Last week, striking actors held a dog-and-pony show for the TV cameras.
There were fire-breathing speeches, bitter denunciations and '60s power-fisted salutes by the likes of Harry Hamlin, Richard Dreyfuss and Billy Baldwin. Buddy Hackett was even up on the podium cracking Las Vegas jokes.
But there wasn't an A-list Hollywood actor in sight, a point underscored by TV star Tony Danza.
"I think (we need) the 12 guys and women who open a movie and are the real power in Hollywood, and maybe some directors," he said. "Until you get really high-profile people to come out and support (the strike), it won't work."
As the strike against Madison Avenue by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists moves into its eighth week, there is little sign that a settlement is near.
Representatives of the actors and commercial producers met with federal mediators last week in an effort to resume talks, but the planned two-day session at the World Trade Center in New York broke off after just one day. The mediators will try to get both parties talking again in early July, but SAG President William Daniels said after the talks ended that he anticipates a protracted strike.
The actors maintain that advertisers are trying to break the unions by using scab performers, and have responded with a new strategy of their own boosting their union's ranks by giving out SAG cards to people who previously didn't qualify. The response has been so great that the Los Angeles branch has stopped giving out new memberships, although the cards are still being handed out in New York, Chicago, Miami and other cities. The enrollment drive is aimed at decreasing the non-union talent pool available to advertisers.
"We got the people we wanted," said SAG spokesman Greg Krizman. "These are people who would have gotten SAG cards in the not-too-distant future. In baseball terms, this was like getting the Triple-A players."
Krizman said any non-union performers who are signed to appear in commercials but who walk off the job would also be eligible for union cards.
The actors are also putting pressure on Hollywood talent agencies, warning agents not to offer non-union performers for work on commercials. SAG and AFTRA have said any agents who do so would risk losing their franchises to represent union members. Most agencies have gone on record as supporting the strike against the advertisers.
Despite the public displays by actors and the breakup of any talks, Matt Miller, president of the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, said production of TV commercials is continuing apace though many producers are leaving Los Angeles for other states and for overseas locations.
"Producers have no choice," Miller said. "They have overhead to meet and they have to keep busy."
Miller sees no end in sight for the strike. "People aren't thinking negotiation," he said. "There is a reason for negotiation. You sit down and compromise, and you can't demand."
Some of Hollywood's biggest stars are supporting the strike, according to a list supplied by SAG. They include Barbra Streisand, George Clooney, Robert DeNiro, Ralph Fiennes, Antonio Banderas, Marlon Brando, Tom Hanks, Dustin Hoffman, Harrison Ford, Paul Newman, Goldie Hawn and director Sydney Pollack.
But not on the list are the current king and queen of Hollywood box office, Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. Moreover, in this visual age, a face is more compelling than a name on a press release, and none of the above-listed stars were present at last week's press conference.
"Until we get those guys who have the juice and the say to do something, we will always be up against it," Danza said.
The strike comes at a time when commercial production in Los Angeles had been soaring. L.A. officials said the city is losing $1 million a day in revenues. SAG estimates that the actors are losing $2 million a day in fees.
Cody Cluff, president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., which monitors commercial shooting in L.A., estimates that commercial production is off 25 percent from last year, as a result of the strike.
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