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June 2, 2009

Digital Media Law: SAG President Calls Actors “Frightened Little Children” (Jan. 30, 2009)

Filed under: Entertainment — showbizreporting @ 2:34 am
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Screen Actors Guild President Calls Actors “Frightened Little Children”

In an extraordinary interview with The Wrap, SAG President Alan Rosenberg said that “actors are frightened little children,” and referred to his opponents—a majority of the SAG board—as “liars and manipulators.”

Rosenberg also said of himself that “my life sucks,” and then, accompanying himself on guitar, actually sung a plaintive folk song of his own devising, whose lyrics included such lines as “Al and Doug and Doug Allen?, they stand up way too hard . . . I will bury them right in my own backyard.” The song is cast in the voice of an ungrateful union member: “I don’t care about nobody. No, I only care about me.” In the interview, Rosenberg notes that he’s not a singer, a guitar player, or “even a songwriter” (all of which is evident), but adds that his first cousin is rock and roll star Donald Fagen of Steely Dan.

The spoken-word portion of the interview also includes a defense of fired national executive director Doug Allen, and the conversation comes just days after an email from Rosenberg to SAG members in which he practically beatified Allen. Describing Allen in the interview as “extraordinary” and “the best thing that’s ever happened to our union,” Rosenberg adds “Here I am—my partner was fired. . . . It’s certainly disappointing.” Taken together, the letter and interview suggest a strong friendship, as well as professional partnership, between Rosenberg and Allen.

Rosenberg ’s pain is palpable: “I’m angry. . . . Sad. Disappointed. The last two days I feel sort of isolated. I’m shut out from planning meetings. I feel isolated from the operations of the union.” Let it be said, no one should take any pleasure from Rosenberg ’s suffering. Sympathy is a better reaction.

That sympathy, however, can only be mustered with conflicting emotions. After all, this is the man who presided over a 28 hour board meeting at which he suppressed the board’s moderate majority by abusing parliamentary procedure and calling his own lawyers “liars” (apparently a theme with Rosenberg), yet in the interview he cops merely to having done “a little filibustering.”

Rosenberg, whose term as president ends in September, adds that “I’ve seen all my hard work of the past three and a half years amounting to nothing.” It’s hard to empathize, given that both the outgoing Rosenberg and the ousted Allen have left the union with seven contracts that have expired (or nearly so, in one case), as well as having riven the union with conflict.

The last few days, which follow Monday’s firing of Allen just a day after the SAG Awards, seem to have been a time for unusually candid interviews (although none with Allen himself). A series in Back Stage magazine’s Blog Stage blog provides additional examples. For instance, a Rosenberg ally, SAG 1st VP Anne-Marie Johnson, acknowledges that she wants to strip the rival AFTRA union of jurisdiction over actors, and all but implies that her and Rosenberg’s Membership First faction would fire newly installed interim National Executive Director David White if they regain power.

The second interview in the Back Stage series features NY board member and Membership First opponent Richard Masur, who somewhat distressingly says that SAG should simply accept the AFTRA deal as is. (Although I believe SAG should abandon as unattainable for this negotiating cycle its demands for an improvement in new media, I do hope there’s room for bettering the AFTRA deal in other ways.)

Finally, Paul Christie, another NY board member and former 2nd national VP, puts forth the sensible idea of merging SAG not just with AFTRA, but with several other entertainment unions as well. He acknowledges, however, that this is a long-term goal: “I don’t think at the present time, with our history, too many people would want to get in bed with us, at least not yet. We’re pretty bizarre suitors at this point.”

“Bizarre” is a good way of summing up the developments of the last 12 months or so. Next up: a two-day meeting Tuesday and Wednesday between SAG’s new negotiators and the AMPTP team (representing the studios). The fact that it’s a two-day get-together suggests that it’s intended as something more than a mere meet-and-greet. Good stuff.

Thus, the union’s new management is off to a fast start, but there’s some real work to do to arrive at a deal. I’m hoping we’ll see an agreement by the end of February or early March. That would be followed by a three-week voting period on ratification.

Because a significant portion of the board—the Membership First faction—is likely to oppose the deal, the ballot materials will include both pro and con statements. As a result, ratification could still be uncertain. The chance of a strike, on the other hand, is close to zero.


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