INSIDE THE BOX

In the coming SAG-AMPTP gunfight, the stray bullets could hurt the most

It seems like every holiday there is one bizarre story. (OK, sometimes there are two: I don't know what else you could call the sightseeing tour/traveling circus featuring the Cruise and Beckham clans in New York during Thanksgiving weekend.)

For us in California, it was the fatal shooting incident in Palm Desert on Black Friday, when two men chased and gunned each other down in a toy store packed with holiday shoppers.

Like every bizarre story, it started rather innocently, with two women — in the store with their kids — striking up a conversation. The discussion escalated into a bloody fight, which led to the men accompanying the women to pull out guns and embark on a pursuit through the store, shooting at each other until both fell dead.

It played out like a scene from a B action movie or an R-rated version of the brawl between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sinbad in the 1996 holiday film "Jingle All the Way."

But with the most recent chapter of the great labor wars of 2007-08 still fresh in my mind, the Palm Desert incident reminded me of the standoff between SAG and the AMPTP, which escalated to a verbal shootout last week following the breakdown in negotiations and SAG's move to seek a strike-authorization vote from its members. Helping the metaphor was SAG president Alan Rosenberg's TV interview last week in which he defended the decision to secure strike approval.

"We have to put bullets in our gun in order to get a deal," he said.

In Palm Desert, at least none of the hundreds of bystanders was hurt. If only we in the entertainment industry could be so lucky.

As SAG and AMPTP go at each other, the biggest casualties will be those watching from the sidelines: assistants, below-the-line, postproduction, craft services workers — and their families.

The sinking economy and the effects from the writers strike already have pushed everyone in Hollywood against the ropes. A SAG walkout would deliver a knockout punch.

In a Q&A for members released Wednesday, the SAG leadership explained the decision to seek a strike in a recession.

"Yes, the bad economy means that it will require more of a sacrifice from some of our members if in fact a strike becomes necessary, but remember that this union was founded and obtained its first contract during the depths of the Great Depression," SAG said.

According to SAG's official timeline posted on its site, a two-month actors strike ended in failure two months before the October 1929 stock market crash. The ensuing Depression did serve as catalyst for the forming of SAG in 1933, a fallout from the studios' decision that year to temporarily cut by 50% the salaries for all employees, including actors.

This time, a SAG strike might trigger deep salary cuts.

The recession, which is hammering the ad market, already has forced media companies to make budget cuts. Faced with potential revenue losses from a SAG strike, studios could use the work stoppage to trim even more — the same way they cleaned house during the WGA strike last winter.

In the SAG/AMPTP war of words, it is hard to determine who is right and who is wrong.

It is true that the Internet is still the Wild West for professionally produced content, and projections for its long-term commercial viability could be premature. On the other hand, given the history with VHS/DVD and cable — where the guild caved in to the studios' arguments that those were uncharted territories and agreed to minuscule residuals that never were revised — it is understandable that the actors would want to push for favorable terms on new media, fearing they might be stuck with another lousy deal.

But as far apart as both sides are on the issues, they can get closer by amping down the attitude. SAG's statements often smack of boneheadedness, the AMPTP's of arrogance.

They should take a cue from the sober, selfless tone in a blog comment posted by a SAG member during the weekend.

"The world does not revolve around us and our residuals," the actor wrote. "Us getting just the right deal is not worth the damage a strike would cause. If we win, too many other people lose."

Nellie Andreeva can be reached at nellie.andreeva@THR.com.
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