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ANALYSIS: SAG's Very Political--and Cancelled--Agents Meeting

The Screen Actors Guild couldn't have picked a more politically fiery time for an emergency national board meeting on the volatile talent-agents franchise issue. Which obviously is why Robert Pisano, SAG's national executive director-chief executive officer--with the approval of Melissa Gilbert, the guild's national president--this week cancelled the meet in a little over a day before it occurred.

Pisano and Gilbert last month called the board gathering for this Thurs., Sept. 5. That's three days after Labor Day, when most of America--including SAG members--have set their psyches to move past the long weekend that bids adieu to summer and hello again to business--including the acting business. Few things are more important to an actor than the relationship with an agent--the performer's umbilical cord to production work. So it was natural for SAG members' eyes to be focused on the Thursday board huddle.

But as SAG members in Hollywood and New York were looking toward their national board's action, they were also preparing to open and mark election ballots for a new SAG national board. The guild mailed out those ballots last week, and members tend to open them quickly, mark them and mail them back, or not vote at all.

It would seem logical that Pisano and Gilbert knew this when they chose to call the special meeting on agents. Both Pisano and Gilbert favored a proposed new agents franchise agreement that would allow "financial interests for agents," i.e., permit a talent agency to get involved in production by having production companies invest in the agency, or vice versa. Opponents of Gilbert--including Elliott Gould, SAG's national recording secretary, and Kent McCord, the national treasurer--opposed the new agency pact, which members turned down in a vote earlier this year.

SAG currently has no franchise agreement with the two major talent-agency organizations--the Association of Talent Agents (West Coast) and the National Association of Talent Representatives (East Coast), but still has the pact with some independent agencies around the nation.

The national board, following the vote to negate the franchise pact, issued a reprieve for members, temporarily allowing them to continue working with agencies that were no longer under the franchise contract. This week's meeting reportedly would have involved the board's considering an end to that reprieve, setting a deadline for agencies to sign a new franchise agreement, and penalties for SAG members who stay with unsigned agencies, which could be as grievous as expulsion from the union.

Three major slates have faced off in the Hollywood-New York balloting for the new board. United Screen Actors Nationwide supports a slate aligned with Gilbert, i.e., candidates who favored the new agency pact. USAN includes New York candidates solid with Gilbert, including Eileen Henry, SAG/NY's president. The Leadership Coalition consists of candidates endorsed by Gould and McCord, who opposed the contract, including William Daniels, SAG's former national president. The Solidarity/Clean Slate, made up of New York candidates, doesn't address the agents issue in its platform; but Lisa Scarola, the former SAG/NY prez who organized the slate, opposed the franchise agreement.

It would seem logical, too, that the candidates, many of whom are currently board members, would have voiced their views about the meeting, and pointed fingers at opponents. They did.

In a SAG release issued at press time Tuesday, Gilbert and Pisano said they were canceling the Thursday meeting "in light of two facts. First, 56 members of the board of directors have requested in writing that the meeting be cancelled. Second, the [SAG] national agent relations committee rescinded its recommendation for a special meeting." The two went on to say they expect the committee's recommendation, evidently meaning to remove the members' reprieve, to come before the national board at its plenary meeting on Oct. 12.

That means the new national board, which will take its place following the counting of ballots by Sept. 23. For the guild--with its years of internal bloody battles which finally led to major internal reorganization and a streamlining of the board from 107 members to the soon-to-be 68--allowing the new policymakers to decide the shaky agents issue seems only just. But as divisive as the agents issue is, a new streamlined board may have a suffering time trying to reach agreement.

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