SAG president Alan Rosenberg talks writers strike

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As a TV actor (Civil Wars, L.A. Law, Chicago Hope), Alan Rosenberg has been appointed to provide legal counsel to some pretty important fictional people. But now, at a time when the writers’ strike has virtually shut down Hollywood (and even the Ari Golds of the real world are taking pay-cuts to soften the blow), Rosenberg is president of one of the most influential organizations in all of show biz: the Screen Actor’s Guild. Because of SAG’s power, Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards — which will take place without the nominees present  because they would not cross the WGA picket line — could be more unpleasant than watching a fat guy rub his golden globes all over Sacha Baron Cohen. And the Oscars could see the same fate next month if a the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences can’t figure out a way around the ongoing strike. EW.com spoke with SAG prez Rosenberg about the status of the writers’ strike and his own guild’s imminent negotiations this summer.

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: SAG has been nothing but supportive of the WGA, so we’re wondering what the strategy is behind that and how that works out for you?
ALAN ROSENBERG: For the first time in many years, we’ve been strategizing together. For a long time, since the AMPTP has been the bargaining unit for the employers, we’ve sort of been warned off in talking to each other and strategizing together even though it’s been anticipated that we’d be tied to each other and the results of our negotiations. And so it’s been great. [WGA West president] Patric Verrone and I for months before the negotiations [and strike] started visiting sets together, talking to writers and actors and showrunners together, and that was unprecedented. It created a real camaraderie. And the reason this all exists is because we don’t only do this in support of the writers — the issues are the same. We really see this fight as our fight. Although we support all labor unions, this is a little bit in self-interest as well. If [the writers] arrive at a fair deal, then hopefully [SAG] won’t have to do this again in June.

That said, there are talks that the Directors Guild of America is planning negotiations soon. Are all three guilds unified as far as you’re concerned? And how would DGA talks now benefit SAG?
Well, all three guilds are united in the sense that we have a lot of joint cardholders. I’m DGA myself, and our concerns are the same, and like I said, we are often tied together in the results of our negotiations. Although these negotiations are different this year for a reason: the Writer’s Guild and the Director’s Guild don’t have our proxy. We are always careful to point out that if they arrive at a fair deal, that’d be fantastic for us, but if they don’t arrive at deals that are satisfactory to us, we still have a lot of work to do in June when our contract is up.   

If they happen to go with a deal that gives them less than what
the WGA was going for, do you think that would undercut the WGA’s
efforts and the strike because those terms would set a precedent?

If they did that, yeah, without question. The DGA has every right to
chart their own course and do what they have to do, but there’s no
question, if they arrive at a fair deal then it would benefit the
writers or if they arrive at something that was less than the writers
were asking for it would hurt the writers. So yeah, that’s a fair
statement. The interesting thing that has happened the last couple of
weeks is this deal the writers struck with Worldwide Pants and United
Artists, and [the WGA] also talked to other independent companies. They’ve
demonstrated that not only are they fair and reasonable negotiators,
but that their demands are reasonable to these corporations. One has to
ask themselves, “Why aren’t they reasonable to the big corporations.”
And now, in order for the DGA to arrive at a deal that was less than
what the writers were asking for, they would have to ask for less than
they already achieved with United Artists and with Worldwide Pants. In my opinion, they’d be hard-pressed to do that.

Some are curious about these indie deals, as well WGA granting a waiver for SAG Awards but not for the Golden Globes. It seems inconsistent when you look at
the face of it. What’s your opinion on this?

I don’t think it’s inconsistent at all. I think it’s all part of a good
strategy. Like I said, they’re making these independent deals with
people who are willing to sign onto their terms. There’s nothing
inconsistent about that. They’re asking for certain things that are
necessary, and these employers are saying, “Yeah, we’ll sign on.” The
only thing that could be deemed inconsistent about the waivers they’ve
been granting, I guess, is the waiver they gave us for the Screen
Actor’s Guild Awards. [But] they understand how important these awards
are to our organization, and our members are out of work as their
members are out of work, and we may have to take a job action in June
– one hopes that we [don’t] have to. And they understand the SAG
Awards benefit our foundation, which helps actors in need. Other than
[SAG Awards], they’ve been consistent so far with all of the awards
shows.


 But if you look at who’s benefiting at the end of the day with
respect to the Globes or the Worldwide Pants deal, it’s still the
networks: NBC and CBS with Letterman. And I know the initial strategy
of going on strike was to bring the companies to their knees, so to
speak.

It’s hard for me to comment on their negotiations. What I’ve been doing
is musing on what they’ve been doing. I think they made every right
step, but everything’s a judgment call. The difference is David
Letterman owns [Worldwide Pants] and that’s not the case with the other
talks shows and the other events. If they can make a deal with
Worldwide Pants, then that would be putting pressure on other companies
– on Jay Leno to put pressure on NBC and Jimmy Kimmel to put pressure
on ABC. I think that was the idea. And I think it was the right
decision. And for no other reason, I think it’s great to have deals in
place as a template so that other people — us or the DGA — would be
hard pressed to go and undercut those deals.

What do you think the fate of the Oscars is going to be? And will SAG honor a potential WGA picket line?
Once the Golden Globes became the topic of discussion, I started
immediately to outreach to our more visible members — most of whom
have been nominated for awards themselves — to take their temperature.
We were told that they unanimously were not going to cross the picket
line. I anticipate that to continue for as long as this strike takes.
Everybody knows that a strike can drag on for a while. It’s painful,
and everybody makes sacrifices, and I understand full well the
sacrifices people are making.

I’m sure this is bittersweet for a lot people.
Or maybe just bitter. It’s essential. Nobody wanted a strike, but
getting a formula in new media is essential for writers, actors, and
directors, in my opinion, and not only for us but for a generation to
come. And we know from experience if we don’t get it now, we’ll
probably have to wait 20 years to get a fair formula. We can’t let it
happen. Actors are suffering. Writers are suffering, and that’s what
this is about. I really, really appreciate all of the incredible
sacrifices that more visible members have made who are doing well and
are making their sacrifice for their brothers and sisters in the middle
class and for the generations to come. It’s very moving to me. 

When would SAG typically begin negotiations with the AMPTP? Would it
be a couple of months before the contract is up, like the WGA?

That would depend on Doug Allen, our executive director. Although I
chaired our basic cable negotiations last year, they’re very different
than these TV theatrical negotiations. This will be my first time
chairing this committee. Our contract expires June 30…. Doug is a
brand new executive director with a wealth of experience and I have so
much faith in him.

He came from the NFL, am I right?
Yeah, the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association. He was a professional
football player and then he worked for the union for 24 years. And he’s
truly astonishing. So whatever we’ve done in the past as far as
starting negotiations early or waiting until the last moment –
whatever is strategic — I leave those decisions up to him, at this
point, guided by our committee. One of the great things about unions is
they’re member driven and give us the great ability to both lead and
follow at the same time. So that decision will be made as we go along.

I think a lot of people were surprised by how bitter negotiations
have been between the WGA and the AMPTP. You said something back in
November like, “We must stand together with our brothers and sisters at
the WGA.” Is there anything the WGA would or could do that would give
you a change of heart?

No. I mean the only thing that would give me a change of heart is for
some reason that I don’t anticipate — [if] they were to arrive at a
deal that was less than satisfactory to us, and then we’ll have to
negotiate that on our own. I mean, that’s a tough question: Anything
they could do? Nothing that I can see in the future. I have enormous
faith in Patric Verrone and [WGA chief negotiator] David Young and
[negotiating committee chairman] John Bowman and the negotiating
committee. I really know that they’re going to arrive at a fair deal.
We have had a great benefit — both unions have — by our alliance.
It’s been so beneficial, I can’t imagine anything happening that would
make that waver.

Lastly, people are asking, “Is there an end in sight?” How would you answer that?
I don’t know. I’m an eternal optimist. If you ask my opinion, I think
this will be resolved before we go into negotiations in a way that will
be reasonable for us. I have great hope for that. There’s no question
that when I look at the actors and the writers that are suffering,
struggling to pay their tuition or their rent or their mortgage if
they’re very lucky and qualify for healthcare. It’s amazing how many
actors don’t qualify for healthcare. I know that we have the moral
higher ground and I know that this is a necessity of getting a fair
formula in new media. And I’m confident that the employers will come
around as well. That said, you gotta be determined. Now that the
writers are on strike, it is incumbent on them — and I have so much
respect and empathy for Patric Verrone because the [WGA] has so much on
their shoulders. Not only are they negotiating for themselves, but
they’re also, in a sense, negotiating for us and the DGA, AFTRA, for
everybody. They’re setting the tone. And that’s a lot of
responsibility. This is certainly the most important negotiations in a
generation, if not of all time, in entertainment.

If they happen to go with a deal that gives them less than whatthe WGA was going for, do you think that would undercut the WGA’sefforts and the strike because those terms would set a precedent?
If they did that, yeah, without question. The DGA has every right tochart their own course and do what they have to do, but there’s noquestion, if they arrive at a fair deal then it would benefit thewriters or if they arrive at something that was less than the writerswere asking for it would hurt the writers. So yeah, that’s a fairstatement. The interesting thing that has happened the last couple ofweeks is this deal the writers struck with Worldwide Pants and UnitedArtists, and [the WGA] also talked to other independent companies. They’vedemonstrated that not only are they fair and reasonable negotiators,but that their demands are reasonable to these corporations. One has toask themselves, “Why aren’t they reasonable to the big corporations.”And now, in order for the DGA to arrive at a deal that was less thanwhat the writers were asking for, they would have to ask for less thanthey already achieved with United Artists and with Worldwide Pants. In my opinion, they’d be hard-pressed to do that.

Some are curious about these indie deals, as well WGA granting a waiver for SAG Awards but not for the Golden Globes. It seems inconsistent when you look atthe face of it. What’s your opinion on this?
I don’t think it’s inconsistent at all. I think it’s all part of a goodstrategy. Like I said, they’re making these independent deals withpeople who are willing to sign onto their terms. There’s nothinginconsistent about that. They’re asking for certain things that arenecessary, and these employers are saying, “Yeah, we’ll sign on.” Theonly thing that could be deemed inconsistent about the waivers they’vebeen granting, I guess, is the waiver they gave us for the ScreenActor’s Guild Awards. [But] they understand how important these awardsare to our organization, and our members are out of work as theirmembers are out of work, and we may have to take a job action in June– one hopes that we [don’t] have to. And they understand the SAGAwards benefit our foundation, which helps actors in need. Other than[SAG Awards], they’ve been consistent so far with all of the awardsshows.

 But if you look at who’s benefiting at the end of the day withrespect to the Globes or the Worldwide Pants deal, it’s still thenetworks: NBC and CBS with Letterman. And I know the initial strategyof going on strike was to bring the companies to their knees, so tospeak.
It’s hard for me to comment on their negotiations. What I’ve been doingis musing on what they’ve been doing. I think they made every rightstep, but everything’s a judgment call. The difference is DavidLetterman owns [Worldwide Pants] and that’s not the case with the othertalks shows and the other events. If they can make a deal withWorldwide Pants, then that would be putting pressure on other companies– on Jay Leno to put pressure on NBC and Jimmy Kimmel to put pressureon ABC. I think that was the idea. And I think it was the rightdecision. And for no other reason, I think it’s great to have deals inplace as a template so that other people — us or the DGA — would behard pressed to go and undercut those deals.

What do you think the fate of the Oscars is going to be? And will SAG honor a potential WGA picket line?
Once the Golden Globes became the topic of discussion, I startedimmediately to outreach to our more visible members — most of whomhave been nominated for awards themselves — to take their temperature.We were told that they unanimously were not going to cross the picketline. I anticipate that to continue for as long as this strike takes.Everybody knows that a strike can drag on for a while. It’s painful,and everybody makes sacrifices, and I understand full well thesacrifices people are making.

I’m sure this is bittersweet for a lot people.
Or maybe just bitter. It’s essential. Nobody wanted a strike, butgetting a formula in new media is essential for writers, actors, anddirectors, in my opinion, and not only for us but for a generation tocome. And we know from experience if we don’t get it now, we’llprobably have to wait 20 years to get a fair formula. We can’t let ithappen. Actors are suffering. Writers are suffering, and that’s whatthis is about. I really, really appreciate all of the incrediblesacrifices that more visible members have made who are doing well andare making their sacrifice for their brothers and sisters in the middleclass and for the generations to come. It’s very moving to me. 

When would SAG typically begin negotiations with the AMPTP? Would itbe a couple of months before the contract is up, like the WGA?
That would depend on Doug Allen, our executive director. Although Ichaired our basic cable negotiations last year, they’re very differentthan these TV theatrical negotiations. This will be my first timechairing this committee. Our contract expires June 30…. Doug is abrand new executive director with a wealth of experience and I have somuch faith in him.

He came from the NFL, am I right?
Yeah, the NFL and the NFL Player’s Association. He was a professionalfootball player and then he worked for the union for 24 years. And he’struly astonishing. So whatever we’ve done in the past as far asstarting negotiations early or waiting until the last moment –whatever is strategic — I leave those decisions up to him, at thispoint, guided by our committee. One of the great things about unions isthey’re member driven and give us the great ability to both lead andfollow at the same time. So that decision will be made as we go along.

I think a lot of people were surprised by how bitter negotiationshave been between the WGA and the AMPTP. You said something back inNovember like, “We must stand together with our brothers and sisters atthe WGA.” Is there anything the WGA would or could do that would giveyou a change of heart?
No. I mean the only thing that would give me a change of heart is forsome reason that I don’t anticipate — [if] they were to arrive at adeal that was less than satisfactory to us, and then we’ll have tonegotiate that on our own. I mean, that’s a tough question: Anythingthey could do? Nothing that I can see in the future. I have enormousfaith in Patric Verrone and [WGA chief negotiator] David Young and[negotiating committee chairman] John Bowman and the negotiatingcommittee. I really know that they’re going to arrive at a fair deal.We have had a great benefit — both unions have — by our alliance.It’s been so beneficial, I can’t imagine anything happening that wouldmake that waver.

Lastly, people are asking, “Is there an end in sight?” How would you answer that?
I don’t know. I’m an eternal optimist. If you ask my opinion, I thinkthis will be resolved before we go into negotiations in a way that willbe reasonable for us. I have great hope for that. There’s no questionthat when I look at the actors and the writers that are suffering,struggling to pay their tuition or their rent or their mortgage ifthey’re very lucky and qualify for healthcare. It’s amazing how manyactors don’t qualify for healthcare. I know that we have the moralhigher ground and I know that this is a necessity of getting a fairformula in new media. And I’m confident that the employers will comearound as well. That said, you gotta be determined. Now that thewriters are on strike, it is incumbent on them — and I have so muchrespect and empathy for Patric Verrone because the [WGA] has so much ontheir shoulders. Not only are they negotiat
ing for themselves, butthey’re also, in a sense, negotiating for us and the DGA, AFTRA, foreverybody. They’re setting the tone. And that’s a lot ofresponsibility. This is certainly the most important negotiations in ageneration, if not of all time, in entertainment.

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Comments (17 total) Add your comment
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  • Jeffrey

    ay Leno of The Tonight Show is one of the most popular TV entertainers but is starting to get hecklers throwing stale popcorn from their couches. The once ‘King of Late Night’ desperately needs the writer’s strike to end and fast.
    The current Tonight Show has morphed into a combination of The Mike Douglas Show, Art Linkletter, The Red Skelton Hour and What’s My Line?. His monologue is filled with jokes that seem to have been written, or more likely memorized because of the strike, in the back of a parked Studabaker outside the Comedy Club.
    Leno has been seen, just minutes before taping, privately asking audience members if they have heard a good one lately. He has a staffer monitoring the trucker’s CB channel as they banter and trade jokes. The writers union does not cover CB content.
    The Tonight Show will return back to its monolithic self, but not until the writer’s union gets off its fat post script.

  • Alan

    oooh…Alan Rosenberg has not aged well at all…

  • Garry

    Does anyone know if Alan Rosenberg is in ill health? The last few times I’ve seen him on TV (plus the photo accompanying this interview), he has looked very sickly–and I know he isn’t that old.
    And, no, I’m not missing the point of the interview, I just couldn’t help mentioning it.

  • kelly

    What bothers me most about all the comments made is how the “poor writers and actors are suffering”. Yes, clearly they are, but what about those of us who work as crew in film production? The middle man? I often wonder if Patric and friends are thinking about how they are not only making the employers suffer, but those of us who earn a living in this business as well? Our health care is also running out, people are close to homeless and bankrupt after three months of this! I am from Canada, and we have taken several pay cuts within our union in order to help out… I am sick of all the greed in this industry on all sides!

  • alex

    Don’t forget the background artists who support SAG and the WGA and are having a difficult time during the strike. Think of the seat fillers at the award shows, the stand ins, the production assistants and lets not forget the casting directors who are all waiting for an appropriate resolution to the strike.

  • TB

    Sorry, but this strike is about one thing only – greed. If there was ever any doubt about the excessive money made by the writers, the strike has swept it away. Obviously, they can afford to be out of work for months. Unfortunately, the strike impacts thousands more who cannot afford it. The WGA should take a moment to think of them instead of worrying about lining their pockets with yet more money. And SAG is no better by continuing to support the WGA. Take a stand and cross the line.

  • Anonymous

    All I hear about is the various union workers who are out of work. Or the people who “sweep the floor and serve the food”. How about the multitude of non union workers who have lost their jobs. If this goes on much longer I will probably lose my house. I can’t believe I’ve worked in this business for 20 years and didn’t realize how uncaring this industry is.It is obvious that both sides couldn’t care less about the rest of us in this business.

  • Roger

    Why place all the blame on the WGA TB? Doesn’t the AMPTP share the blame? They say they need more time to study if new technology like DVDs and the Internet can turn a profit. ? Are they kidding?!! Who are they trying to fool? Didn’t they say the same thing to the WGA when VHS came out? Another thing, if small companies like Worldwide Pants and United Artists can make fair deals with the writers, why can’t these big studios? I’ll tell you why, it’s the same greed you accuse the writers of having.

  • Tim

    My only real comment is that if anyone out there puts ‘writers’ and ‘excessive money’ in the same sentence, they really are completely clueless. The writers make a tiny fraction of the producers’ pay, and frankly, don’t do much. The show would go on without the producers, but not without the writers (as we’ve just seen). Shouldn’t there be a fairer distribution of the money generated? TV writers get shafted compared to book writers, for instance.

  • Tim

    Sorry, to clarify: the ‘producers’ don’t do much. Why do you think that all of the actors want a producing credit? The producers get the lions share of the residuals (far exceeding the actors, and vastly exceeding the writer’s share).

  • SoCalScribe

    The truth is, nobody wanted a strike except the AMPTP which gets to invoke Force Majeur to cancel a bunch of seemingly unprofitable deals and weaken all three talent guilds.
    The AMPTP is getting a painful reminder that without writers, NOBODY else in this business would have a job because it all begins with the script.
    As painful as an extended strike is, it’s important to remember that if the WGA, SAG and DGA accept bad deals simply to put everyone back to work now, it will cost everyone (writers, actors, directors and even IA members via their health/welfare/pension funds) a lot more in the long run.
    If fair new media formulae aren’t established now, it will be damned near impossible to re-negotiate that three years from now with the next contracts. The guilds and the AMPTP both know it. That’s why everyone is fighting so hard to set the RIGHT precedent NOW so we won’t have to fight this battle again three years from now.

  • ripley

    All the people who are suffering (crew etc) because of the writers strike will benefit if the writers get the deal they are fighting for. Plus, when those people go to negotiate on their own contracts, which will surely happen, they know the writers will support them as well! don’t be fooled by the divisive language, it only helps the AMPTP divide and conquer their employees.
    People are talking like the writers have more power and more money than the big corporations they are fighting! It’s simply not true. Blame the corporations for not negotiating with the writers and forcing them to stay out on strike.
    The writers themselves are taking a huge hit on this, in order to show the corporations that they cannot treat their workers with impunity. A win on this will benefit all employees of these corporations.

  • Kok

    “Excessive money, that a writer earns”??
    1. You have to break the work of month (I am talking of Europe) down to $ per hour. And this ends up in Minimum Wage, more often than not.
    2. How would a producer of a car, aka a factory worker, react, when he is told, that he does not get his wage for every car, that is sold via Internet?

  • whatthefuk

    All you have to say is Alan looks sick. This one of the most important negotiations in many years that will change everthing. Wait as long as is takes, you deserve every penny.

  • Susan Elliott

    Keep up the good work mate. Without stand-up folk like yourself and the support of your gorgeous wife Marj us artist’ would starve. Well done!

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