IATSE Strike Ends, everyone says “duh”

I heard on the radio this morning that the American League producers and the IATSE Local One stagehands finally reached a “tentative agreement” and that the union will order its workers back to work tonight. After 3 weeks dark, most of Broadway will reopen tonight.

In contrast to the whiny, gimme attitude of the IATSE union (and other entertainment unions for that matter), last night I was listening to a report about the resurgence of the manufacturing industry in Wisconsin. Representatives from the United Steel Workers said (i’m paraphrasing), “we’ve realized that we have to work with industry, not against them, if we want to keep our jobs.” Out of necessity, due to globalization, they have learned that they can make reasonable demands of their employers in exchange for high productivity. The industry was saying that they don’t mind paying the workers a base $22/hr because the productivity is high, and the job performance is excellent.

Let’s take a page out of the Steel Worker’s book, entertainment unions! We too face a globalization problem. Production companies around the country (theatre, film, TV, variety artists, etc) are in a constant struggle to simply pay the bills and stay afloat. Many films are now shot just over the border in Canada because of the terrible climate for labor in California. Many of our members are going overseas to work because there simply aren’t enough jobs here at home, and there are too many union restrictions on what jobs they can take.

Our unions should be doing everything in their power to protect the workers in the workplace, but more importantly, in today’s global market, they should be especially concerned with protecting the very existence of our jobs! The UAW, USW, and other workers have proved time and again that the only way to effectively protect jobs is to work with industry, not against them.

In a perfect world, we would even go past protecting our jobs, and go even further toward promoting industry. Our unions should be looking for ways to promote industry, rewarding succesful, cooperative producers and production companies, and promoting growth of the industry as a whole.

It’s not just the big, fat cats in top hats vs the noble, everyman worker anymore. We need to open our eyes and see the reality of the economic pressure that is on the entertainment industry today, and do our part as workers to not only produce our best work, but to use our unity to accomplish mutually beneficial solutions to both the worker and the industry.

The Entertainment World is Falling Apart!

Last week there were two major blows in the entertainment industry. On Monday, the Writer’s Guild went on strike and later in the week, IASTE Local One, the Broadway stagehands union, also went on strike.

Broadway has been dark for several days now, and programs which rely on fresh daily writing are in endless re-runs.

Unions have played a crucial role in our country’s history. They have been behind such things as the minimum wage, child labor prohibitions, and safety initiatives in the workplace. They have been making a safe and fair workplace for many years. They have given the worker a voice, a choice, and a powerful bargaining vehicle against unfair managers and business owners.

I am a member of Actors’ Equity, the union for stage actors and stage managers, and we have been instructed to stand in “solidarity” (whatever that means) with our sister unions. But for me personally, I see my union membership in the entertainment industry as a necessary evil rather than some great thing. Without it I can’t work in the theatres I want to work in, and because of it I can’t work in the theatres I can get a job in. My union has few benefits for me as a non NYC resident.

Union stage managers have a very strange obligation. We are directly responsible for the actors in the company, but are also a member of their union. Our job was to see to it that our union protections were not infringed by the producer, but yet we are also the go between for the producer and the company. As a result, stage mangers are constantly barraged with conflicts of interest. Do they do what the actors want, the union wants, or what the producer wants. Where should their primary loyalty lie?

To give you a taste, actors work 8 of 10, meaning they can work a total of 8 hours a day in a single 10 hour period (you have to have a 2 hour break sometime). They also get 5 minute breaks every 55 minutes or 10 minute breaks every 1:20. Actors are prohibited (by most contracts) from moving scenery, having photos or video taken of them (at any time), and from essentially doing anything but showing up, putting on their costume, and performing.

Many actors are excited to join the union because they open themselves up to the world of these union entitlements. It is very difficult for management and producers when actors play the “union” card, stating they couldn’t or wouldn’t do this or that or the other just to fit their personal convenience.

In stark contrast, a few weeks ago at my current job we had some major customer issues crop up that had to be fixed immediately. Our management called an immediate halt to all development (I’m a developer) and re-tasked every developer to be a tester to help reveal and diagnose the issues.

Had I been in some developer’s union, there would have been no end to the whining and complaining at such a re-tasking. Imagine informing the actors that they would have to put down their scripts and begin painting scenery. There would be mass upheaval. Instead, we all banded together, hunkered down as a team, accomplished our goals, fixed the customer issues, and returned to our development roles a week later. It was tiring, unpleasant work, but it had to be done.

Our entertainment unions have turned from being protectors to babysitters. They create mountains of job duplication and extra expense for producers, while also creating entitlement programs and workplace restrictions that often defy logic, just to pander to a few vocal members.

While these current strikes have some interesting and important negotiation sticking points, especially the “new media” precedent that will be set, I think unions should not have the power to hold entire industries hostage.

Green Week

I was watching NBC last night, and during one of the commercial breaks on “Heroes,” they had the cast of the show do a small commercial/feature on planting trees out in front of Rockefeller Center in NYC.

I thought, “how nice. they are jumping on this green bandwagon, trying to promote eco friendly ideas and tendencies.”

Then, every NBC show I watched had some major plot element that centered around being “green.”

Then on my local news, there was several feature stories about being eco-friendly, and NBC’s green week.

Then I checked the website to see the schedule, and the whole website is now in hues of green.

Apparently, it is Green Week on NBC.

Turns out, NBC’s parent company, General Electric, has made it “Green Week” for all of their subsidiaries.

When I went to bed, I turned on talk radio, and these guys were blathering on about NBC’s Green Week. I didn’t realize promoting “green” living was such a controversial subject, but apparently they have ruffled some feathers with their green talk. They were going on and on about how Global Warming is not a proven fact, and how the earth warms and cools every few thousands of years… blah blah blah.

As I was listening to these people blather (yes, that is the right word to describe talk radio), I thought to myself, “c’mon guys… what is “Green Week” actually hurting?”

I mean, I’m going to get sick of hearing about how to have a Green Wedding on Days of Our Lives, and leaving a small carbon footprint as you travel through time on Journeyman, or how to be an eco-friendly Hero. I don’t think all this “green” promotion will really enhance the entertainment value of NBC’s shows (which it actually desperately needs), but honestly, what is green week really going to hurt?

What does it hurt to turn the lights off, turn the air conditioning up 2 degrees, drive around less, buy a more fuel efficient car, and recycle your recyclables? Who does it hurt if I use less energy? No one. Who does it hurt if a corporation uses less energy? No one. In fact, being green usually saves you money. Lots of money.

I’m just not understanding what part of that I can feel good about crusading against…

And while I’m on this subject, let me say…

Being “green” is not something you just wake up one morning and decide to do. Being “green” is a process and a way of life. We have been thinking “green” as a nation for several decades, which we don’t give ourselves enough credit for. We have made great strides in being Green:

  • Catalytic converters on cars
  • Recycling programs in major metro areas
  • Better recycling of e-waste: silicon, toner cartridges, batteries, etc.
  • Corporate use of email and document control systems to totally replace paper (most e-corporations are almost entirely paperless)

The truth is, we have grown GDP in our nation in the last 30 years while becoming greener and greener. Now is not the time for a radical shift. Let the “green” movement continue organically. We already are green and we keep getting greener and greener as it makes business sense to do so.

We stand at the brink of a new era of “green.” There is a big inflection point in American thinking now centered around looking for the next big breakthrough in energy. Everyone wants less dependence on foreign oil, dirty coal, and politically impossible nuclear energy. Something big will break, we hope. In the meantime, just use less.

It’s really as simple as that.

Beg… errr… Pledge Drives

This week has been pledge week on my local NPR (National Public Radio) affiliate. For those purist capitalists among you, NPR is the radio version of PBS which is Public Television/Radio. These don’t believe in advertising, instead they use government, corporate, and public funds to pay for their programming. What this equates to is LONG, BORING, FREQUENT pledge drives where talking heads yammer on about supporting your public station, etc, etc, etc.

I hate beg week.

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for public broadcasting and less advertising. I love watching a show on PBS and not having to suffer or fast forward through the commercials. That is BRILLIANT! But is interrupting every 15 minutes to beg for donations for 20 minutes. Isn’t there ANY better way to get money? What about the internet? What about bank robbery? Man… just stop begging me for money.

One of my favorite quotes about public television was on an episode of The West Wing. Toby is defending a spending bill on public television to some congress members visiting the White House in this spirited exchange:

“There’s one other thing: product licensing for Big Bird dolls and Fuzzy Bear toys?”

“That’s Fozzie Bear,” Toby notes.


“It’s Fozzie Bear, not Fuzzy Bear.”

Sidekick-Boy says that twenty million dollars a year in licensing fees are paid to the Children’s Television Workshop, and none goes to PBS. He adds, “This is a company whose chief executive earns high six figures in salary and benefits per year, yet Sesame Street is subsidized by taxpayer dollars.”

Toby says that this is perfectly reasonable complaint. Well, part of it is.

Toby continues, “And I don’t care. We’re going to see to all those things. In the meantime, at a time when the public is rightly concerned about the impact of sex and violence on TV, this administration is going to protect the Muppets, we’re gonna protect Wall Street Week, we’re gonna protect Live from Lincoln Center, and by God, we are gonna protect Julia Child.”

The West Wing (one of my favorite shows, btw) has quite the history with PBS and The Children’s Television Workshop. After all, this is the TV I was raised on, so you can imagine my delight when Big Bird (and that annoying next generation character Elmo) had a cameo appearance with CJ Cregg (played by Allison Janney, a notably TALL actor)

CJ and Big Bird

How can a true red blooded American not want to support Big Bird? I mean honestly! We all want to support public television. But few of us actually do. And why is that? Because they are just so freaking annoying about it.

So STOP the BEG DRIVES EVERY 3 MONTHS for public broadcasting!!! It is super annoying. Maybe if you’d back off, I would actually consider donating.

Sally… Why’d you have to muck it up again!

So, Brothers and Sisters was one of my favorite new shows last year, and Sunday Sally Field was honored with an Emmy for her great portrayal of the imperfect, yet sincere matriarch of the fictional Walker family.

So… toward the end of her speech she got a little flustered (a great human moment in the whole formality of these stupid events), and then recalled her place in the memorized text like all good actors: by repeating to herself the last line she could remember, until she remembered the next one.

So she was in the middle of making this beautiful point about how the work of mothers should be more valued in the world, and then she said “If mothers ran the world there would be no [g-d] wars at all.” A great point, a beautiful sentiment, and none of the 39 viewers at home got to hear it. She was censored at the “G-“.

I just loved the way she shrugged it off though when she learned she was censored. “Oh well. I’ve been there before,” she says.

You’d think, though, that she would have shown up a little more prepared. It’s not like she is any stranger to Emmy speech embarrassment. This is the same woman who famously makes the stupidest acceptance speeches known to man by saying “I can’t deny that right now, you like me, you really like me.”

And yet I can’t bring myself to slam Sally too hard. She’s a great little actor who has played a myriad of heartfelt and memorable roles. And the way she allows herself to age naturally and gracefully, not trying too hard to cover the grey whisps, makes her almost refreshing in the Hollywood crowd.

I think one day I would like to meet Sally Field.

Quick Pick Me Up

OK… so tonight I went to my first pop/rock concert in, well… a LONG LONG TIME.

Tonight I saw the group Berlin. I didn’t know many of their songs, only their one big hit which was a major son in the film Top Gun, and I was drug there against my will by my uncle who is a raging 80’s music LOVER. Despite my insistence that I was just doing this as a favor, I am happy to report that I had a fabulous time watching this live performance.

I’m not one of those “floor” people. I don’t want to be close. I don’t want to feel like I have to interact with and support the artist during every moment, even if it isn’t good. But I love being in the room and feeling the ebb and flow of the energy of live performance.

What I thought was going to be a “has-been” concert turned out to be a great musical experience. All these years later, Terry Nun’s (sp?) voice has retained it’s impeccable quality. She was spot on all night long, and she sang a good hour and 1/2 set.

If you’re feeling blue, go see a live performance of something. (preferably something good) It made me feel good tonight.