It was only with the greatest reluctance that the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists decided to strike in May, knowing the negative impact it would have on our members and our colleagues in the production community.
We were frankly bewildered that the advertising industry -- in one of the best economic years in advertising history -- insisted that SAG and AFTRA agree to scrap the central element of our bargaining agreement, payment per play. This has been the most important component in our commercials contract for some four decades.
In addition, we struggled to understand why the ad industry depicted actors as greedy and overpaid. While celebrities may earn well-deserved fees for their endorsements, the overwhelming majority of SAG and AFTRA members struggle to make a living. To claim that actors are selfish to seek a proportionate share of the advertising dollar commensurate with their contribution to the finished product is unfair.
PART OF CREATIVE TEAM
Why shouldn't performers who so expertly sell the products and services that have created the best year in advertising history equitably share in the wealth their performances in radio and TV commercials have helped to create?
It takes the efforts of a large team of specialists to produce commercials, so why were actors -- the part of the creative team that brings all other elements in the commercial to life -- basically told through the proposals brought to the table by the ad industry that the ad industry wanted to cut our pay and cut us out of the future of advertising by refusing to grant SAG and AFTRA jurisdiction over commercials to be made exclusively for the Internet?
That's a question we still don't fully understand, and the hard feelings created by its implications will be something our memberships will no doubt carry with them for some time to come.
As creative types, we have always looked forward to working in partnership with everyone involved in the large team necessary to produce the best and most effective commercials in the world. That's the "show" part of the phrase "show business."
As workers, we simply were out to protect our earnings and our livelihood, a "business" decision that anyone with a life and family should understand.
The fundamental lesson to be learned is that regardless of how deep the perceived labor/management divide, negotiations are called talks for a reason. SAG and AFTRA were not allowed to even discuss several key issues at the table -- summary rejection without consideration. This is not negotiating.
Both sides must continue to communicate in meaningful, illustrative ways to explore solutions to complex economic questions. Level heads and open minds should prevail so that labor peace can be preserved and our collective futures can be protected; otherwise things break down. We now know what it looks like when things break down and it's not a pretty picture.
MORE THAN ENOUGH MONEY
Believe it or not, actors closely follow the ad industry and are aware of the developments that occur in the advertising/marketing mix. In the last year, earnings to SAG and AFTRA members under the commercials contract were about $725 million. A small group of major advertisers spent far more than that amount -- some $900 million -- just on sponsorships for the recent Olympic Games in Sydney.
So in the total amount of money advertisers have to spend on image and sales, there is obviously more than enough money to pay actors an equitable share for their performances in radio and TV commercials.
All it may take is willingness to readjust and rethink total advertising/marketing budgets. Putting just 5% of the money allocated for Olympic sponsorship toward paying actors in commercials might have made a strike unnecessary.
Mr. Amorde, a commercial actor based in Los Angeles, is chair of the joint national strike committee of SAG and AFTRA, and is a national board member of SAG.