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SAG Candidates Campaign on Their Own Turfs

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Screen Actors Guild presidential candidates Alan Rosenberg and Morgan Fairchild spoke to their supporters at separate meetings last week. Both raised issues of scheduling a national debate; ending in-fighting in the boardroom; reviewing the TV/Theatrical and Interactive Media contracts, which forfeited some residuals; and negotiating a new agency franchise agreement with the Association of Talent Agents and the National Association of Talent Representatives.

Rosenberg is the current candidate of the MembershipFirst group, which has been calling for a public debate since SAG National President Melissa Gilbert announced her intention not to run for a third term. He previously challenged Fairchild and independent candidate Robert Conrad to a public debate to take place Aug. 18, at the Woman's Club of Hollywood. When Fairchild and Conrad declined due to scheduling conflicts, MembershipFirst decided to use the time to hold an informational meeting at the club. Others in attendance were current national board members Valerie Harper, who was defeated by Gilbert in the 2002 SAG presidential election; Anne-Marie Johnson, SAG's current first national vp; and Elliott Gould, among others. The hall heard speeches from nine MembershipFirst candidates for the Hollywood board, including Carole Elliott, David Jolliffe, Gretchen Koerner, William Russ, James St. James, and JoBeth Williams.

Fairchild, the Campaign for Unity candidate, attended a fundraiser/meeting Aug. 21 at the Studio City home of Hollywood board candidate Christy Crowl. Other board candidates in attendance included Andrew Caple-Shaw, Luana Jackman, and Vivicca A. Whitsett.

Before its Thursday meeting, MembershipFirst said in a press release that Fairchild had stalled plans for a debate by demanding live streaming video; a similar request derailed a debate between Gilbert and Kent McCord in the 2003 SAG presidential election. "We need to hear our candidates debate, and we need to hear questions from the membership without our candidates memorizing their answers," said Johnson at the MembershipFirst meeting. "We're going to do it if it kills us."

Fairchild told Back Stage West she did not demand that the debate be broadcast live on the Internet but instead wanted the potential debate to be available to members across the country. "We want a national debate, not just in Hollywood. And we'd like real debate rules," she said. "Let's make it a real debate about issues and not about who has the most people in the room and can make the most noise."

"I look forward to it," said Conrad in a phone interview. "At last we'll know once and for all what I said, he said, and she said."

Calls for Unity, Residuals

Despite their allegiances to their disparate parties, Rosenberg and Fairchild agreed on the need for a more harmonious, cohesive union. "I always get a little upset when I hear about the in-fighting," Rosenberg told his crowd. "I haven't been part of any in-fighting in the last couple of years. It's extremely exhausting."

Said Fairchild, "I would have been happy when my term on the board expired this year, to go back to my normal life--except that I've been very concerned about the divisiveness that I've seen and some of the ideas that I've heard espoused that I think would be very bad for the union in the long term."

Conrad, however, questioned the sincerity of his competitors' calls for unity. "How much of that is rhetoric, how much is reality? They've had a long time to do that," he said. "I find it most amusing that they want unity."

Rosenberg and Fairchild also agreed that the recently redrafted TV/Theatrical Contract and Interactive Media Contact are flawed due to lack of DVD and video-game residuals. Neither Rosenberg nor Fairchild were on the negotiating committees for either contract.

Rosenberg said of the TV/Theatrical deal, "It was historic because it was the first time in union history that we gave back our residuals."

"I know what it's like to try to make ends meet" said Fairchild, referring to her years as a struggling actor. "All I can say is, thank God for commercial residuals."

"I think it's a six-letter word: S-T-U-P-I-D," Conrad said about contracts without residuals. "If your work is shown again and again and it's for a fee, then you're entitled to a fee again and again."

Clash Over Agents, Party Identification

The breakdown of an agency franchise agreement with the ATA and NATR also emerged among the topics discussed at the MembershipFirst event. Rosenberg again criticized agencies and management companies that fail to represent their clients' best interests and accept money from producers. "[Management] behaves toward us like we're unskilled labor most of the time," he said.

Fairchild pointed out that MembershipFirst has yet to offer an alternative plan since it voted down the agency franchise agreement. "For four years we've had no agency franchise, and they never had anything else to take its place," she said.

They also disagreed over which party best represents working middle-class actors, who make up the overwhelming majority of the union. Rosenberg charged that Campaign for Unity "represent(s) only the top 2 percent of the wage-earners in this business."

Fairchild said, "The reason I'm running is just to protect the working class actor." She later said her party does not even have enough funds to distribute the same amount of campaign literature as her opposing party. "We are a small grass-roots group trying very hard to get the money together to send out a national mailer," she said.

Conrad thought using the term "grass-roots" was another instance of campaign rhetoric. He said, "The majority of us are grass-roots. I want your vote, so I say, 'I'm grass-roots,' and the guy looks in the mirror and says, 'He's talking about me.'"

Ballots for the SAG elections were mailed on Wed., Aug. 24. The return deadline is Fri., Sept. 23; results will be announced that evening.

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