Saturday, September 7, 2013

SAG and Background Extras A marriage without the support of membership.

The majority may not know what it the right thing to do. That's why we elect leadership.

The next time someone tells you what the "majority" want, remember that if majority rules Background Talent would be working for box lunches and the joy of being on the set.

Two merger ballots with the Screen Extras Guild failed, and the SAG board had to take the responsibility in a tight vote to take over jurisdiction for background talent, or there would be no union pay and protections for those who work as background artists.

In 1980, the over 50,000 members looked with interest at a possible reuniting merger with the Screen Extras Guild and with their independent sister, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). 

Meanwhile the negotiating units for management did merge into the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, against whom SAG negotiates theatrical, meaning film and television, contracts(AMPTP) (

In 1990, after two failed merger ballots and the bankruptcy of SEG, by emergency action of the National Board of Directors, the Screen Actors Guild regained background talent or extras jurisdiction on a national basis
Precedent was found in SAG's continuous jurisdiction over background talent in the New York City market, dating back to the formation of the Guild.

As a result of failed merger initiatives, SAG could not assume full jurisdiction and had to enter into and accept a lower base of compensation for background talent.

Despite a lack of support from membership, the National Board of Directors felt that to allow a large segment of performers to be left without union representation was not an acceptable alternative. This division within membership remains an issue today (

According to SAG statistics, in 1996 more than 85 percent of SAG’s 90,000 members earned less than $5,000 a year under Guild contracts (SAG Annual Report, 1997). 

Background Talent being outfitted for the "Zion" scene in "Matrix Reloaded"

There remains an internal battle over the importance of background talent in negotiations, whether background artist are actors, and what other possible gains the union must give up each negotiation just to protect it's "extra" population.

While seven-digit movie deals make headlines for some stars, creating a false impression that all actors are highly paid, the reality is far less glamorous.

The second half of the 1990s saw a major call for increased income, stronger contract protection and the protection of performers' images and talents using any and all legal and contractual means possible.

-Art Lynch

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