Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Where is Howard Beale when we need him?

This is a RANT.  A real angry one.  

What’s the point of having a union if it goes against the overwhelming wishes of its members? That’s exactly what happened last week when Los Angeles Actors Equity members voted over 2-1 to keep things status quo in the small theater (99 seats or fewer) LA scene; to not demand they be paid minimum wage per hour for all performances and rehearsals – and the New York board completely dismissed their vote and implemented it anyway.

This is unconscionable!

What I don’t understand is why the LA Equity members aren’t revolting.   Hopefully they will.

Your national board just told you members to go fuck yourselves. The message is clear: They don’t give a shit what you think. And we’re only talking about your careers.

Why even conduct a vote if you completely ignore the results? Jesus! Elections in Iran are more legitimate.

My hope is that the LA branch breaks off from Actors Equity. Or files such a blizzard of lawsuits against the union that it completely strangles its ability to govern.

Here’s the issue: Small theaters make no money. For the most part they lose money. Everyone concerned does it for the love of theater. No one really gets paid – not actors, playwrights, directors, crews. The Whitefire Theatre in Studio City will be doing a one act play in June my partner, David Isaacs and I wrote. I’m also directing it. We’re making nothing. Not $9.00 an hour. Not $.09 an hour. But we’re thrilled to have the opportunity to see our work performed. We’re also employing eight actors. That means eight actors get to work on their craft, have a nice showcase, and perhaps get discovered.

And the evening will feature three one acts. Both the others also have casts of about eight. So do the math. Twenty-four actors, all the hours of rehearsal and performances – even at $9.00 an hour that adds up pretty quickly. Especially for a production where we have to buy our own props. If this ruling had already been in effect we simply would not do the production.

And this is what’s going to happen all over town. Producers will stop staging shows, small theaters will close, actors won’t work, and everybody loses (but Actors Equity). 

LA actors understand this. They make their living in TV or films or commercials. And again, they voted 2-1 to not implement new restrictions.  That's a mandate, folks. 
As it is, theaters have a tough time making ends meet. They’re all about saving costs. Plays now have to have four characters AT THE MOST and preferably two. This is why I wrote A OR B? for only two actors. Compare that to a few years ago. Even a simple play like THE ODD COUPLE, which is primarily a two-hander has a cast of seven. If written today, it would just be Felix and Oscar. That’s five more actors out of work. Now you add these new requirements and the future is clear – there is no future.

But your union clearly doesn’t care. So what if they destroy the LA theater scene? As long as they maintain their control.

At your expense.

And by the way, I’m very pro-union. I’m a proud member of the WGA, DGA, AFTRA-SAG. I totally understand that without unions the studios and networks would pay us all less than a janitor makes in Cuba while raking in billions on the wings of our work. But no one is making money in small theaters.

So now it’s time for actors to take action. Your union is supposed to represent YOU. Actors Equity most definitely does NOT. Are you going to stand for that? Are you going to let a board with its own agenda dictate your career path? Send the message. Your vote COUNTS.

It’s bad enough actors face rejection every day, but to be rejected by its own union is, to me, intolerable.

And so I ask you, even though I can’t pay you $9.00 an hour to do it, to perform one of the great acting scenes in film history. It’s from Howard Beale in NETWORK.  I think you know it.

I want you to get mad!

I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. I don't want you to write to your Congressman, because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street.

All I know is that first, you've got to get mad.

You've gotta say, "I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!"

So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out and yell...

"I'm as mad as hell,

and I'm not going to take this anymore!!"

You may not win an Oscar, but you might get your theaters back.  


MikeN said...

If there is money being earned by the actors, that allows for money to be collected by the union. Decertification of a union is not easy, but would be the first step. Or perhaps if the local union is considered on board, then you can just separate from the national group.

Mike Botula said...

Your rant is right on the mark, Ken! I've never seen such arrogance and complete disregard of the membership as shown by the Actors Equity leadership. LA should go its own way.

Eric J said...

"So what if they destroy the LA theater scene? As long as they maintain their control."

I don't get it. If they destroy the LA theater scene, what are they then in control of?

Carol said...

So the actors said 'we don't mind if we don't get paid in the small theatre, because that's where we go to hone our craft' and the union said 'tough, we're going to make the theatres pay you anyway?'

But then the teatres will just go away because they can't afford it.

Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face. Sheesh.

Tudor Queen said...

My father believed strongly in the importance of unions - his own father was a skilled craftsman whose union did, in fact, look after him and his fellow members - but maintained that his own union was highly corrupt and cared nothing for its rank and file. He told me stories of decisions the union made that were absolutely harmful to the needs of the workers. He periodically stood up against such moves, but most of the members were intimidated by the union leadership.

It was bewildering and anger-inducing. But he maintained - as I do today - that it was better to have some bad unions, which could potentially be reformed, than no unions at all.

Richard Rothrock said...

I respect your point of view, Ken, but I'm going to wait and hear what Perry Lambert has to say about this.

Oat Willie said...

"Unions? I don't want any trouble with unions! I hate unions but I'm all for 'em and don't forget I said that."
"Speed kills, Del."

Anonymous said...

"I'm a human being, goddammit! My life has value!"

Zero value based on the wage Ken would like you to earn.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this rant. I appreciate the opportunity to learn about the issue.

H Johnson said...

Ken, it's been a long while since unions were a necessity as they were several generations ago. I work for a company signatory to four different unions and I could speak for hours about the selfishness of the unions and general disregard they have for their own members. Today unions are only about their trust funds which they use at their will. They are basically non-regulated banks.

In this issue I could be cynical and speculate that they don't care about any theater that they are not gaining funds from. They would prefer the only live entertainment come from theaters large enough to pay them. The membership is inconsequential.

One more comment; I find it a bit hypocritical of you to support unions as long as you're getting the benefit of high wages, but now that you can't use low or non-paid help to stage your plays, you are upset. In this case the union action is as expected.

I understand you outrage that they ignored the member vote, but like I said, it hasn't been about the members for years.

Good luck and Aloha

Anonymous McGee (my real name) said...

SAG's low budget agreement is a nightmare for small, low-to-no budget filmmakers trying to get a foot in the door.

mmryan314 said...

I have been pro-union at times and non pro-union at times and here is why: sometimes the good old Scales of Justice dip too deeply in one direction or another making one (pro/con)too powerful. Right now because of the last six or seven years of powerful company`s treatment of workers, I am pro union.If and when the scales are close to even, I`ll rethink - or sit back and smile.

Jason said...

"Zero value based on the wage Ken would like you to earn. "

as well as two-thirds of the wage-earners themselves, apparently.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Ken. Enjoyed reading this.

Just finishing up reading 10th scripts here. Almost done. Reading scripts is hard work.

keep re-writing
and write a cool screenplay

Anonymous said...

Why the outrage? If an actor is in a union how can you argue that they shouldn’t get paid for their work?
If you want to do your play but you don’t want to pay your actors, use non-union actors. It’s simple.

In order to get into Equity, you have to be a professional stage actor -- which means you get paid for your work.

What you are saying is disrespectful to theater actors. Real professional stage actors.
Film and TV actors are in SAG-AFTRA - that is their union. And actors get paid for their work.
Stage actors are in AEA and should get paid for their work as well.

If a TV writer wants to experiment and write a play - a field in which HE has little experience or craft - then use non-union actors! And you can all explore and develop your skills together.

If you insist on using professional union actors, then pay them. Professional means they are paid!

Who are you to tell talented professional artists that they are not worth the salaries and benefits that all of the other theater artists in this country fight for?

Equity is trying to treat LA stage actors like professionals. This is a good thing.
If you want to produce your play that doesn't pay its talent, YOU CAN STILL DO IT.
It just shouldn’t be unionized work.
THAT is the point of a union.

By Ken Levine said...

I only read comments from people who have the courage of their convictions to identify themselves. I don't read anonymous comments.

Barry Traylor said...

Could the actors in California just start their own union and tell Actors Equity leadership to get stuffed?

Johnny Walker said...

Whatever side you're on, it does seem odd to ignore the vote of your members. I don't quite get the point in having one if you're just going to discard the results.

Either way, I hope this doesn't get in the way of your new play!

Dixon Steele said...

And after this, why would Equity members vote for ANYTHING, knowing that their opinion no longer really counts?

Mike said...

From my vantage point of complete ignorance of American law & acting: My impression is that not paying actors minimum wage is illegal under California law. So far the state has turned a blind eye but this is not a permanent solution. Having delayed taking a decision nine years ago, the Union is now formally obliged to act and it cannot issue an illegal directive. (The vote was 'advisory'.) In the intervening nine years, interested parties were supposed to construct a compromise which was both legal and protected small theatres, something that hasn't happened. These are the guilty. I posted one approach in the comments last time - remove the grey area and formalise the voluntary aspect.

Unions are more necessary than ever. Democracy (& economic growth) is a balance between a handful of the rich & powerful and the majority whose only power is collective. Thirty years of neoliberal capitalism has seen a massive increase of inequality in favour of the rich and a suppression of economic growth through a lack of demand caused by wage suppression (weak unions).

Jon B. said...

Let's hope a common sense resolution occurs. It seems ludicrous on it face that the union would want to drive all of the 99 seat or less theaters out of business. But that appears to be where this is heading.

Stephen Marks said...

What if one of the actors isn't working out for Ken's play, does he fire them or let them continue so they can work on 'their craft"?
What if one of the actors comes up with a better line and Ken uses it and then sells his play as a pilot, does he pay the actor? Do the actors get a meal? Coffee? Free tickets to family members? None of this is addressed by Ken. Do they sign contracts saying how many shows they have to do and hours of work? More information is needed Ken

Cap'n Bob said...

Call it community theater and no one can complain.

Albert Giesbrecht said...

As an extra in Vancouver, I have worked for no pay (Rocky IV); the work around was that the production company would donate money to charity for every extra they could sign up for the day of the shoot. Perhaps something like that could be worked out for the little theater actors?

andrea chiu said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
donald said...

This is funny.

Johnny Walker said...

Nicely put, Mike. There really should have been a solution that was legal and that also protected small theater. I don't know why one wasn't proposed.

And I still don't get the point of the vote.

Anonymous said...

Ken is ridiculous. Equity actors are most often at a professional level, that's why they're in Equity.

They don't really need to "hone their craft." That's a wildly disconnected rich man talking.

Nothing is stopping theaters from using non-equity players. It's the non-equity players who need to "hone their craft," and this will take away some of the competition for those roles in small theaters, as it should, so that non-equity players have a chance.

As for Ken, perhaps he might consider skipping one of his family vacations to Hawaii, or the Orient, and use that money to support his actors who he chooses to cast in his plays.

It AMAZES me that there are so many multi-millionaires in Los Angeles, thanks to their success as producers in assorted media, yet the actual live theater in this city is abysmal, and people like Ken have the GALL to insist Equity actors don't get paid.

There's a HUGE mental/emotional disconnect with these people. They get so much, and give back so little to the actual industry they benefit from, and they aren't even ashamed about it! They're actually cocky! Ken the millionaire thinks he's the people's fucking Howard Beal!!

His disconnect from reality is astonishing!!

He's not Howard Beal! He's Arthur Jensen, and WE have MEDDLED with the primal forces of NATURE:


Eric B.

By Ken Levine said...

See that? Eric B. left his name. While I don't agree with him I appreciate his thoughtful comment and invite my readers to check out his perspective.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me there are many talented actors in LA who work in TV/film and are members of SAG-AFTRA, but not AEA (the union for stage actors). Film and TV acting is their real job - not stage acting – and they are compensated for their day jobs. Perhaps those are the actors that might find non-paying work on an interesting new play attractive, affordable (as it is not their primary source of income), and worth the time. But it seems wrong to ask professional actors who are members of Equity and make their living from the stage to work without compensation. A union is there to protect its members and those members should be paid scale (minimum wage).

Phil R.
Proud Member of AEA

Mike Houston said...

I think it is interesting that stage actors in training shouldn't be covered by minimum wage rules. But other jobs/trades should?

If everyone else has to live with minimum wage rules, then why not this subset of actors? (I would prefer fewer rules like this). Who gets to decide what the exceptions are?

Anonymous said...

Mike - may I just clarify, if you are a member of Actors Equity, it is assumed that you are NOT an "actor in training." You are a professional stage actor.
Equity is not an easy union to join. An actor needs to put in many hours of professional work with theaters and then been be hired for a paid acting job.
There is a large community of non-Equity actors in LA.
The argument is that if you hire union, you pay union scale.
If you want to produce a play that does not pay its actors - that's fine, but then use non-union talent.

Phil R.

MikeN said...

Why don't theaters just do what other businesses do, and hire illegal immigrants to do the jobs Americans won't do?

MikeN said...

In saying that you don't read anonymous comments, you have revealed that you did read the comment.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, anyone who is SAG for over a year can buy into Equity and become an AEA member. I know several people who did that because they wanted the "union respect" and the chance to go to the EPAs without waiting 10 hours to sing. So yes, it is that easy to join. Although with so few opportunities in Los Angeles for any equity work, I don't see why anyone would want to. Part of me suspects Equity is trying to actually trim down their membership roster by making this ruling as they will for sure lose several members in the LA area and I suspect they don't really care either. There's a warped NY mentality to Equity that likes to think it's better than the west coast talent and that TV and film acting is not "real" acting.

Yet AEA is asking SAG-AFTRA (you know, the union that represents all "those" actors) for reciprocity (as all the sister unions generally do), thus putting TV and film actors who are SAG-AFTRA in a situation where they would be forced by a union they are NOT a member of to abide by that union's ruling which may prevent them from getting further work in their own professional field. It's BS.

Several of these 99-seat theatre gigs lead to larger theatre AEA contracts as well as paid TV and film gigs for many. It's great exposure and a way for many to break out of their typical "type-casting" that they may get in TV and film.

And for those who are so misguided in their thinking that what makes an actor "professional" is their paycheck and that once you reach "professional" status, you no longer need to hone your craft. EEEK! For any field, EEEK!!! Can you imagine if your doctor - as soon as they got their medical license and opened a practice - said, "Cool, I get paid now to see patients so I am not going to do any more training or go to any seminars or learn any new procedures that come out. I'm going to do the same surgeries I learned in school. F learning! Who wants to be a better doctor?! I am a PAID professional so now my learning is over." I, personally, would RUN away from that doctor as fast as I could! In any field, you have growth and learning and people DO get better with training and experience.

Taking away the 99-seat plan in LA is not going to create more paying opportunities for union actors, it's going to eliminate almost all of the opportunities for them. Theatres that cannot afford to pay minimum wage (theatres that are already losing money on every production) will go non-union or fold (or union actors will go Fi-Core which is frowned upon by the union.) NY talent is already brought in for the larger Equity houses in LA- the few ones that there are; and how about all those non-union Broadway shows touring the Pantages and Ahmanson (who charge full price tickets as if you are seeing the original Broadway cast)? If it's really about money, then Equity can go deal with that issue as that is one where they can actually collect and give more jobs to union actors. But to take away the opportunities available now to LA's theatre community -especially when it has taken several years to build and thrive- is just sad.

-Suzanne M.

Bruce Kimmel said...

It is more than hilarious that the usual pro-plan people descend wherever anyone has a contrary opinion, and continue to spread misinformation and silliness wherever they go. Good on you, Ken, for doing the blog. I love the guy who says "But I'm going to wait and hear what Perry Lambert has to say to this." Why? I think everyone who's been following the action knows exactly what Perry Lambert, the other Perry and the other usual suspects are going to say. First of all, actors ARE paid in 99-seat theater per the settlement agreement from thirty years ago. Most theaters pay well above the required stipend, so there's that, too. Where minimum wage will kill everything is the rehearsal period - that's asking a producer or theater to give a 1000% bump - sorry, can't and won't work. And, of course, they've added nonsensical things to the new "plan" which enables AEA actors to now work with NO stipend and NO protections at all.

It's not going to come down to theaters using non-union people. It's going to come down to exactly what it came down to thirty years ago - court. And AEA will be just as cowardly now as they were then and will ultimately settle out of court just as they did before. We keep hearing things about they've done this to the letter of the settlement agreement and therefore everything is legal - afraid not. There has been so much wrongdoing by this union on this referendum that to walk into a court of law with the other side would be suicide for AEA. There are many, many fine articles about the wrongdoing, about the ignoring of a majority vote, and about what this will mean - John Rubinstein, a proud Equity member for more years than some of the zealots have been alive, has waxed eloquently on it.

In the end, it will be court. And in the end, just as happened thirty years ago, right will prevail.

BTW, it's not hard to figure out who "anonymous" is - you can't disguise writing and "anonymous" has written the same exact words all over Facebook. But a coward is a coward is a coward. If you can't sign your name, you are not worth listening to.

bsalyers said...

Bruce Kimmel is SO right. And rest assured, we are PLENTY mad. The game's afoot, and these arrogant Equity bastards don't seem to realize who they're up against. Wheels are turning. Machinations are in motion. Stay tuned.

Canda said...

I agree that an actor should have the right to work in a showcase, if they so choose, knowing there will be no pay.

Where the Union has a legitimate beef, however, is that others sometimes do get paid who work on the showcase, for example a publicist. Full time employees at some of the theaters, like an Artistic Director, are also on salary. Money has to be raised to pay them. Don't musicians get paid? It's hard for me to believe the musicians union would give anyone a break.

What this new rule may do is force writers, directors and actors to have more readings, where you would cut down on rehearsal time. Or simply to use much smaller theaters, which will probably hurt the play, since you'll be giving more seats to agents, and industry people who want to see the work, which means real people won't be there, and this will not give you a true reaction.

MikeN said...

So you think actors should be able to work at these small productions for less than minimum wage. Now how about an out-of-work black teen at the corner grocery. Should he be allowed to work for $3 an hour?

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