George Clooney pens letter over SAG talks

Actor takes neutral position, outlines 'fundamental facts'

If SAG and AFTRA were warring countries, then George Clooney would be Switzerland.

The actor released a two-page message Thursday that gives a neutral position, laying out both sides of the fighting unions' positions and focusing on the issues of the working actor.

"Both are, of course, right," Clooney wrote. "AFTRA feels that a work stoppage would be devastating to its members, and SAG believes that if they don't draw a line in the sand, the studios will repeat what they did with DVDs."

Clooney's statement is the first he has released since the talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers began and since he and several other high-profile union members took out ads shortly after the WGA strike ended, urging SAG and AFTRA to "just talk" with the studios and start negotiations early.

Clooney laid out some "fundamental facts" that both sides need to begin with, including that the DGA, WGA and IATSE already have set the contract model, minus DVD residuals, and that breaking that model would "retroactively break the other models."

He also took a page from SAG national executive director Doug Allen's NFL playbook, stating that the chief negotiator "has said on several occasions that this would be a negotiation for 'the linemen, not for the quarterbacks.' "

"The spirit of the statement isn't wrong, it's just the structure," the star and director of "Leatherheads" wrote. "Unlike the NFL, in this guild, the quarterbacks protect the linemen. I've been very lucky in my career, which has put me in the place that I don't need a union to check on my residuals, or my pension, or to protect my 12-hour turnaround. I used to need that, and may again, but right now I don't.

"That means it's my responsibility to look out for actors who are trying to stay afloat from year to year," he added. "Anything less is irresponsible of me."

Clooney had a suggestion for the future: create a 10-member panel of influential A-listers such as Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks to sit down with studio heads once a year -- "10 people that the studio heads don't often say 'no' to" -- who can bring in SAG and AFTRA data and adjust pay for the actors.

He also suggested that the unions raise the dues for actors who make "an exorbitant amount of money."

"Right now, there's a cap of 6,000 bucks that actors pay their union, based on $1 million in earnings," he wrote. "Make it $6,000 for every million. If someone makes $20 million, they pay $120,000 into the union. That could go a long way in helping pensions and health care. The quarterbacks have to do more."

In May, AFTRA brokered its tentative contract with the AMPTP without SAG for the first time in 27 years. Since then, SAG has campaigned to get its dual cardholder members -- those who are both SAG and AFTRA members, which number about 44,000 -- to vote down the AFTRA deal. Several A-list actors have taken sides in the debate.

Clooney's full letter appears on the next page.



Clooney's full letter follows:

At the risk of being yet another actor giving his opinion about the ongoing fight between SAG and AFTRA, I'm hoping that there might be a way out of this. Rather than pitting artist against artist, maybe we could find a way to get what both unions are looking for.

Both are, of course, right. AFTRA feels that a work stoppage would be devastating to its members and SAG believes that if they don't draw a line in the sand, the studios will repeat what they did with DVDs.

There are a couple of fundamental facts that both sides have to start with ... first is that the WGA, DGA and IATSE all agreed to a certain model (DVDs not being a part of it). Breaking that model for AFTRA or SAG would retroactively break the other models ... so you can be pretty sure that the AMPTP isn't going to do that. The second thing is understanding the way these unions work. They're unique in structure to other unions. Doug Allen (the SAG national executive director) has said on several occasions that this would be a negotiation for "the linemen, not for the quarterbacks." (Doug did a lot of the negotiating for the NFL.) The spirit of the statement isn't wrong ... it's just the structure. Unlike the NFL, in this guild, the quarterbacks protect the linemen. I've been very lucky in my career, which has put me in the place that I don't need a union to check on my residuals, or my pension, or protect my 12-hour turnaround. I used to need that, and may again ... but right now I don't. That means it's my responsibility to look out for actors who are trying to stay afloat from year to year. Anything less is irresponsible of me.

Work stoppage will do a great deal of harm to those actors ... agencies will close ... TV pilots won't get made ... more reality shows ... we all know the scenario. But that doesn't mean just roll over and give the producers what they want ... it means diligence.

The producers say that there's no money in new media right now. There's some truth in that ... for this moment. It was also true for cable, VHS and DVD ... all of which became very profitable for the studios ... and the actors were out in the cold. With new media, we have our foot in the door, but who's to say a year from now, if it becomes profitable, that the same thing won't happen again ... actors out in the cold. So here are a couple of ways that the quarterbacks can protect the linemen:

First, we set up a panel ... Jack Nicholson and Tom Hanks, for instance ... 10 of them that sit down with the studio heads once a year ... 10 people that the studio heads don't often say "no" to. Those 10 people walk in the door with all the new data that SAG and AFTRA compile, and adjust the pay for actors... once a year.

Second, we go to the actors who make an exorbitant amount of money, and raise their dues. Right now, there's a cap of 6,000 bucks that actors pay their union ... based on $1 million in earnings. Make it $6,000 for every million ... if someone makes $20 million, they pay $120,000 into the union. That could go a long way in helping pensions and health care. The quarterbacks have to do more.

To be sure, I'm not the brightest bulb out there. So maybe someone has a lot better idea ... I just happen to believe so strongly in both unions ... my father, my mother, aunt, uncle, even cousins were all members of either SAG or AFTRA long before me.

What we can't do is pit artist against artist ... because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of the AMPTP.

George Clooney
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