1) As technology continues to accelerate, what plans do you have to increase the union’s IT capabilities, especially as it pertains to staff allocation and member interface?
That’s a great question and an important topic. Technology is central to me and my work as SAG-AFTRA president.
Over the last several years, I’ve expanded my focus to include a deep dive into technology. There is no greater force impacting our industry than the immense changes brought about by technological evolution. I chair the professional sector committee of the AFL-CIO Commission on the Future of Work and Unions. I do this because I want to prepare our membership and our union for the work that is coming in the future. The changes that are occurring will have a direct affect on our ability to make a living. Finding ways to prepare our members so that they can continue to thrive in the work they love is exactly where our focus should be.
• I have worked with leadership within the union and other colleagues on fact-finding research trips, seminars and conferences including:
o Carnegie Mellon University
o Massachusetts Institute of Technology
When I first came in to union service more than ten years ago, most of our work was done on paper – manually. But through the terrific work of our NED David White and Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Daniel Inukai, we have digitized dozens of systems.
We’re looking at new technologies that help us better enforce our contracts, make it easier to track residuals and get paid.
Part of our success has come because of our focus on strategy, planning and preparation. I guarantee you that our decision making has been better because of that, and because it has been led by strong member input.
We will continue to advance and develop the initiatives already in process like enhancements to the member mobile app – adding easy contract lookups and reporting from your mobile. Technology has been the backbone of many of our other achievements including the —
• New website
• Expanded eblast capabilities
• Expanded education and outreach opportunities
We’re also looking at using Artificial Intelligence protocols to help us find unpaid residuals. All of these programs will continue and grow.
Because the important thing is more money in our members’ pockets — and technology will help get us there.
2) Actor’s Equity recently held a vote on removing the dues cap. What are your thoughts regarding raising the SAG-AFTRA dues cap to match the rise of inflation since the number was set?
I think that is an important question and one I have been looking into.
First, understand that we are very different from Equity – they are much smaller and may have different procedures. Any decisions would be made in close consultation with the Finance Committee and Secretary-Treasurer. That’s why I am especially looking forward to having Camryn Manheim’s financial expertise, business experience and overall good judgment. She would be an outstanding Secretary-Treasurer and the best person to lead this review and assessment.
There is a democratic process. Should the finance committee determine that this is something that should be looked at and if we chose to move forward, it would require a 2/3s vote of the convention delegates. It’s an important proposal to consider and we are doing so.
3) Given the recent breakdown between the WGA & ATA and the fact that our members are also deeply impacted by agency conflicts of interest like packaging fees and producing, do you plan to negotiate a SAG-AFTRA franchise agreement with the ATA and/or end the suspension of Rule 16(g)?
I fully support the WGA in doing what it needs to in order to protect its members. I’ll do what is necessary to protect SAG-AFTRA members, but our situation and the WGA’s are not the same. We should be very careful not to conflate them. While we share some of the same issues, the circumstances that have gotten us to this point along with the differences in our membership lead us to potentially a different place than WGA.
When Screen Actors Guild lost its agency franchise through a member vote, it was an example of the members speaking, but the leaders who actively advocated for that outcome did not understand the repercussions they were creating. They had no strategy.
The suspension of Rule 16 (g) in the early 2000’s prior to my union service — has had real repercussions for all members and while this is a very difficult question and a complex undertaking, I know that our Professional Representatives Committee is currently reviewing this situation and will have a recommendation to the national board.
4) During the last few years, a serious issue came to light regarding actors working “Off the Card” and the disciplinary process. Given those findings and the LA Times article regarding the actions taken against Kip Pardue, do you have any plans regarding increasing the effectiveness of our disciplinary process and penalties?
So that is actually a couple of questions that are unrelated. Let me unpack that so it is easier to address the separate elements.
First, regarding working off the card — I want you to know that I really get that times can be hard and members may feel that they are forced to make a tough decision, but staying faithful to the union is one of the most important decisions a performer can make.
There are few things more important than Rule 1 – we all agree to it when we become members and our solidarity around Rule 1 is the glue that holds the union together. Working off the card is a violation of ourselves and our fellow union members. It should not happen, and when it does, the union’s disciplinary process will be engaged to ensure that appropriate penalties are assessed to members who violate Rule1. This is an important process that is driven by a member committee.
With regard to the other matter you mentioned, members who serve on the committee and I as the president of the union cannot comment on a particular case.
That being said, I do not serve on the member disciplinary committee and do not have first-hand knowledge of those deliberations or of the penalties assessed. Much as you might not want the president of the country engaged in the judicial process, it is not appropriate for me to overstep my authority through an attempt to involve myself in this issue.
I feel terrible for the complaining member and am very glad that she reported the incident and took action against the party who harassed her. That is her right and I support all members in reporting and speaking out.
If we think the disciplinary process needs to be reviewed, then let’s take a look at it and see how we can improve it.
There is one other thing I would like to note: quite often in these matters the best course is to file charges with law enforcement. They have the power to fully investigate and to charge perpetrators. The union doesn’t have the same subpoena or investigative powers or authority that law enforcement does.
5) Recently many members have received emails from casting sites informing them about price increases in services. Do you have any plans or strategy to ease the financial burden the proliferation of online casting sites and self-tape requirements place on actors? Wouldn’t it add value to our members if SAG-AFTRA could provide our own casting site and is that feasible?
First, let me say that I hate self-taping. The costs are exorbitant and it is often a nightmare to get a quality self-tape. Regarding self-taping, the union has held multiple self-taping seminars and will continue to do so. It is a very important conversation to have with members so that they are submitting quality content. We have also opened a self-taping studio as part of our Los Angeles Conservatory and have been working with the Foundation to make these kinds of facilities available to members.
Soon, members will be able to book and use these facilities to record and send their auditions. That is a great step forward and one I think that members will value.
Many of you may recall that Screen Actors Guild spent several million dollars and four or five years developing such a casting site – it was called iActor – and it was not used by members or by the industry. That experiment did not result in a usable or useful product. Our IT team is concluding a feasibility study on redeveloping iActor into a more workable solution that would be utilized.
I’ve been talking to staff and I hope we will have the results of that review shortly. One of the challenges in this study has been how do we get casting directors, producers and directors to use the site? If they don’t, it’s meaningless. I love the aspiration. In addition to that, we are always looking at ways to leverage our organization and reduce costs.