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Pisano Reviews Global Scene

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The scene at the International Federation of Actors (FIA) congress in Paris last week proved hot, in more ways than one. That's according to Robert Pisano, national executive director and chief executive officer of the Screen Actors Guild.

Pisano told Back Stage Tuesday that Paris was sizzling as the gathering of actors unions from around the world met…in rooms without air conditioning. The issues proved hot, too, he noted; but the conversation was positive as the organizations maintained a global view of supporting each other.

Pisano and SAG's elected rep to the congress, National Treasurer Kent McCord, attended three days of meetings, which included a day with the other English-speaking unions; an executive council session involved concern about the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) treaty; and major roundtable discussions on artistic freedom.

Pisano constantly referred to the other unions as "our colleagues," and stated how impressed he was at both their dedication and their receptiveness to SAG's efforts on the global scene.

The first day's meeting with the other English speakers—including AFTRA and Actors' Equity from the U.S., ACTRA and Equity in Canada, and unions from Australia, the United Kingdom, and South Africa—allowed Pisano and McCord to review Global Rule One. The rule is SAG's mandate that its members work under SAG contracts no matter where in the world the production takes place. SAG implemented the rule in May of last year.

"We reported that the rule had been remarkably successful from our perspective and from our sister organizations'," Pisano stated, adding that "benefits ultimately will flow" to the other unions worldwide. "There's not any sense of hostility for implementing it," he added, "and there's a couple of cases where it's been advantageous."

SAG announced in May that its Global Rule One effort had resulted in an increase of over 200% in SAG foreign-signatory theatrical films from the previous year. Also, last fall, when the SAG rule was in full swing, ACTRA pointed out it supported the rule, believing it would encourage U.S. stars—who are SAG members but have worked in the past on nonunion films in Canada—to force the productions to go union or lose the box-office draws.

The guild's English-speaking colleagues also further reviewed a proposed international contract that they've been drafting over the past year, and will discuss again when they meet in November. Also, Pisano said, the group heard from the Australian actors, who are in negotiations with producers. The group agreed they'd support any strike action the Aussies might take, if they find it necessary to walk out.

Worry Over WIPO

FIA's executive council spent extensive time discussing WIPO, the international organization dedicated to protecting worldwide the rights of creators and owners of intellectual property. A problem still exists with efforts at finalizing an audio-visual treaty within WIPO. A dispute between the U.S. and the European Union involves a treaty article that would transfer all production rights to producers, including performers' rights.

Pisano said the FIA council agreed to continue to push for performers retaining rights over their own performances, and to include moral rights, protections, and remuneration in the treaty. He added that in July he would be meeting on the issue with Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America, and the federal Department of Commerce.

The FIA congress's third day involved panels discussing artistic freedoms—both the ability to speak out on political issues without fear of reprisal, and the liberty to perform no matter one's race, gender, or religion. The spokespersons included SAG's McCord and AFTRA's Anne Gartlan, former president of AFTRA/NY, who discussed efforts the two unions "have made at the collective bargaining table to reflect the American scene," Pisano noted. "While we haven't gone as far as we should, it's clear that we have gone farther than other parts of the world, where discrimination against minorities, whether racial or religious, is still a big concern."

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