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LETTER FROM L.A.: Oh Canada… Ah SAG…
copyright 2002, Jim Chevallier


                If there is a big bad bogey-country here in Hollywood, it is our otherwise mild neighbor to the North. Much as LA itself siphons off so much water from a lake far to the north that ‘crater’ may soon more accurately describe the latter, Canada is said to suck away what once was the vigorous lifeblood of local industry. Canada is the symbolic source of all our runaway woes. THAT’s where all the work has gone, so they say. And Canadians can only be happy about that, right?

                So how come they keep coming down here?

                If you saw ‘The IT Factor’ last year, apparently two of the ‘New York’ actors profiled were Canadian. And I certainly meet enough who’ve come to try their chances here. Often with no green cards and a lot of hope. One Montreal actress I met recently said the work back home is limited to a small, very closed circle. But of course you’ll hear the same thing about Hollywood often enough. I fear this is one more case of the ‘casting is always greener’ on the other side.

                Meanwhile, it appears that Australia is the new hot ‘alternative’ location, and is already ahead of our nearby neighbor in this regard. So, they’re happy and hoppin’ like the ‘roos about this, right? Uh, not quite.   According to (7/18/02), the Australian Film Commission is concerned not only that local capacity might not be able to service all the newcomers, but that the local film industry (long a lively force in independent film) might suffer. Jonathan Bruce, living in Canada, confirms that this should be a concern: “In Canada English language film almost turned to zero for about 10 years because of the easier US Bucks. It’s just now starting to get back on track... mostly because of the production folks all standing around doing nothing.... now trying to keep their houses.”

                After Australia? Well, Twentieth Century Fox has started to produce films in Bollywood. In Hindi, for now. But once they’ve got some facilities going there, who knows?

                Is a SAG member a SAG member is a SAG member? As long as they pay their dues and whether or not they work? That question is apparently off the table again, at least officially. More specifically any idea of limiting voting to those currently working under the contract involved is no longer being considered. Officially. But the debate goes on. A number of actors out here would still like to see members of the board held to a working in the trade requirement, which some define as having at least one SAG job in three years. Other working actors however say they would rather have good business people in charge and damn their acting credits.

                All of this is complicated by the fact that a large majority of SAG’s membership is effectively unemployed. Exactly how large is hard to say, since these statistics are surprisingly hard to find on their Web site. But my own opinion is that SAG should be addressing why that’s the case. Yes, a lot of people who were working aren’t. But it’s also true that a lot of people are pushed to join before they really should (since you effectively don’t have access to much SAG work until you are a SAG member.) While this may make for more dues for the union, it also makes for a much weaker union. The union should be looking for ways to encourage people to build up a body of SAG work before they join as full members. Instead, three SAG jobs and you’re a must join. Even if you don’t work another SAG job for years.

                Some form of interim status that allows full access to SAG work without requiring membership until a mix of union and non-union work has allowed an actor to build a career would ultimately make the union leaner, meaner and stronger. But of course, with the Thirties-era labor union mentality that rules SAG, this ain’t ever really gonna happen.