This, blog entry - and more importantly, the anonymous comment below it - stir up so many feelings inside me... all mixed. Forgive the entry that follows below. I've read it twice and I *think* it's coherent, but it's 4:20 in the morning and I can barely see straight. Also, something in the back of my mind made me think that this would be worth sharing to you groups. Don't worry, I'm wearing an asbestos suit in case you disagree and will be more than happy to hear and civilly discuss differing opinions.
I walked on the picket line for the WGA when they struck. I saw how the industry was devastated economically. How all of Los Angeles was devastated economically, especially with the loss of the Golden Globes. I do not want to strike.
However, producers seem hell-bent on throwing whatever it takes at stars to get them to headline projects - Laurence Fishburn taking the lead on CSI, for instance, or the cast of Friends getting a million dollars an episode each by the end of their run. They throw huge sums of money at big-name stars in the hopes of increased TV ratings and Box Office guarantees, and they inadvertently leave nothing in the budget for the little guys - Guest Stars, Co-Stars, Day Players, etc.
Roles that used to pay well enough to live off of - sometimes well above average - now get scale (the actor version of minimum wage for a role). Actors with recurring roles on shows that were paid above scale either saw their paychecks reduced... or they were written out and replaced by actors that would work for scale. Just look at the turnover that series like JAG saw in secondary characters after the last SAG contract was signed.
Most Guest Star roles these days - formerly coveted - aren't any larger than what can be shot in a single day because if producers book a guest star even for just two days, the actor gets paid the weekly rate. Sure, the day rate is a few hundred dollars, but how often can someone be lucky enough book a Guest Star role? If I worked for two consecutive days on a guest star role, I could live for a month and a half on that weekly pay rate. Plenty of time for me to audition for and perhaps book something else. I could maybe live for two weeks on a Guest Star day rate (if my rent's not due). No margin for error there.
Now, my beef is not with the stars themselves. They got where they are because of talent, luck, fate, or some arcane combination of all three. Good for them. If I could figure out how they did it, I wouldn't have these problems. But I don't want to figure it out. I don't want to be one of them. I just want to work, and to be able to make my living simply as an actor. I'd rather people not know my name - just possibly see my face and occasionally ask "hey, you look familiar... were you ever on that show?". I want to be a middle-class actor.
The middle-class actor is now a dying breed. These days, it seems that more and more, you're either a celebrity, or a hobbyist. More and more actors I know that used to pay all of their bills and live comfortably (not lavishly, by any stretch of the imagination), are now forced to find regularly paying work again. You know how hard it is to find a job in this down economy. I was unemployed for four months this year before I found a job that paid just over half what I used to make... and I'm happy to have this job! Now, imagine trying to find an actor-friendly job that gives them the flexibility to audition in this economy? Good luck. Guess what that middle class actor can't do anymore? Audition. Are they making their living acting? No. What does that make them, all of a sudden? A hobbyist. An experienced hobbyist, but a hobbyist nonetheless.
I have lived in LA now for five years pursuing acting professionally. I have worked hard and diligently at the Business of Acting, but despite always had to rely on a day job (or night job, as my year and a half working graveyard will attest to) to pay the bills. Because I am not making my living from my efforts as an actor, I am a hobbyist. I need SAG to fight and fight hard for good deals that will bring back the middle-class actor. If nothing else, than to ensure that there is a middle level of talent and quality existing between the lucky ones to become stars and the lucky ones to find their fifteen minutes in a national commercial. If not, soon all that's left will be celebrities and hobbyists...
With the advent of the Internet (having personally maintained an online presence since the early 90's, I find the term "new media" a laughable misnomer) as a medium for entertainment, SAG has potential to stop the bleeding and find a foothold to save the middle class actor and securing them another fair income stream - something that pays middle class talent what they deserve for their work. If they don't... if they lose residuals and pay bumps for full episodes of TV streaming on the internet (which producers have proven in writing they're making money hand-over-fist from)... with today's rising cost of living and the Producers unwittingly bankrupting the industry of talent... the middle class actor will cease to exist.
I know my leadership has tried everything in their power to avoid a strike. A strike is the last resort. I don't want to strike, but I will to help save what I aspire to be - a middle class, working actor, and not just some hobbyist. If a work stoppage is what it will take to get the AMPTP's attention; get them to come back to the table and negotiate a fair deal that will help preserve acting as a profession in this time of economic turmoil and save it from becoming a hobby for anyone except the select, blessed few, so be it.
See you on the picket line.