Question: How do you feel about moving to L.A.?
Answer: My dad was in the Air Force, so I was used to moving a lot when I was a kid. My wife Pat and I lived in Old Town Alexandria, Va., a beautiful place with the cobblestone streets and old brick buildings. We very much enjoyed the D.C. area and will miss it there, though we've been frequent visitors to Los Angeles because a lot of what I did was here so we were quite familiar with the area. We're looking forward to making our home here.
Q: You are the first national executive director that SAG has brought in from outside the union. Do you think your NFL background helps you in your new role with the Screen Actors Guild?
A: There is a lot of resonance and synergy between what I did there and what I do here. The performers are different and performances are different, but there are a lot of synergies in the structure and I am very comfortable with the issues that come up in the collective bargaining process. The NFL owns a cable network and a film studio and is involved in the production process via the players, so I was familiar with those aspects of the business, clearly.
Q: How would you describe your NFL career?
A: I only played for a few years. It was short but memorable. When I first got here SAG President Alan Rosenberg gave me a framed poster with a picture of me from my playing days. There's a lot of bald under the hair in that picture. The average career in the NFL is four years, but if you make it past the first year, you make the team and don't get hurt, it ends up being five to seven years, really. If you look at everyone who tried to play pro football and almost made it or made it for a little while it's a much bigger group than people think.
Q: How is being a pro football player similar to being an actor?
A: Mainly in the "celebrity pyramid," with a relatively small number of top earners making a lot of money and a lot more people underneath trying to scrape by that exists in a lot of places. That experience of being very uncertain professionally, having to audition and then once you've made it having to prove yourself over and over again, the culture is very familiar to me and it's similar to acting. If you are a successful actor you can make a living over a long period of time but you will also go through periods where there's a lot of uncertainty. When you hear someone like Helen Mirren say that her biggest worry is if she'll ever work again, then you know that problem is more universal than you might first imagine.
Q: Are you a fan of any particular form of entertainment over another movies, television or maybe "mobisodes"?
A: I'm a big fan of both TV and movies. I love watching movies, especially going to the movies. "Anatomy of a Murder" is a big favorite of mine. I love shows from John Wells and Aaron Sorkin, I'm a big fan of "ER," "Studio 60" and "West Wing." I'm pretty eclectic when it comes to my taste. As long as it's scripted, that is. Even commercials. The fact that those shows have been so successful is no accident.
Q: How do you feel about the proliferation of reality television?
A: As far as reality TV production, there's a place for that in television, but anytime reality television replaces and knocks out scripted TV series it's a concern. I think it's a disservice to the fans, because it makes for less diverse product. There is well-done reality TV, and I think a lot of it appeals to a younger generation, but I think it's most important that the people involved in those productions are treated fairly. We need to make sure there are guilds and unions to represent those people. The solution is fair compensation and representation so you won t see union vs. non-union competition.
Q: SAG has in recent history seen some bitter internal battles. How are you approaching that?
A: I think every union has periods in their history when they've had issues that have divided them internally and I don't think SAG is any different. I think we are a union with a very healthy and robust democracy; that's one of our greatest strengths. On occasion, it has also been something that has divided us, but that's the nature of democracy. The issue is unity, not unanimity. It's actually one of the things I love about this membership and its leadership how diverse they are and how many different opinions there are. It makes us intellectually robust and democratically robust. But there's a responsibility that goes along with that it's getting things done and acting productively. That's the other side.
Q: Despite being home to the entertainment industry, California still lacks tax incentives designed to keep shooting in this state. Is that an issue of concern for you in your new role?
A: It would be great to see incentives in California. Now that more than half of the states have incentives, it would be nice to see that gain some traction here. I am hopeful we can see a coalition come together that would support that and we will be part of that. It's made a profound difference in the amount of business that New York has generated and I would like to make sure that California and L.A. aren't operating at a competitive disadvantage. I think it's important that we provide incentives for shooting, because L.A. will always be a primary location for shooting. As for the big picture, the really important thing is to keep it in this country; we are a national union with membership all over the U.S.
Q: How are the upcoming Writers Guild negotiations with the producers going to affect SAG's contract talks?
A: We are certainly interested in what the WGA is doing, but at the end of the day I don't think we are beholden to anybody but the Screen Actors Guild. There is certainly an interest on the part of the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers in seeing solutions that work in one contract apply to another, so we all face that issue. I think we should cooperate with the other guilds and unions as much as possible, but at the end of the day I represent SAG members and they represent their own. We will look at many issues similarly but there are some things that are unique to writers, others unique to actors so everybody doesn't have the same interests at the bargaining table.
Q: How is SAG planning to address the issue of new media in negotiations?
A: It's too early to discuss negotiation specifics, but a core interest is in making sure producers aren't ignoring the contributions that creative talent provides in the way they build their business models. I think we will make a lot of progress in that regard. The one thing people need to understand about the new media models is that they don't obliterate the old media models. Nobody knows how long the iTunes model will last before the technology changes or what kind of distribution platform will be generating revenue and profits in two years or five years. We want to make sure we can adapt to technology.
Q: You've been credited with setting up Players Inc., the merchandising and licensing organization overseen by the football players' union. How was it set up?
A: We spun it off as a subsidiary for tax and liability reasons. It was set up as a for-profit company owned by a not-for-profit union. The company generates about $100 million a year, it pays for union operations and allows the players dues to be put into a contingency fund and not spent on operations. The league spends in excess of $60 million dollars a year in payments to players for licensing royalties and appearances and endorsements and such.
Q: The players still have leeway in cutting their own sponsorship deals, right?
A: Players Inc. has jurisdiction over things that are done on a group basis, so if a company wants to use more than five players to promote a brand then they have to go to Players Inc. to do that. We made the group big enough so that it wouldn't impinge on players' individual rights, but to do anything significant on a group level, you had to go through us. It means Players Inc. essentially has an exclusive on group activity both licensing and appearances and endorsements. Players Inc has a formal relationship with the NFL via contract.
Q: What's your take on the NFL Network dispute with cable carrier Time Warner?
A: The fundamental issue is whether people should have to pay extra to see NFL games on the network and whether that should be sold as part of a higher-priced tier or part of the basic package. The league has always wanted it to be something that is not tiered. I think they should have the right to control that. Out of every dollar of revenue that comes into the NFL, the players get 60 cents, so how the revenue is generated is an issue, and how the TV rights are negotiated and arrived at is important to the players union.
National Executive Director
Organization: Screen Actors Guild
Born: 1951; Tampa, Fla.
Education: Pennsylvania State University, B.A. Labor Studies and Industrial Relations
Personal: Lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Pat; two grown sons
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