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Destiny Law
Destiny explains the Actors Strike
(or why commercials these days are kinda weird)

You may remember hearing about Shaquille O'Neal getting in trouble recently for saying, of all things, "I'm going to Disneyland!" after winning the NBA in a commercial for our favorite park.

You might also have noticed that TV commercials in general, are a little weird lately... a lot of re-runs, a lot of ads without any actors - and a lot of material being re-worked to make "new" commercials.

Both of these are part of the same problem.

The actor's unions, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), are on strike against the advertising agencies.

The way actors are paid for commercials is the subject of the strike. Currently, there is a flat-fee payment method for ads that air on cable television. The actor's unions would like to see that changed to pay-per-play system, as it is for network television.

The advertising industry is seeking to have actors paid flat fees for both network and cable commercials, claiming that the splintering of TV audiences requires ads to run more often to reach the same number of people, making a pay-per-play payments - residuals - unmanageable.

Another issue is how payments are made. Right now, the residuals are paid on an honor system - there is no one monitoring these payments to make sure the actors receive their money in a timely manor. The unions would like that changed.

Discussions have broken down and no new agreement has been reached, so the actors have tried their best to shut down commercial production until a fair contract is agreed upon. According to SAG, more than 100 actors have walked off commercial sets since the strike began.

Some companies are shooting commercials with non-union talent, including Kellogg's and McDonalds, among others. The unions are in full force, picketing these non-union shoots - including a recent Kellogg's shoot in Receda.

Not only are the unions targeting these shoots for picketing, but the unions are also keeping a watch for SAG actors crossing picket lines to work.

For example... Elizabeth Hurley was under fire when she recently shot an Estee Lauder commercial in Europe. She apologized through her agent, saying she was unaware of the situation because she resides outside the United States...

McDonalds (again) shot a series of commercials in Canada featuring Britney Spears and N'Sync. They apologized and said they would each donate $1 from every ticket sold from two of their concerts to the Screen Actors Guild Foundation...

Tiger Woods, who was previously applauded for refusing to appear in a Nike commercial during the strike, angered the actors union by making a commercial for General Motors - and was summoned to appear before SAG trial board...

And Shaquille O'Neal was criticized when he turned to a TV camera after winning the NBA and said.... Well, YOU know what. His case was, however, smoothed out later. "I fully support the strike, and hope that negotiations can resume in the very near future so both sides can get back to business as quickly as possible," he said in an issued statement.

Big stars aren't the only ones being watched during the strike. For the struggling actors, it's hard to resist the lure of appearing in a TV commercial, taking advantage of the opportunity to fill the vacancies created by striking union actors. But there are severe punishments for crossing picket lines - expulsion from the union - and in the case of non-union actors, being refused membership.

Since advertising is such a time-sensitive business, TV commercials have continued regardless of the strike. A few have resorted to "creative" solutions. Since some TV commercial contracts include provisions that allow the ad agencies to re-use the footage and sound from one ad to make new ones as well, older commercials are being re-worked to create new commercials.

For example... the woman in the white dress that was being ogled by an office full of men in a previous Carls Jr. commercial is now eating alone in her own commercial... Edward Herrmann, the narrator of many Dodge commercials, has been turned into a rap artist in new ads where old narration has been chopped up... David Arquette's 1-800-ATT commercials have been edited into compilations.

Some companies are making their own deals with the union to continue production of commercials during the strike, mainly agreeing to terms that were rejected by the ad industry during negotiations. Recently seen in commercials made under these agreements include Regis Philbin, Spike Lee and John Elway. Even Brad Pitt shot a Japanese commercials in LA not too long ago under one of these interim agreements. And two media firms working on the Bush and Gore presidential campaigns also have new contracts to work within guidelines proposed by the unions to shoot their commercials. 

SAG says that over 30 individual interim agreements have been signed by commercial producers since the strike began, including deals with America Online, British Airways, RadioShack, T.J. Maxx, White Castle, Nordstrom, Levi Strauss, and

This demonstrates, they say, that what they are asking for, is fair and acceptable within the industry.


I mentioned the presidential campaigns. I thought I'd let you know that one of my all time favorite restaurants in Beverly Hills - Spago - will be closed most of this week for private parties involving the Los Angeles Democratic Convention. I found this out the hard way, arriving for dinner Sunday - and finding Canon Drive closed for "security reasons" and being turned away from the restaurant. 

If you were hoping to sneak in for a bite - or just to say "hi" to Wolfgang Puck - be advised that they will be closed for dinner Tuesday (8/15), dinner Wednesday (8/16), and lunch and dinner Thursday (8/17). Be sure to call Spago in BH to confirm your arrangements if you have a visit planned, just in case... their number is (310) 385-0880. You can also check the Hollywood branch if you're as desperate as I am - (310) 652 4025.


If you'd like more information on the strike, visit the Screen Actors Guild's website

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