Thursday, March 16, 2006

Actors unions and a new contract for advertising work.

Once again, it's time for contract talks between the actors union and the ad industry. This is one time when I'm definitely going to side with my industry.

Back in 2000, the SAG/AFTRA strike created a few headaches for every agency, including mine. Everyone wants A-1 talent in their commercials.

But on the positive side? People realized that Vancouver, New Zealand and Argentina are awfully nice places to go for a shoot— getting a world perspective beyond the borders of L.A. was healthy, too. Lazy creatives could not call in a celebrity to hide the fact their campaign was bereft of a genuine idea. And a few hard-working copywriters picked up some checks for VOs.

I think the actors unions have their heads up, well, you know where I think they have their heads. Agencies and advertisers are not in the mood to handle the administrative challenges of complicated compensation, cutting checks every time someone in the world downloads a piece of video onto their cell phone. We're also not feeling all that great about 13-week pay cycles for actors who are still a step below a role on, say, Joey.

I'm all in favor of people being compensated fairly for their work. But commercials are not movies or even TV shows. Actors don't "carry" commercials. They don't send people rushing to make a purchase. Sure, good ones help make things memorable. But the best commercials are rarely dependent on an actor delivering a performance that no one else possibly could.

Yes, I do have genuine respect for the actor's craft. Few things are more enjoyable than that moment in a tedious casting session, right about the time you're ready to curl up in the fetal position because you're starting to believe your idea is awful, when an actor nails it. I'll admit that it's great.

But we're not talking about Phillip Seymour-Hoffman here, folks. I've also seen plenty of B-level actors nail it in the casting session and be hopelessly lost two days later on the set. That's when it's easier to feel good about whatever you're paying the director and the editor.

Anyway, I'd rather see agencies go with non-union talent than give in to the demands of the waiters — sorry — the actors. One-time payments should be the route. Show up, do the job and you'll be paid reasonably for it. If something gets played on a billion cell phones, consider it good PR for your acting career. Figure that your commercial work is like advertising yourself for a movie part.

After all, once actors are movie stars, they don't take many calls from ad agencies.

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