If your vision of Hollywood is that of actors strutting up and down the Walk of Fame, that was at least the case here this week.
Boasting picket signs, rhyming slogans and matching steps, about 100 actors from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) gathered on McCadden Place in the heart of Hollywood on Wednesday. Their mission: to thwart a Nike commercial shoot that was slated to roll at 4:00 p.m. that afternoon.
And we were there. Because (a) Tiger Woods wasn’t (he pulled out of the gig in support of the union actors); and, (b) we wanted to know what the deal was in Hollywood’s first major walkout since 1988.
Though the protesters might not have been famous, known or even remotely recognizable, their collective effort was still greeted with shows of support from onlookers and passerby. Cars tooted their horns, pedestrians pumped their fists, and the building across from the demonstration had opened up their bathroom facilities for the marching actors.
The demonstration was not the first of its kind this week. Since Monday, striking actors in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago and San Francisco have come together in protest of what they say are unfair wages against the advertising industry. In theory, the work stoppage should halt all commercial productions involving SAG and AFTRA members. Except it hasn’t — because the ad agencies have been hiring non-union members to fill in on commercial shoots.
“That’s the reason why we’re here right now,” said Coleen Maloney, a 25-year SAG member. “The production trucks for this commercial are going to come here and park. And if enough of us are here, they’re going to turn their trucks around.”
Her husband Bill Hollis, a 25-year union member himself, explained, “[That’s] because Teamsters people are driving those trucks, and Teamsters won’t cross the picket line. We are not picketing the product. We’re picketing the ad agency that’s hiring non-union people.”
The labor dispute between the two actor unions and the advertising industry pivots on the issue of residual pay, or the money actors receive each time their commercials air on the tube. And as of now, the so-called “pay-per-play” residual system applies to network and syndicated stations — but not cable, where a onetime flat rate is paid instead.
Therein lies the crux of the struggle: the ad industry wants the flat-rate scheme instituted for network gigs; union actors want the pay-per-play system to be extended to the areas of cable and the Internet.
As it stands now, SAG, AFTRA and the ad industry aren’t even at the bargaining table. With no resolution in sight, how are the striking actors plan to support themselves in the meantime?
“Well, we still have the opportunity to do film and television, although right now it’s a very down time. We’re still able to pursue educational films and industrial films,” Maloney said. “In the meantime, we’ve got to work out everyday, we’ve got to vocalize everyday, we’ve got to keep ourselves strong….
“….And we have to work our civilian jobs,” her husband wryly concluded.
As for the Nike shoot? Producers say they got the job done — union actors or no, Teamster drivers or no.
And the beat — or, chess game — goes on.