RIP Kathy Joosten 1939-2012

Kathy Joosten photo

We are saddened to learn that regular SAGWatch and SAG-AFTRAWatch contributor Kathy Joosten passed away earlier today.

Known most recently for her role as Karen McCluskey on “Desperate Housewives,” for which she received two Emmy awards, Ms. Joosten’s career included roles on “Dharma and Greg,” “My Name is Earl,” “Ally McBeal” among many others, and she was well-known for her role as Mrs. Landingham, the president of the United States’ secretary, on “The West Wing.”

In addition to being a talented actor, she was a forceful and articulate, yet always gracious, commenter here, and will be greatly missed.

Coverage from E! Online, USA Today, Reuters, Los Angeles Times.

Sticker Shock, Part 2: SAG-AFTRA Board Slashes LA, NY Broadcaster Initiation Fees

The sticky issue of initiation fees remains as volatile as ever.

We earlier noted the defeat of a motion to increase initiation fees outside of New York and Los Angeles at the May 19-20 board meeting. Now, almost two weeks after that board meeting, The Hollywood Reporter states that a second motion — unannounced in the press release following the board meeting — passed to reduce the initiation fee for broadcasters in Los Angeles and New York from $3,000 to $1,708, on an “interim” basis.

Prior to merger, the major-market initiation fee for SAG was $2,277, and the initiation fee for AFTRA was $1,600, meaning that dual cardholders would pay a total of $3,877 to join both unions. The merger agreement set a basic initiation fee of $3,000, which was less than the combined total but a significant jump from the AFTRA-only figure.

The new “interim” rate is $108 higher than the previous AFTRA fee.

This broadcaster reduction applies only to “single unit” employees in New York and Los Angeles — i.e., those who are employed full-time by a single company. The SAG-AFTRA initiation fees outside of New York and Los Angeles remain lower, as they had been prior to merger.

When we publicized the earlier motion there was a chorus of criticism about violating the sanctity of the boardroom. However, as we noted here, there is a need for openness and transparency in SAG-AFTRA activities. The fact that this interim initiation fee reduction was not even mentioned in any public announcement by SAG-AFTRA makes us wonder what else is being concealed from members inappropriately under a cloak of secrecy. We understand the need for confidentiality in matters involving personnel, member discipline, negotiating strategy, and the like. However, none of those considerations appear to be applicable to initiation fees.

Music Video Deal Reached

Here’s the official announcement of the first major deal following merger:

SAG-AFTRA Reaches Historic Deal with Record Labels

Landmark Deal is the First Industrywide Agreement Covering Music Video Performers

LOS ANGELES (June 1, 2012) — SAG-AFTRA today announced that it had reached tentative agreement with the major record labels — Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, Warner Music Group, EMI Music and The Walt Disney Co. — on a first-ever industrywide contract to cover dancers and other performers on music videos.

The three-year agreement was reached in the early morning hours of June 1, after the current round of talks between the union and label representatives commenced on May 30 in Los Angeles.

“Today we reached a historic, tentative agreement with the first industrywide contract for music video performers,” SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White said. “Our negotiations were productive, resulting in solid gains for SAG-AFTRA members. We also laid the groundwork for a cooperative partnership with the industry that will benefit members throughout the term of the agreement.”

“The industry really stepped up and worked with us to give performers a solid contract for music videos,” said SAG-AFTRA Assistant National Executive Director of Sound Recordings Randall Himes. “The changing nature of the music video industry made these negotiations more important than ever. Our agreement with the labels gives performers the working conditions they deserve, while also recognizing realities of the industry. I also want to recognize our members for leading the way. They were committed and mobilized to get this agreement and they have my total respect and admiration for their support and dedication.”

“We are grateful for the strong partnership that we continue to have with SAG-AFTRA,” stated Universal Music Group Chairman & Chief Executive Officer Lucian Grainge. “This agreement not only reflects that relationship, but is testament to the vision that we share with David and Randy in working together to meet the many new challenges facing the music industry.”

The effort to reach this agreement was led, in large part, by top dancers and choreographers in the industry, including SAG-AFTRA Board members Bobbie Bates, Sharon Ferguson and Galen Hooks, and included a member mobilization campaign that began with the teaming of then-AFTRA and Dancers’ Alliance, a grassroots organization dedicated to educating dancers and building solidarity in the dance community.

Dancer and negotiating committee member Galen Hooks said, “This agreement is revolutionary for the dance community. For the first time, we have nationwide guarantees for health and retirement benefits for performers, choreographers and assistant choreographers, as well as guaranteed fair pay, safe working conditions and reuse fees. I’m so proud of SAG-AFTRA and Dancers’ Alliance.”

The agreement is the first major contract negotiated by SAG-AFTRA, creating a separate contract under the existing AFTRA National Sound Recordings Code that provides safe and fair working conditions and health and retirement for virtually all performers employed in the production of music videos, including dancers, actors, narrators, singers, models and stunt performers. Choreographers and assistant choreographers are also covered in the contract for purposes of receiving health and retirement contributions.

Highlights of the contract include:

  • Minimum daily rate for dancers
  • Contract covers all videos produced by any production company producing music videos on behalf of the labels
  • A 12.5-percent contribution to AFTRA H&R for all covered performers
  • Guaranteed production conditions, including water, toilets, chairs and shelters
  • A binding grievance and arbitration process
  • Union access to auditions, rehearsals and productions
  • Improved audition conditions, including notification to performers (or their representatives) of start times; individual audition times no longer than four hours; suitable shelter provided during auditions; scale paid if audition footage is used in a music video and re-use of audition footage is paid pursuant to a re-use agreement
  • 12-hour rest periods between call times, including rehearsals, makeup and wardrobe
  • Safety protections and additional compensation for hazardous performances
  • Wardrobe allowance
  • Agreement to form a joint labor-management committee to work together to resolve issues as they arise and to assess employment patterns and other matters over the term of the contract.

Negotiations commenced between AFTRA and the representatives for the labels in June of 2011 and no agreement was reached at that time. The two sides returned to the bargaining table in January 2012, but again, no agreement was reached, though progress was made on a number of issues.

The two sides reached a breakthrough in productive negotiations with informal talks earlier in May. Formal bargaining resumed May 30 and 31, and the deal was ultimately reached at 1:30 a.m. PDT on June 1.

The tentative agreement will now go to the SAG-AFTRA National Board for approval.

The deal, which covers Sony Music, UMG, Warner, EMI, Disney and their subsidiary labels, came less than two weeks after the SAG-AFTRA board gave Executive Director David White the power to issue a “Do Not Work” Order against the labels. Coverage from Variety. The Hollywood Reporter.

Boom in Louisiana Production

As reported by Backstage:

Louisiana may be the greatest actor among the 50 United States. In countless films and television shows, the state has portrayed Texas, New Mexico, and Colorado, the jungles of South America, London, and even Los Angeles.

Current and upcoming feature films shooting in the state include Quentin Tarantino’s “Django Unchained,” the sci-fi adaptation “Ender’s Game,” and Dito Montiel’s “Empire State,” a heist flick set in New York City.

Louisiana film officials attribute the boom to an aggressive tax-credit program. The article adds:

News has been good as well for the region’s steadily increasing number of union members. A SAG-AFTRA local chapter, shared with Mississippi, has recently been established in New Orleans. The new local is a direct result of the union merger, according to SAG-AFTRA South Region Executive Jason Tomlinson. His New Orleans-based position was created in 2007.

The film official is quoted as saying that Louisiana ranks only behind New York and Los Angeles as a production hub in the U.S.

Actors’ Equity Election Results Announced

Actors’ Equity Association has announced the results of its elections for eight offices and 17 National Council seats.

Union members elected Nick Wyman for President, Paige Price as First Vice President, Rebecca Kim Jordan as Second Vice President, Ira Mont as Third Vice President, and Sandra Karas as Secretary-Treasurer. Each of these candidates ran uncontested for their respective offices and will serve three-year terms.

More information at the Actors’ Equity site. Backstage.

SAG-AFTRA Board: White’s Contract Extended, $95 Million Budget Set

Among other actions taken this weekend at the first meeting of the new SAG-AFTRA board, National Executive Director David White’s contract was extended from an expiration in early 2014 to May, 2015 (three years out from now). The board also approved a $95 million budget.

The board set July 2 as the start date of Wages & Working Conditions discussions for the Commercials contract, as to which negotiations are slated to begin this fall. A W&W committee of 17 members and 9 alternates will be appointed by the board at its next meeting.

Official SAG-AFTRA announcement here. More from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety.

Sticker Shock Leads to First Uprising

We’re hearing that the first meeting of the SAG-AFTRA National Board has already resulted in the first rejection of a major plan from the senior leadership of the new union. Details aren’t fully available yet, but it seems that a proposed increase in initiation fees for those outside Los Angeles and New York got shot down hard.

At the time of merger the two largest locals were given initiation fees that went to $3000, because that was a number lower than the combined initiation fees for the two former unions. Smaller locals were left with initiation fees that were the same as before merger.

A proposal to raise the smaller local initiation fees drew fierce resistance, leaving the National Board with a potential problem that isn’t solved yet – figuring out what to do to make up for the loss in projected income, one that was expected to grow because of other proposals that the Board hasn’t heard yet.

More as details become available.

Non-Surprise Department: Anti-SAG/AFTRA Merger Lawsuit to be Dismissed

Rumors have been circulating on other sites that the Sheen v. Screen Actors Guild lawsuit, filed in January in an attempt to block the SAG-AFTRA merger, would be dismissed by the plaintiffs. We have commented before that the suit was essentially a dead man walking after the judge’s March 28 ruling that denied injunctive relief and expressed grave doubt as to the merit of any of the plaintiffs’ theories.

Now, according to the Hollywood Reporter, formal dismissal documents have been drawn up and signed and will be filed with the District Court in the next day or two.

Of course this development will infuriate those who, against all reason, continued to believe that this lawsuit would somehow pull a rabbit out of a hat and prove . . . well, we’re not sure exactly what. The articulated reasoning for continuing the dead-duck litigation has been fairly incoherent.

In any case, it is timely that this should occur before this weekend’s plenary meeting of the SAG-AFTRA board.

Amazon Studios to Compete Head-On with Broadcast Networks for Original Content

As posted here:

Online television is creating new opportunities for the makers of television programs, creating new competition for broadcast networks and other content providers. Among the latest is Amazon Studios, the program development division of Amazon.com, which has announced that it is expanding into episodic comedies and children’s shows for prime time.

Independent TV writers and producers have been invited to upload series proposals that will be reviewed by the Amazon Studios team and, potentially, added to the company’s development slate. The best series will be distributed online via Amazon Instant Video.

Is this an actual threat? At the figures mentioned in the above article, the budgets surely are non-union all the way — not just actors, but everyone involved in a production. The buzz we’ve seen in the writer/director/producer community suggests that most consider Amazon’s terms pretty awful.

But this is something all the creative guilds must keep an eye on.