"I am not happy with SAG", a letter by Tony Stengel

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As a writer for Cinema Without Borders, I wanted to write about these current negotiations between unions and producers & studios. I found a SAG actor who wrote his own letter and decided what he said was something rarely published but needs to be said. This is a letter from SAG union member Tony Stengel. After you read the article please feel free to comment…thanks so much…Akiko Ashley

Before you get the idea that I am just writing to bash SAG, because I am going to a little bit. You need to know that I am a BIG supporter of the guild. I have been a member of SAG (and AFTRA) for over 20 years. I am a member of the SAG Native American Caucus and a volunteer Director at the SAG Conservatory / AFI for over 12 seasons. I have acted as Sergeant at Arms and I actively participated in the last strike. I also do more than most members (and Americans) do, and that is VOTE!

With that out of the way, I am not happy with SAG. There will always be something that a member can find fault in. We rent when we used to own our own building, the way SAG sold out the background performers when they first took jurisdiction, performers with disabilities have fallen so far off the radar that they don’t even keep stats for them, a casting website “iActor” is finally up, 15 years late, the lousy deal we got in the last contract in regard to DVD’s, etc.

But regarding the strike, first we were unsure and then we thought the WGA took care of a lot of our issues, now it seems to be a coin toss. I think there will be a strike but I hope not. A week after the WGA settled their strike I found myself at one of those small A-List Hollywood insider parties. The ones in million dollar homes with producers and Oscar winners, butler service, pictures of people with Andy Warhol, the Queen and JFK on the wall, etc. You know the type. Anyway when the small party got smaller the producers started dishing on the potential of a SAG strike, they insisted that there will be a strike. Remember this was just after the WGA strike ended, when we were all optimistic. One very big producer said something that I found very interesting. He said that “aside from the top level…actors are not partners in the industry”. Ouch!

They have respect for crew members but not the actor. I think it is because of the often lack of professionalism. I am blaming SAG! They have no standards, no training and no concerns other than Dues, Health and Pension and a bit of Safety. What other union allows untrained, unprofessional people to represent them. Could you imagine trying to join a Carpenters Union while barely knowing what a hammer is? There are no standards to even something as simple as how a resume should look. “Featured” has come to mean extra work, but it is not. Arriving late, not knowing how to hit a mark, maintain an eye line, repeat blocking in different frames or act on set -ON CAMERA, cost production money! Do we deserve a raise? Is it fair to learn on set when we are being paid, very well, to perform as professionals? I could go on but my point is this. I urge SAG members to insist that our guild negotiates hard and is not fast to strike. A strike would effect a lot of people but sadly the over 80% of SAG members who earn a living from non acting jobs will be the least effected. For the working actors and those that may become one someday, we need a piece of new media, a say in product placement, as it deprives us of potential commercial revenue, and more compensation for DVD’s. Then we need some standards put in place so that we will have deserved what we got. For too long has the word Actor been codeword for “Flake”. I am also a Director / Producer so I see both sides. I want the best for SAG members and I want them to deserve it! Join me in holding our union accountable!

Yours in solidarity,

Tony Stengel

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About Author

Akiko Ashley

Akiko Ashley is Founder and Partner in Luminetik Studios in Santa Monica California. Akiko has worked in the entertainment industry for over 30 years in video games, music, and film (producer, VFX producer, and animation production). Luminetik has done a full CG short based on their own IP ahead of it's time in "Kuriocity" with two female leads in 2007. Luminetik has worked done VFX for motion pictures, television, & commercials including a set of Superbowl Commercials for Arm & Hammer starring Jason Giambi. Akiko helped Luminetik become one of the first sponsors of DV Expo in NYC. Akiko has been a strategic advisor to Architosh magazine for 10 years and has been on the Advisory Board of Keyframe Magazine and HDRI Magazine. Akiko has been a speaker at SIGGRAPH, and did speaking engagements at Art Institute for for IGDA. Currently Akiko is freelance producer, and freelance editor and writer for young adult books, comics and magazines. In addition she is a photographer capturing candid moments of celebrities and other well known personalities.

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