This is a critical – and potentially very exciting – time for the Screen Actors Guild, and I’m honored and grateful to be entrusted to help us navigate through it. Among the challenges facing SAG are its finances: between 2008 and 2009 SAG increased its spending by $6 million, while our income declined by $4 million, and the resulting deficit position is likely to continue for some time.
Some of the contributing factors, like the WGA strike and the global economic crisis, couldn’t be anticipated or controlled. Others were unintended consequences of decisions made by leadership. But while understanding how we got here is valuable, what’s most important is clearly assessing the current situation, anticipating its future ramifications and learning from it, so that we can manage to it.
For example, television earnings for the first half of 2009 are down 17.2% compared to a typical production year such as 2007 (early 2008 numbers were depressed by the writer’s strike). This is not a surprise, since SAG’s contract uncertainty meant that only eight network pilots (barely 10%) were shot under SAG contracts for the 2009 pilot season, while historically SAG covered nearly all that work.
But because dues are assessed on the previous year’s income, this fall-off in earnings won’t be felt fully by SAG until late 2010 and into 2011, and the impact from lost residuals will be felt for years after. What’s more, fewer SAG shows on the air may lead to fewer new members joining, which would worsen the steep decline in initiation fee income that started after the initiation fee was raised dramatically 2 years ago. We need to prepare for all of this.
But there is also promising news. While our investment advisors are still cautious about the market’s rebound, we’re pleased that our portfolio has recouped the losses it suffered last year. Since renegotiating our expired contracts, signing of new SAG production back on the rise (IS THIS TRUE YET?). Operational changes guided by Executive Director David White and Chief Financial Officer Arianna Ozzanto to address the deficit are already showing results, with elimination of 62 staff positions (13.4% of staff) going a long way toward reining in fast-rising spending without sacrificing morale and with a minimal impact on services. SAG’s residuals department, arguably hardest hit by the layoffs, is meeting with AFTRA, the DGA and WGA to discuss working cooperatively to get automated transmission of residuals information . Inspired by this kind of thinking, we’ll soon be starting a series of joint Strategic Planning and Finance Committee meetings where elected and staff can brainstorm other ways to strengthen SAG’s financial position. Your ideas are welcome, and should be sent to me at HYPERLINK “mailto:SecretaryTreasurer@SAG.org” SecretaryTreasurer@SAG.org.
When I began SAG service in1994, we confronted the challenge of bringing the Guild into the 21st century, literally and figuratively. Elected and staff worked together and achieved that goal, launching SAG’s website, automating services, initiating a legislative program, rewriting the Constitution, reaching out to independent filmmakers, and expanding the staff to handle the explosion of work from cable and other “new” areas.
Today’s challenges are no less daunting, and with the TV/Theatrical negotiation starting in a year, we can’t afford to waste a moment more with infighting or looking backward. At our National Board meeting last month, we finished all the work on the agenda and even found near unanimity on a potentially divisive subject, demonstrating what we can accomplish when we check our emotions at the door, listen carefully and stay focused on the members’ needs. I know that if we work together we can triumph in these “interesting times”, and I pledge to do all that I can to make that happen.