Hollywood strike: a long-running showdown?
Hollywood, Calif. — Her name is Barrie Howard, but it could be Jane Doe for all that it means to television viewers. She is an actress, one whose face in one of the many picket lines in front of Hollywood movie studios these days would not be noticed by autograph hounds and reporters thronging the likes of Alan Alda, Charlton Heston and Henry Winkler.
But as Barrie Howard will tell you herself, it's people like her that the on- going, six-week-old actors' strike is all about.
She is one of the 47,000 actors and actresses who belong to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), an organization which, at any given time, can boast of employment for only 10 percent of its members.
Along with 91 percent of her SAG colleagues, she voted to strike last July 21 , clossing down production on countless films and series under way on Hollywood's numerous movie lots and television studios.
At issue in the dispute, the most far-reaching of its kind in 20 years, is the burgeoning pay-television and home video market -- and the actors' demand for a slice of the profits in a field many believe will be the future of the entertainment industry.
Barrie Howard, who is never seen on television but is heard in several series as the voice of a telephone operator or hospital page, is one of those hardest hit by the strike. And she is also one of its many ardent supporters.
She is caught in the middle layer of her profession: well below the 2.4 percent of SAG's members who earn a comfortable $50,000-a-year and more (only 0. 9 percent make over $100,000 annually), but also well above the nearly 82 percent who earn less than $5,000 yearly as actors and generally have the financial cushion of a second job to see them through the strike.
For the past six weeks, the actress and her family have lived on unemployment checks and "residual" payments for reruns of shows she has already done.
That money, she figures, will last another few months.
But like the numerous hard-core strikers whom she is helping to organize she insists she will hold out until, as a fellow worker puts it, "they [management] decide that we're right."
"This video cassette thing is such a strong stand, and it's one we have to take, or else we're in trouble," says Rae Dawn Chog, who, at 19, has been doing commercials, films, and guest spots on television series for seven years.
"We have to realize people aren't going to be going to movies as much anymore when they can stay home and watch it on a video cassette machine for free," says the young actress.
As negotiations between representatives of some 75 studios, networks, and independent producers and SAG continued Aug. 27 into their seventh straight day here (after a breakdown Aug. 4), off-the-cuff estimates as to how long the standoff will last vary from a few weeks to a few months.
"Slow and painful," says SAG spokeswoman Kim Fellner of the talks, which also include actors' demands for a hike in minimum salaries and an increase in payments from the sale of theatrical movies to television.
"There's no point in talking about what our stand was last Thursday (Aug. 21) when we've been talking for seven days," said Phillip Myers, spokesman for the producers, of the actors' demands.
"Obviously something has got to change," he told the Monitor.
The main point of discussion the past seven days has been home video.Many proposals have gone back and forth, but nothing has been resolved.
In the meantime, the effects of the strike have been far reaching. Television networks have been forced to shelve fall season premiere schedules, relying instead on variety shows and first-run movies not affected by the strike. Even when the dispute is settled, says Phil Kriegler, ABC's vice-president of public relations, there will be another four-to-six week lapse before new programming will be ready to air.
The economic impact of the strike has been felt as well.
Although many industry spokesmen refuse to discuss the imbroglio in terms of dollars and cents, the most recent estimate in strike circles is a loss of $40 million to the local economy.
What is more, the actors strike has triggered layoffs for thousands of other nonacting and post-production employees, ranging from cameramen and animal trainers to truck drivers and electricians, who cannot work because almost all production has been shut down.
With their immediate futures will uncertain, the striking actors are looking for ways to care for their own. In the wake of recent agreements signed on SAG's terms by some independent producers, including Francis Ford Coppola and Mel Brooks, and one major studio, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. Productions, some actors are working. But the majority remain unemployed.
As a result of brainstorming sessions among some of the business's top wage-earners, an "all star" benefit featuring celebrities as performers, hosts, and ushers will be held Sept. 16 at the Hollywood Bowl.
Organizers say they hope to raise as much as $250,00 to bolster SAG's $20,00 emergency fund, which is used to help actors in severe financial straits. In addition, many SAG members who earn over $50,000 have agreed to give 1 percent of their earnings to the fund.
Even earners in that 2.4 percent bracket, however, are feeling the effects of the strike. Although paying for rent and food is not a problem, many are losing thousands of dollars in investments they can no longer make payments on.
Still others, like Allen Williams, a regular on the Lou Grant show, have not been in that bracket long enough to have any nest eggs.
"I can hold out probably another month," said the actor in an interview at SAG's strike headquarters here. "And then I may have to get another job. . . ."
"But is it worth it?" he asks, echoing the interviewer's query.
"Absolutely, without a question. . . ."