A Stab At Explaining This SAG Nonsense

Trying to explain why, even though it does not appear the Screen Actors’ Guild is actually going to strike anytime soon, I am frustrated with the lack of progress in the talks, is a little hard to explain.

The stalemate has brought all feature production to a grinding halt, and because of the weird timing of the pilot I’m on (even if it gets picked up, it won’t go for a few months, and almost all other TV in town has already started up), I had been looking to hop on a feature when it finishes in a couple weeks.

So, why is a stalemate a bad thing for feature films? Well, I’ll try to explain.

Were the Screen Actors’ Guild to strike, everything would shut down immediately because without actors, there is nothing to shoot. That’s the easy-to-explain, apocalyptic part.

In a stalemate, which is where we are now, the actors are not striking, but they have not signed a deal and could theoretically strike at any time.

With a stalemate, TV shows keep shooting because they have all the actors under contract for basically the entire year. Were a strike to happen, they would give the crew an unpaid hiatus for the duration of the strike, and then everyone would come back to work when it’s over (assuming a short strike of about a month or so, which everyone is).

With films during a stalemate, you run into the big problem of actor scheduling: While television shows have the principal actors under contract essentially year-round, every film has a very short window in which its principals are under contract.

For example, pulling a name that’s fun to type out of the air, let’s say Jake Gyllenhaal is scheduled to do a film that starts tomorrow, and finishes in early September. Then, he’s scheduled to go on to a second film that starts in mid-September.

If the actors strike, it will eat up all the time that he was on film #1, and they still lose him to film #2 in mid-September. The fact that the strike is happening does not push everything back, it just makes the time disappear.

Why is this a problem? Well, the main issue is that because a SAG strike could completely fuck up actors’ schedules, major films can’t get what’s called a completion bond.

This is a very large insurance policy that will pay the a substantial portion of the cost of production should the film not be completed for some reason beyond the control of production (actor is hit by a bus and/or drops dead in the middle of production, earthquake destroys Los Angeles during shooting, whatever).

The insurance companies don’t want to give completion bonds right now because if Gyllenhaal starts shooting film #1 and SAG strikes for a month in August, he will still have to move on to film #2 on the same schedule. Film #1 could potentially only be half-finished and largely unusable, and the insurance company would be on the hook for the money.

If you can’t get a completion bond (and right now, you can’t unless you have a waiver from SAG, which you can only get if you’re a small independent production not part of the AMPTP), the studio will not give you the money to make your movie.

So everyone on the features side is pretty much sitting tight, waiting for SAG to make a deal. Once they make a deal, plenty of stuff will start up, and hopefully many of us will be gainfully employed once again.

We’ll see what happens. Again, I’m in a bit of an odd spot with scheduling, but hopefully by the end of July this will get sorted out, and I’ll land on something or other. I’ll probably get an involuntary break of a month or so, but hopefully not much longer.

I hope that sort of clarifies for those of you who don’t have to deal with this glorious horseshit on a daily basis what’s happening and why, and why while people in LA are worried about this, most of the national entertainment press is pretty much ignoring it.

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