Anne-Marie Johnson, MembershipFirst


THR: What has been the hardest thing for you in getting through the past year?

Anne-Marie Johnson: Saying no to auditions and to jobs, because since February 2008, outside of the relationship with my husband and my friends, this has been the most important thing. I'm glad I have very understanding representatives. And thank God for residuals, because I've been able to put full-time work on hold somewhat and work jobs that would allow me to be here.

THR: Have you lost friends or colleagues over this?

Johnson: Yes. But you know what? I don't worry about it. If you lose friends over something that's righteous, then they're not your friends. It'll be mended when they see, if this contract is ratified, how their earnings capability is cut drastically. They will be coming to me and to others saying, "My God, you were right."

THR: How has your party's original agenda changed most in recent years?

Johnson: It's grown. Our original agenda, our mission statement, hasn't changed. The involvement, the outreach, the national status of Membership First has certainly changed. But our mission statement, our initial goals have not changed.

THR: Do you honestly believe that an organization of 120,000 or so members, that has a sister union with tens of thousands of overlapping members, will ever come to any real consensus?

Johnson: Sure.

THR: How do you see that happening?

Johnson: If we're talking about actors seeing eye to eye, represented by both AFTRA and SAG, yes I see that happening. If we're talking about a standard boilerplate merger, no I don't see that happening. But if we're talking about actors, on-screen talent, seeing and speaking the same language and understanding the same needs and concerns, yes I do see that happening.

THR: Do you think SAG would ever split itself into two entities?

Johnson: (laughter) I know that there's a lot of desire to do that from both coasts.

THR: Do you hear that often?

Johnson: Oh, yes. Quite often. It just comes off in casual conversations. In frustration. I see no upshot in that. It certainly wouldn't benefit the Screen Actors Guild to have a Screen Actors Guild East and a Screen Actors Guild West. It may work for the Writers Guild. But we also have members in the middle of the country, and in the south and in the north. The majority of writers live either in New York or California. Actors are everywhere. So it would not be beneficial.

THR: In the most succinct and specific terms that you could articulate, what would constitute an acceptable offer in this round of negotiating? Again, acceptable -- not ideal.

Johnson: Jurisdiction in new media from the first dollar, which SAG since 2004 assumed jurisdiction anyway. And a percentage of residual payments so when my employer makes money, I make money. If my employer makes no money, I don't make any money.

THR: You mean across every media in any format.

Johnson: Correct. Obviously, I don't want to tamper with the formulas that we have had set for decades, the fixed formulas and the pooled formulas. But why should that be any different in new media? Anything that generates income for our employers should generate income for those that are being used for that income to be generated.

THR: When Membership First member Ed Asner compares ratifying the contract to Jews being executed, how can you bemoan the lack of civility on the other side without feeling hypocritical?

Johnson: I don't bemoan whatever statements are made from the other side if it's done without the stamp of the Screen Actors Guild. But the last email that was sent out, that accused those who are voting in opposition of trying to trick the members from voting no and trying to bring the union down, and "not having a plan," that to me is reprehensible. My dues money paid for that message. And not only that, the response from the Screen Actors Guild that they had to send out that email because erroneous claims were being made by the individuals who want you to vote no, well they never stated what mistakes or mistruths we stated in any of our literature! It's a general statement of "Don't be fooled...," "You are being told..."

THR: And you don't think that's acceptable?

Johnson: I think it's acceptable if it's on the blog.I thought it was from the AMPTP, that email blast! But that was from my union, accusing me of trying to bring my union down.

THR: And you don't think there's any legitimacy to that claim when you're suing the guild?

Johnson: That lawsuit has absolutely nothing to do with this ratification.

THR: Well, it's not completely tangential.

Johnson: Our lawsuit purely has to do with California law and how a board votes.

THR: Right. But that was a means to an end that played specifically into these contract negotiations, so it's not unrelated.

Johnson: But it would not have changed the outcome of the vote. It's how the vote was taken. That's our challenge. It wouldn't have changed the outcome, but it certainly would have legitimized the process.

THR: If the contract is passed by the membership, will you and Membership First move on to elections, or will you pursue further legal remedies?

Johnson: No, if the contract is ratified by the membership, the membership has finally spoken and we have to accept that and make sure that the membership is treated with respect and we continue our responsibilities as board members. And Membership First will begin the process of this upcoming election.

THR: Let's say that it is passed, do you have any thoughts on mending fences? Do you and your adversaries take a retreat together or go to Disneyland?

Johnson: No. None whatsoever. We move ahead.

THR: What's the most altruistic thing you could attribute to those who disagree with you on this contract issue?

Johnson: All I can say is that anyone who's hanging their hope on the fact that the AMPTP in 2011 will consent to negotiating with more than one union at a time; that the DGA won't go in early to set the template for the rest of us to have to deal with as they did this go-around; that IATSE or the WGA or any other union won't go ahead of us and set what they need to set for their own members; that the miraculous sunset clause will actually benefit the Screen Actors Guild and be honored after the CEOs and the heads of studios and networks have made their millions off of us in this free streaming area of new media. And if anyone thinks that all that's going to come together in 2011 and the AMPTP's going to decide, "You know what? You're right. We have made a good God amount of money on this, we know we're going to make even more, we'll give you a percentage," without some type of strike, then these individuals are truly living in a fantasy world. Does anyone actually believe the DGA gives a flying f*** about background performers? No. Do you think IATSE does? Do you think the Writers Guild does? Their contract expires a couple of months before ours. What are they going to do, hold out until we get our s*** together? It would be possible, but there are a lot of what-ifs. I don't believe in a lot of these what-ifs. And I certainly do not believe in the perfect storm. Even if there were a perfect storm, I don't believe our employers are going to give up this goose that will be laying a lot of golden eggs.

THR: What was the last performance or acting job you were hired and paid for?

Johnson: I just finished an independent film two weeks ago. I did before that a SAG low-budget film called "Suicide Dolls" and another movie before that called "Freeloaders." And I did a movie of the week for Hallmark called "Uncorked." So I've been very busy.

THR: Have you acted in any original content for the Web?

Johnson: No. I'm at that level where I can say no. But you know what? I'm not worried about me. I'm worried about the performer who must say yes. So no, fortunately I've dodged that bullet. But the older I get it's going to be harder and harder for my representatives to keep saying no.