily been avoided…but when they tell you it ain’t “about the money” I assure you…it’s about the money…and ego. Why in the world would we get to the year 2000, and still have two SEPARATE Primetime contracts with SAG and AFTRA when videotape was clearly extinct as a medium which was always the clear distinction between SAG and AFTRA’s by-laws/constitution and also simply the medium in which the necessity for the two existed? It boggles my mind, but they let it stand and let it stand and let it stand. Stooooopid. So that is where we’ve been and along with other elements I’ll bring up over the next 4 blogs on this subject, how we got here.
This was just a real rough, and simplistic overview of the last 55 years. This is so you just have a foundational way to read the next 4 in this series without being too lost, because yes the inception, beginning and history of ANYTHING…matters. My best always.