Why the actors' strike won't happen.

Inside the big picture show.
June 26 2008 1:13 PM

Reality Bites

Why the actors' strike won't happen.

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Jack Nicholson. Click image to expand.
Jack Nicholson

Actors' strike? We have been reluctant to address the latest labor conflict in Hollywood, but with the Screen Actors Guild contract set to expire Monday, we turn to the subject just long enough to say this about a strike: There's not going to be one.

Not that there's going to be peace and love between the studios and SAG. Things may get ugly, but there will be no strike.

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Brief recap: Normally the Screen Actors Guild joins hands with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—overcoming mutual dislike and distrust—to negotiate a deal with the studios. Not this time. AFTRA cut its own deal, and members are set to vote on it by July 8. (AFTRA is smaller than SAG, which has jurisdiction over studio films and most scripted prime-time shows.)

SAG is trying to convince members who also belong to AFTRA that they must reject the deal. Lots of actors, including Tom Hanks and Sally Field, support the AFTRA deal. Others, including Jack Nicholson and Sandra Oh, back SAG.

We predict that AFTRA members will approve the contract. Before that can happen, however, SAG's deal expires on June 30. And that creates the potential for a voyage into the twilight zone, with no deal, no bargaining, and no production going forward.

Already, production has slowed way down in Hollywood because no one wants to be caught with the cameras rolling if the actors were to walk. But SAG hasn't even called for strike authorization (which would take three weeks and the approval of 75 percent of those voting). The reason seems obvious: The union wouldn't get it. The economy sucks, and the rank and file simply don't have the appetite for a strike after the Writers Guild walkout earlier this year.

So if (when) the AFTRA deal is approved, SAG seems likely to be left as the lone holdout. At some point, it seems clear that SAG will have to sue for peace. Perhaps the studios will give SAG a fig leaf—allow the union to say it improved on AFTRA's terms in a couple of respects. But entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel, who keeps a watchful eye on Hollywood's labor turmoil, puts it this way: SAG has overplayed a weak hand.

Note that we're not addressing the merits of SAG's arguments that actors deserve an improved deal in new media, more money for DVDs, and a host of other areas. We're just sticking with something that makes a lot of money for industry executives these days even if it kind of sucks: reality. (link)

June 17, 2008

Correction: This piece raised questions about a photograph of Claus von Stauffenberg that appeared in a United Artists promotional campaign for the movie Valkyrie. The piece pointed out that the photo UA used looked more like Tom Cruise, the star of the film, than a similar-looking AP photo of von Stauffenberg. Because of insufficient photo research by Slate's editors, we failed to discover another archival image of von Stauffenberg, which appears to be the one UA used in its publicity campaign. As a result of this mistake, the question the piece raised—whether the photo had been doctored in an effort to make Claus von Stauffenberg look more like Tom Cruise—was unwarranted.