TAKE OWNERSHIP IN YOUR UNION
By Don Livesay
Arizona Executive Director
Recently, I needed to access an application on my Blackberry that I had never used before. Frankly, I never knew it was there. But now it’s discovered and it’s become a new toy, like a magnet drawing my itchy little fingers to the playground. The end result is that — as much as I resist admitting that I was lagging in any way, to many of the younger folks at least — I’m finally more connected to the contemporary world than before, and my Blackberry has become more my own, more indispensable and more me.
I’m using this simple illustration to draw a parallel comparison. If you were to ask me what the most important thing you could do to make your union mean more to your professional career, I would say take ownership in it.
So how does one go about “owning” SAG? Let me suggest one way. No, I’m not going to preach to you about paying your dues, although if you haven’t paid up, that wouldn’t be a bad start. Most often, as in my Blackberry example, you first need to know what benefits Screen Actors Guild provides and find out how to apply them to your career. Certainly, with every claim resolved successfully, every question to staff answered well, and every overtime check collected, you will depend upon SAG more and more, and in doing so, I have found, Screen Actors Guild will increasingly become more your own. Knowledge and using that knowledge effectively are critical.
But what you don’t know about SAG matters a lot, and I’m convinced few members fully know about the valuable information they have quite literally at their fingertips. SAG.org is the go-to place for almost everything you need to know about your union.
You might be aware that contract summaries are posted there, but did you know, for instance, that you can find out if a project you have been booked in is union? Or claim lost residual checks, read up on past issues of the Arizona Close-Up newsletter and start a search for a SAG talent agent, all at SAG.org? And are you aware you can find a list of local casting directors and even point a producer to where she can start taking the steps needed to hire you in her film? Moreover, all our industry partners are listed at SAG.org, partners like SAGIndie, SAG Foundation and SAG Pension & Health, just to name a few, whose benefits and professional services are above and beyond those covered by SAG alone, but yours nonetheless.
What you know means everything to your success in this business, and in a future article I’ll share more about how important your knowledge about SAG, particularly about contract protection, can make a huge difference in your career. In the meantime, take ownership in all you have in the card you carry. Go to SAG.org. Just browse around and learn.
Know it and own it!
CRAZY UNORGANIZED CASTING DIRECTORS, PART II
By Faith Hibbs-Clark, CSA
Good Faith Casting, LLC
In the previous article, I shared with you some of the craziness of what goes into prepping for a casting. Now, here is the casting.
So, fast-forward through a few hours of restless sleep the night before and it is now the morning of the audition. I arrive at the office bright and early to clean up from another audition the day before. Actors love to leave candy wrappers, soda cans and water bottles in our office. I check the cameras, tapes, lights, put out the sign-in sheets, boot up the computers, and just as I am walking out to dump a big bag of garbage, I am face to face with an actor in my doorway.
I look at the actor, then the clock, then back at the actor, and think to myself, “It can’t be time to start already; I still have an hour to clean up.”
The actor looks at me, looks at the trash in my hand, and confused, he asks, “Am I early?”
“Probably,” I respond, trying terribly to overcome any tone of sarcasm in my voice. He sits down in the waiting room I tell him that when my staff gets in, they will get him all checked in.
But, no, oh no! It can’t be that simple. The actor has seized this moment to be his golden opportunity to pick my brain!
The phone rings, it is my client. The actor begins, “I was wondering if you know of any agents in L.A.?”
“What? Hang on; my client is on the phone,” I mutter, taking the phone into the back room. In less than three minutes, my client tells me that they have cut one of the spots, so we no longer need to audition for the role of the businessman, and that we have a new script for the clerk role. Oh, and the director asks if we could audition both boys and girls for the kids’ roles and audition them together. I learned a long time ago that you never say “no” to the client, so I assured them that I was “on it.”
I hang up the phone and walk back into the waiting room, where there are now three more early actors, all in business suits and, of course, all auditioning for the businessman. Mr. Golden Opportunity is still asking me about agents in L.A. while I am thinking to myself how I am going to tell him that his role just got cut.
So, now the auditions begin. My staff is here, and while one person is checking in the actors, I am auditioning and my assistant is uploading auditions to the Internet, emailing and calling actors and agents about the additional roles the client just requested, and, on top of everything, getting messages out that the businessman role has been cancelled. “So please try to stop the actors if they haven’t left already,” she gulps. “Oh, and do you have any 4-year-old boys?”
I walk out to get another actor, and my office assistant at the front desk tells me that “so and so” has been in a fender bender and will be late. Actors must have some of the highest car insurance rates, because, I kid you not, for every audition it seems at least one actor has an “accident.”
I look to the sign-in sheet on the front desk to see who I need to take in to audition next. “Jane Smith,” I say loudly. “Oh, she went downstairs to the bathroom,” says one of the other actors waiting. “No, I think that is her outside on her cell phone," says my office assistant. I open the door, “We are ready for you.” She puts a finger in the air as if to indicate “give me a minute,” so I go back to my list. I am not going to wait till she finishes her phone call when we are already getting behind schedule.
“Excuse me…miss,” a voice whispers. “I have been here for almost an hour and I am late for another audition. Can I go next?”
“Oh, no,” I think to myself, “This can’t be happening. I don’t want an hour union violation on my record.” I throw my hands up, “Yes, yes, yes, of course, come right in, and what is your name? What? Who? Wait a minute, what is your name? But, I don’t have you on my schedule? Who is your agent?”
And then it all becomes crystal clear. This is Ms. Twitter-Facebook. This is the girl that never confirmed her appointment with her agent or with me, but posted it to her Twitter and Facebook friends right after she got the message from her agent that she was requested for an audition with Good Faith Casting (see part I of article), and whose time slot had already been given to someone else. It is times like this that, as a casting director, you have to make judgment calls. Do I take the time to explain how she should tell her agent that she accepts an audition rather than twittering to her friends, or do I set a standard for the industry and just ask her to leave?”
I quickly determined that it would take less time for me to just get both girls in and out of the audition and address the situation with the agent later. Besides, I don’t want to break her heart.
Great, back on schedule, but here is my point. Here is why people say that casting directors are crazy and unorganized. Look at what the other actors in the waiting room heard when this happened? They heard “I have been here almost an hour,” “I never got a script,” “My audition was for 11 a.m. too,” “Your name is not on my schedule.” To the other actors sitting there observing, it would certainly appear that I was out of control. However, even though we had to send the actors auditioning for the businessman home, come up with 4-year-old boys on the same day of the audition while auditioning the other roles, audition them at the same time as the 4-year-old girls already scheduled without going overtime, and have the video compressed and uploaded to the Internet by 6 p.m., we ended up on time with very happy clients and a great cast, all booked here from Arizona!
BOOKPALS TAKE STAGE AT HUMANITIES FESTIVAL
By Ellen Dean
AZ BookPALS Coordinator
Here's a look at what BookPALS did at the Arizona Humanities Festival on October 22. Thank you to all the BookPALS volunteers who participated. It was a good first appearance at the Festival.
Other events this season included two BookPALS training sessions in Tucson, one near the University of Arizona and another at Saddlebrook in Catalina. Both were well-attended. Thirty new BookPALS signed up to read in the next year!
BookPALS (Performing Artists for Literacy in Schools) is an all-volunteer program sponsored by the Screen Actors Guild Foundation that puts actors, broadcasters, theater students and trained community volunteers into high-risk elementary schools to read aloud to classes of children once a week for an hour to get them excited about books and reading.
Children need caring, reliable adults in their lives. Won’t you be one of those who makes a difference?
If you are one, call Ellen Dean, Arizona BookPALS Coordinator, (602) 750-2923. For more information visit bookpals.net.
OUR NEWSLETTER DEPENDS ON YOU
The Arizona Close Up is published quarterly by the Arizona Branch. Your ideas and articles are what make it work and are respectfully requested. Please send them to Executive Director Don Livesay at email@example.com. This is your newsletter and we need YOU. And thanks!
— Arizona Close-Up Editor Betsy Beard
Greetings fellow actors!
October was a busy month for the Guild and our Branch! The National Board Meeting was held in Los Angeles October 20-23, and our semiannual membership meeting was held at ASU on October 29.
Nationally, the dominant focus was on the discussion for a single union for performers. Membership may see a referendum on a merger in early 2012; there is still much to be done, but we are moving forward on the concept of a single, national, union. The atmosphere in the room was generally harmonious and I believe that our regional voice is being heard. (Please see Steve Fried’s article for more information on this topic).
There is an increasing embrace of technology by the Guild. There is more information and processing technology online — producers can completely execute certain contracts via the Web, members can pay bills online (you DID know you can pay your dues online?) and turnaround time for residuals processing is quicker.
At the president’s caucus and meeting and at the RBD meeting, there was much discussion on such common issues as Rules 1 and 9 concerns, organizing and right-to-work concerns. Consensus centered on the importance of providing consistent education for members and non-members about the value of a collective voice.
A big thank-you goes out to ASU’s theatre and film’s professor, Miguel Valenti, and a great group of young filmmakers for hosting a flawless membership meeting! For those of you that couldn’t make it, all I can say is that you missed a good one! The big news was that SAG President Ken Howard was our featured guest.
SAG President Ken Howard and Arizona Council members at the Branch membership meeting on October 29, 2011. Back row, from left, Kyle Marsh, Deborah Lee Hall, Amanda Melby, Sean Kapera, Steve Fried and Elaine Moe. Front row, Ted Raymond, Mark DeMichele, Howard, Branch Executive Don Livesay, Linda Rae Jurgens and Burney Starks.
The afternoon began with a new member orientation hosted by National Board Director Steve Fried, Council Member Amanda Melby and Arizona Executive Director Don Livesay.
Mr. Howard arrived about 3 p.m. and spoke first about the process and progress of the Group for One Union (G1). He then took questions from the membership.
After the members-only event, the room was opened to anyone interested in attending A Conversation with Ken Howard, where film school students taped and participated in a multicamera interview. Amanda Melby and I served as hosts, and the program consisted of prepared questions and an audience Q&A. The film school team is editing a final version to become part of the SAG Foundation’s Conversations series.
The day ended with a brief council meeting and dinner where, after taking care of a few agenda items, Mr. Howard again took questions from council members about any areas of concern, as well as telling one or two amusing tales from his 40-plus year career. Overall, Howard gave a remarkable amount of attention to the Arizona membership, giving us a true voice in the democratic process of the Guild and an example of the concept that we are indeed a national union.
Please remember that this is your union and you are welcome to become as involved as you wish. Attend a council meeting, help out on one of our committees, or come to a fun event like the SAG Awards Party on January 29. In the meantime, keep your skills sharp and your dues current!
President Howard answers questions posed by Amanda Melby and Mark DeMichele at the Conversations event held at Arizona State University on October 29, 2011.
By Steve Fried
Arizona National Board Director
Uniting AFTRA and SAG remains the top priority for both unions. Because of the process used to attain that goal, we will not know details until January 2012 with a membership referendum in the spring, although minor delays could occur. So here’s what’s going on and why (in my opinion) we should support it.
First, the process. General details are not being announced; attaining consensus from the representatives of both unions is in progress. Until all the pieces are agreed upon, no announcements will be made. Although the unions have many similarities, there are also great differences. For example, SAG elects its national officers by direct ballot mailed to the membership, whereas AFTRA does it during their national convention with delegates having member proxies. Although the SAG and AFTRA Branches and Locals are governed by nationally approved rules of procedure, the AFTRA Locals now have more autonomy than the SAG Branches. The makeup of the membership is slightly different; for example, AFTRA has different categories of membership including broadcasters and recording artists, among others. The criteria for membership are slightly different. Molding the myriad of different concerns into an efficient “one union” is the task being addressed by the joint committee. Although agreement will surely be reached on some issues, final approval is contingent on agreement on the remaining issues, since the resolution of the remaining issues could impact those previously agreed upon. You can bet that whatever is recommended to us by the joint merger committee will not please everyone.
So, why should you vote for whatever is recommended by the joint committee? It is simple: It’s gotta get done!
Where’s the down side?
Well, there ain't one! Rest assured there are those that will conjure up some negative thought. Oh, like, are the base dues going to increase? My opinion is that it's a possibility, but that is not a reason to disapprove of the plan. It costs money to operate any organization. The greater clout of the 140,000-150,000-member new union will be worth the added cost. All members will reap the benefits.
Regardless of how often you work, or the amount you earn, the structure of the new union should not affect you; however, it is reasonable to expect consequences regarding pension and health. Remember that the P&H plans are separate entities from either union and are governed under their own trust agreements. The trustees of the plans have a fiduciary responsibility to the plan and to protect the interests of those in the plan. It is reasonable to presume that after the merger happens, the trustees will act to insure continued benefits and likely a combination of the plans, or perhaps keeping the current plans and creating new plans. Federal law prohibits the reduction or elimination of already accrued benefits for any participants in almost every situation, so the combination of the plans should not result in any reductions. So, working actors and those vested in the P&H plans shouldn’t worry. Those not in favor of merger will use this issue to get you to vote “no” under the guise that if you don’t know (which you won’t) how P&H is going to turn out, vote no. Do not be fooled by this scare tactic. Remember, a merged union will increase our bargaining power and pave the way for improvements in or protection of benefits.
As previously said, there really isn’t a downside to the merger. Perhaps those who are now elected leaders of each union may try to find an obscure glitch only because they are comfortable in the current administrative structure of their respective union and aren’t willing to see the big picture. Changing technologies and the need to streamline administration mandate approval of combining AFTRA and SAG.
If you haven't already, read the One Union fact sheets disseminated jointly by SAG and AFTRA. One addresses frequently asked questions and the other focuses on P&H. If you need copies, visit SAG.org/OneUnion or email Don Livesay at firstname.lastname@example.org. Both documents are well written and tell it like it is.
If you have an issue, especially a deal-breaker, in your thoughts, let me know. The committee is continually asking for and receiving input to insure all bases are covered in the presentation. More to comment on when details are released.
To be continued…
By Linda Rae Jurgens
In mid-November, I will be shooting an ASU Film Department Capstone film called Neighbor. It's about a POW who falls in love with the woman next door. I play the neighbor.
Most of the ASU parts I have gotten have been word-of-mouth, directed by students that worked on a previous film that I did for their directors when they were undergraduates. Whenever a part comes up that they think I could do, they contact me. It helps me keep up my acting skills, yet by working under an approved SAG Student Film Agreement, I do no damage to my SAG status, something that means a lot to me.
I feel disheartened about the non-union controversy; when I try to talk to non-union members, they just laugh and tell me they are happy where they are, and that seems to be the truth.
We SAG members have to get out and promote ourselves the old fashioned way — by cultivating relationships and dropping off an 8x10 and resume. Everyone is so inundated with emails these days that they don't pay attention anymore, and our message is too easy to delete. I think the "word-of-mouth" idea might work, too; it’s been working for me.
The bottom line is I am not going against my union for shabby work, and of course, on a student contract, I'm not being paid, but I will forever be proud of my status as a union member.
By Rodd Wolff
Stunt & Safety Chair
Rodd Wolff on Bright Eyes
I train my own horses and, to date, I’ve had nine falling horses. I firmly believe that communication and confidence between man and horse is of paramount importance.
As a case in point, consider this: Does your horse shy at loud noises or unusual sights? A stunt horse cannot. Furthermore, he is expected to do such things as fall down in the middle of a battlefield on cue and without hesitation, which is the most unnatural thing in the world for a horse to do. Bombs are going off, people are shooting guns (like Rambo III), the man on his back is acting afraid and this fear is transmitted to the horse. The last thing he wants to do is fall down in the middle of this confusion. If the lessons of his trainer are ingrained, not to mention his confidence in his rider, he’ll fall on cue right in front of the camera, just as the bomb explodes beside him.
The actual threat to the trained stunt horse is minimal, if not nonexistent, in such situations. The only real danger comes when a horse is improperly, or inadequately trained, or worse, not trained at all. My horse Sandy (34 years old) has taken hundreds of falls and resides in peaceful retirement in the pasture beside my home. Ebie, a black bay mare, has currently taken over for him.
Young horses are usually preferred in training, yet movies call for all ages, sizes, shapes and colors of horses. Just as humans have varying degrees of intelligence, learning ability varies from horse to horse. However, many horses can be conditioned to meet unnatural situations and perform reliably.
I take my time with the animal. Confidence is not a quality you can instill overnight. I always talk quietly and calmly to him, pet him, give him grain or a bit of carrot, make him gentle, and let him know he can trust me. I feel this phase of training is the most important. You can apply the same approach to any horse, no matter what it is you want to teach him.
It is only after trust and communication are well established that I move into phase two of training. I start the horse out in familiar surroundings, asking him to do only simple things at first, and always rewarding him with a handful of grain and earful of praise. I prepare a soft bed of sand and sawdust so that falling will not be an unpleasant experience. Nobody likes to fall on hard ground, even me. Then I hobble the horse so he goes down on one knee, again accompanied by much praise.
After several days, when the horse knows exactly what to expect, and what is expected of him, I bring him down on both knees, and so on until after several weeks, the horse will lie down on command, without fear or hesitation. Only then will I mount the horse and, standing, still give the command accompanied by a pull of the reins.
Communication is by this time so well established that the horse obeys immediately. Then I move from a walk, a trot, and finally a lope, but even then training is not complete.
Now what I have is a horse that will fall in my back yard. What I really need is a horse that will fall anywhere, anytime I ask him. At this point, I move the horse from place to place and situation to situation, always asking the same thing of him. The total process of creating a top-notch falling horse could take about a year. Though he is often used on a film long before that, total reliability takes at least that long. A stuntman often stakes his life and health on the dependability of his horse. Though dependability may not be a quality inherent in all of our four-footed friends, I’m sure that it can be instilled in many horses with the proper mixture of patience, know-how and discipline.
Some of the great stuntmen with their falling horses are Jack Williams and Coco, Chuck Robertson and Cocaine, Chuck Hayward and Twinkle Toes and David Wilding and Daisy.
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SHARE YOUR STORY
The concept behind Chicago’s e-news articles (check out Chicago’s The Activator and Playback), “What is your story?” originated in our Branch newsletter through the creativity of our editor Betsy Beard. SAG editors in newsletters all over the country are now using this concept. So, again, we ask you: What was it that made you join? How did you feel when you finally became a member? What was your first union job? How has AFTRA or SAG helped your career? We'd like to hear your "how I joined the union" story. Send your personal remembrances to our Executive Director Don Livesay, at email@example.com; we’ll consider them for future issues.
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