What Would Happen If SAG Went On Strike?

Screen Actors Guild and movie studio representatives are holding their first contract talks in four months with a federal mediator, but expectations of a deal are low. Hollywood could see another strike soon.

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ALEX COHEN, host.

This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.

MADELEINE BRAND, host.

I'm Madeleine Brand. Hollywood is bracing for another possible strike. Talks between the actors' union and the studio executives resumed today. They met for more than 12 hours yesterday. There was a federal mediator there, and yet they were unable to come up with an agreement.

COHEN: We're joined now by NPR correspondent Kim Masters. Hi, Kim.

KIM MASTERS: Hi, Alex.

COHEN: Kim, remind us why the Screen Actors Guild and the studios haven't been able to see eye to eye.

MASTERS: Well, the big fight is how actors will be compensated for work in new media. They want jurisdiction and they want a piece of the pie. And the great backdrop against which this happened is that the entire Hollywood working community felt that they were short-changed when DVDs came into play; they didn't get a big enough piece of that pie. A lot of people have said they don't want to be burned again. The studios take the position that this is still a very new and not particularly lucrative media and that they need time and they're not going to start cutting in the actors on that big of a piece at this point, and they point that every other union that takes residuals has settled for an existing deal that the writers took and that the directors took. The Screen Actors Guild, which has very aggressive leadership, is the last holdout.

COHEN: So, what do you think, are we headed towards a strike?

MASTERS: You know, it would seem intuitively impossible in this environment that the actors would want to go on strike at this point. Just factoring out for a second the economy, there was a devastating writers' strike, and people were just really tired of that by the time it was over. Now, meanwhile, people are watching their savings disappear, it's terrifying out there, and I can't imagine that people would want to go on strike, but you have to bear in mind that a great many members in the Screen Actors Guild don't really work and can vote. So, that might have an effect on the outcome.

COHEN: You mention the writers' strike that went on for several months. Many folks in the entertainment industry are still recovering from that. So, what would happen if all of a sudden there were SAG strike as well?

MASTERS: Studios can hold out. They're in bad shape. I mean, they're going to be hurt by this environment economically. But that doesn't mean they can't survive for quite a long time with a strike underway. And that means that people would - I mean, it would just be so devastating; people would lose their jobs. And that wouldn't just be the actors; it would be people who support productions. The actors, unlike the writers, they can close down a movie very quickly. So, it would be an immediate and potentially a long-term and the devastating impact not only for the economy here, but for the Screen Actors Guild if it turned out to backfire.

COHEN: So, Kim, what happens from here? What's the next steps?

MASTERS: At some point, they can declare an impasse, and the Screen Actors Guild will go to its members and ask for a strike authorization. That requires 75-percent approval of those voting. There certainly are some very high-profile actors - George Clooney, Tom Hanks - who are very opposed to this and who probably would go out there and try to persuade people to vote and vote it down. But with 75-percent approval of those voting, not of the membership, of those voting, that would mean they would have strike authorization and they could initiate a strike.

COHEN: And if there is a strike, what would that mean for viewers? Does that mean even more hours of reality TV?

MASTERS: AFTRA, which is the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which, I should mention, represents those of us at NPR, will make probably great strides signing up more TV shows in primetime than they've had in the past, because they have already made a deal with the studios and they will sell themselves as the more reasonable alternative to SAG. So, there may be some disruption. I think movies - there will certainly be no impact felt for quite a long time. Movies take a long time to make, and the studios have stuff in the pipeline. And there maybe some disruption in terms of television, but I think in terms of who can hold out the longest, clearly the studios have the upper hand.

COHEN: NPR's Kim Masters, thank you so much.

MASTERS: Thank you.

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