Friday, July 4, 2008

Five Questions for AFTRA National VP Holter Graham about the AFTRA - AMPTP Negotiations

I had a chance to send some emails back and forth with Holter Graham about the current AFTRA - AMPTP contract. Some really interesting stuff, from someone who was in the room on the negotiations.

Before I get into the actual questions, I'd just like to thank Holter for taking the time in providing some very thoughtful answers to the questions I've asked. I've personally been hard on AFTRA in the past (even though radio has been VERY good to me), and regardless of where you might sit on the current situation, I think a call for perspective and reasonableness (in discourse) is something we should all agree on. So, my faithful readers, I would LOVE to hear your thoughts!

1. What was the mood of the negotiations? Any fall out from the WGA strike?

The mood in the negotiations was predominantly businesslike, with some very hairy moments caused by both interior and exterior factors. For example, when the issue of Clip Consent exploded in all of our faces, there were multi
ple moments where AFTRA and the AMPTP were very far apart, and multiple moments when either side could have walked away. But AFTRA stuck strong, and the AMPTP backed down and we retained Consent and built a system by which we can make money and protect ourselves moving forward.

At the same time there was always a looming sense that AFTRA was in the room to actually get a deal done that would keep people working, whereas SAG had already started their bluster and scapegoating, so the AMPTP knew that they probably only had one chance to discuss the issues at hand with mature adults, so that added a sense of urgency on both sides.

The WGA strike did not effect us directly, but indirectly the huge financial losses in both sides (labor and management) and the items that the WGA had already taken off the table before they even struck--DVD Residual increases, for example, were abandoned early--served to shape the framework from which we negotiated.

2. What should we be looking forward to in this new contract?

The short list for the new cont
ract is: Money and Protection. There are raises across the board--the entire package is represented as about a 4% increase in total AMPTP spending, which is about a quarter more than unions usually get from one negotiation to the next ( the average overall bump is 3%). There are raises in minimums--more than 10% over the three years--major-role provisions, schedule and money break amounts, as well as a structure for New Media payments and residuals that did not exist until now.

Until now we have been working free-form in New Media, but AFTRA got jurisdiction, which was not guaranteed until now. And while the AMPTP can make certain low-budget experimental New Media programs without guaranteed jurisdiction, AFTRA created such a wide and all-encompassing category of "covered performer" that it will be very difficult for the AMPTP to make much of anything without full union coverage.

3. What's AFTRA's vision for emmergent technologies/new media/video games?

I addressed some of the mas
sive gains we got in New Media in the question above. Video Games/Interactive are a separate contract, one that we at AFTRA are already preparing to negotiate in the fall--I will more than likely be on that committee as I have a a pretty good list of interactive VO and Motion-Capture work. Obviously trying for back-end payments like other areas of our work is paramount, but we have to realize that changing to any form of residual or back-end will be an enormous shift in how we get paid, one that will almost certainly costs the game companies a lot more money. And the unions do not actually have a huge percentage of the work in interactive yet, so our strategy will be to utilize as much leverage as we can while not overplaying our hand and getting locked out of a very lucrative, growing market. For instance, 8 of the top 10 video game grossers last year were made with union talent, but union talent worked on less than 30% of the total games made. So what that means is: we clearly bring a lot of value to a game, but we are not infiltrated into every corner of the industry yet. It is a tenuous position, but AFTRA, at least, understands what is at stake and what our members deserve, and we will fight for that as hard as we can. I know I will.

4. Where do we go from here? What's the next step for this guild?

AFTRA has no problem at all
with the 'where do we go from here?' question: through all of this foolish backstabbing and misinformation and inter-union strife of the past years, AFTRA as kept its eye on the ball. When AFTRA suspended Phase One to negotiate with the AMPTP solo, it was because we knew that negotiating alone would be our best bet to get a string deal for or performers, one that would set the template for a storing contract for all union performers in this country. It has been painted a lot of ways, most of them false, but in fact AFTRA has been guided 24/7 by the tenets of what is best for the members.

The proof of that is this strong contract, as well as the fact that my other union never even really tried negotiating with the AMPTP: AFTRA could see that the SAG LA group in power was again going to spend time and money on posturing and not working and so we went out and got a great deal that hopefully will be ratified.

In terms of the future, I would recommend that your readers take a good long look at how things have been going lately in our industry and in the Screen Actor's Guild, my parent union. Every bump in the road, every internecine battle, every confusing campaign of disinformation that pits member against member, has come from ONE source: a small, scared, but effective group of LA actors who call themselves Membership First--which is hard for me to even type without getting mad. They are significantly more worried about holding onto their power base in the Guild than they are about caring for those of us in the union.

They use a lot of rhetoric and say things like "we will stand firm for you!" And they do stand firm, but they are standing firm on ridiculous and outlandish views of the industry and our place in it. They get a lot of votes because they promise the whole world. And then they invariably fail--have been failing for years--and usually blame someone else. Look to the White House for another example of this kind of politics. They are the reason merger failed, they are the reason we struck commercials in 2000 without a real plan for victory, and they have been quoted as saying that the commercials strike failed because it did NOT LAST LONG ENOUGH. Thats who's running our Guild.

There are elections in the fall. I hope your readers will try and educate themselves and then vote for candidates for the SAG LA board who are pragmatic, effective, and dedicated to bettering and protecting the livelihoods of members here in the real world. I will provide you with a list of those I am impressed by when that election grows near, so stay tuned.

5. What are some of your personal concerns/feelings on the current SAG "Vote No" campaign?

I think the above answer painted a pretty clear image of how I feel about the SAG Vote No campaign. I Voted YES three weeks ago, because that is the only choice for all our members--a strong contract on one hand, or a union tampering with a different union to cover the fact that it is inept on the other. It is sad, i hate it, and merger would have fixed everything, but that's the way it is. Vote YES, vote Membership First out, and then we can all spend a lot more time making sure we are good at our jobs so that we can pay our bills. And I want to thank your readers for taking the time to listen to me, and for having the in
telligence to want as much information as they can get on the issues that effect their lives.

Holter Graham, Baltimore native, current AFTRA NY president and National Vice President. First seen on screen in 1985's Maximum Overdrive [WOOT! - Ed.], has been a SAG member for near 20 years, and AFTRA member for 13. Working in all fields of the industry, he's currently the voice of HBO for Genre (HBO-produced) content, as well as ads, audiobooks, narrations, and dozens of other gigs at any given moment. No 'day job' since graduating from Skidmore in 1994 a full time working actor!


  1. Juan,

    Thanks for publishing this.

    Be well,

  2. Of course!
    Thanks for checking it out!

  3. Interesting, I guess there are pros and cons to any bureaucracy. I'm going to join a union!

  4. LOL!
    Uh, well, that's uh...

    That's one way to look at it!

  5. One union (and I do mean 'union' not guild) for all actors sure would be nice.

    Any reason we have two guilds for the same group of people (actors) that are divided by the medium used? Seems outdated considering the massive media consolidation that's been happening since the late '90s.

  6. No that has been a frustration, and the fighting between the unions makes it easier for amptp to play them against each other. We keep ending up with these lowest common denominator contracts.

    I look at Equity in the UK, and there are certainly some positives about their system...

  7. Thanks for the link! I've put a link at the bottom of my post, and a bit from the interview if that's okay with you (I'll pull it and leave the link if not).

  8. Hey Elize!
    Please, by all means, post the story. It'll be interesting to see how the vote boils down. Today is the last day for ballots.

    Lemme know when it's up, and I'll help spread the link love,LOL.

  9. Thank you Juan and Holter for a great post!

  10. ...and thank YOU for reading it Donna!