WILL ACTORS POSE IF UNIONS STRIKE?

Byline: Marcy Medina / With contributions from Miles Socha, Paris / Samantha Conti, Milan

LOS ANGELES — With Hollywood buzzing about a possible actors strike, magazines are also bracing for the potentially chilling effect on their celebrity coverage.
In addition to actors being barred from working, the possibility looms large that the two actors unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists, might also prevent their members from promoting movies and shows completed prior to the strike. That action would put the freeze on interviews and photo shoots that an increasingly large number of magazines depend on for covers and features.
Although the unions themselves insist that they don’t have control over what their members do in terms of print press, many magazines are preparing for a worst-case scenario.
“SAG does not have jurisdiction over the print media,” said a spokeswoman for the union, while an AFTRA spokeswoman asked, “How would magazines be affected? They wouldn’t. They could photograph actors all they want. Print work is perfectly OK. It has nothing to do with the strike.”
Perhaps some editors still have memories of the last screen actors strike in 1980, in which actors were barred for three months from promoting their work. Or the specter of last year’s commercial actors strike, which lasted nearly six months, is still fresh in their minds. In any case, the unions’ statements haven’t stopped some editors from stockpiling stories.
“I think it’s not a question of ‘if,’ it’s a question of ‘when,’ and ‘how long?”‘ said Michael Solomon, editor in chief of Premiere. “We are trying to book and choose as many covers as we can before June 30.” He noted that Premiere’s covers have been booked through August and that he’s now trying to book a November cover.
“Clearly, the studios are worried about hundreds of millions of dollars being lost in ticket sales,” he added. “I’m sure they’re aware that our coverage affects that, but they leave those headaches to us.”
Of course, entertainment magazines that depend solely on celebrities for covers and content, have the most to lose, but even those with other cover options are hedging their bets.
Some fashion magazines, which have the constant option of supermodel covers, have begun to feel the crunch. Kate Betts, editor in chief of Harper’s Bazaar, said the prospect of a strike is wreaking havoc with scheduling entertainment features, with movie release dates moving ahead and back in degrees she described as “radical.”
“We’re shooting three covers in a row right now,” she said. But she stopped short of saying she’s stockpiling covers, since Bazaar tends to work far in advance. “We already have a cover booked for January 2002.”
Allure’s editor in chief, Linda Wells, pointed out that the heady competition for celebrity covers has also forced her magazine to book shoots further in advance, strike or no strike. She said her covers have been planned for the next six months. And though a strike would make non-actor celebrities, particularly musicians, even hotter than they already are, Wells said she’s already booked a few.
“The strike itself has not affected our plans,” she said. “You have to have flexibility no matter what, because of movie release changes. You’re already prepared for everything to fall apart.”
Others, like Martha Nelson, managing editor of In Style, are also remaining calm.
“The rumor has been looming, but there has also been a lot of optimism that a strike would be settled or be very short. We have not shot ahead or done anything to prepare for it,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s possible to do much, because if it happens all the movie release schedules will shift. That makes it hard to work ahead.”
But, prodded on the possibility, she added, “I’d be looking, like everybody else, at other options, including music people. A long strike would certainly be disruptive to our business, but I’m not awake at night worrying about it.”
Ingrid Sischy, editor in chief of Interview, said: “We’re prepared either way. We already have a lot of covers shot, and we’re ready to roll. In the event of the strike, we would make the magazine a vehicle to express why the actors are on strike. For April, we have Erika Christensen on the cover, and for May we have Nicole Kidman. Sischy declined to name covers from the following months but said, “We’re set for a while.”
Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, said, “Generally, we plan our covers as much as we can — as per the confines of celebrity life. And I can say the covers are loosely planned until the end of the year. But I’m also hoping the strike won’t happen.”
Bob Wallace, editorial director of Talk, summed it up, saying, “At this point, there are more questions than answers in terms of how much latitude actors will have to promote projects if the strike happens. But there are other people we can put on our covers.
“We are in hurry-up mode rather than crisis mode. We always have covers planned in advance, but are getting them shot early and doing interviews early.”
The scenario would worsen at weekly magazines like US Weekly, People and Entertainment Weekly.
“It’s no secret that all the entertainment magazines are stockpiling. We’re trying to book as much as we can in the way of interviews and set visits and shoots,” said Mark Harris, assistant managing editor of Entertainment Weekly. “Everyone in the industry knows the strike deadline and nobody is expecting actors to be very available for non-strike-related stories after it happens.”
Of course, the strike itself is primed to be the biggest magazine story of all. Premiere’s April issue, on stands March 20, will feature a Q&A with SAG president William Daniel in which he addresses the ramifications of a strike.
“I’m taking a glass-half-full perspective,” said Harris, acknowledging that “things are disruptive, but we are also being handed one of the biggest entertainment stories in years.”
Personal publicists, who are often caught between studio marketing machines and magazine editors, have mixed feelings on the subject. But if their clients couldn’t promote their movies and shows, many publicists would lose business.
One p.r. veteran, whose roster includes several A-list film stars, said she was optimistic about a strike being averted altogether, or at worst lasting a very short time. She said she was also unconvinced that SAG or AFTRA could legally bar its members from promoting projects completed before the strike. “Personally, I’m not having my clients bank all kinds of press,” she said.
Pat Kingsley, head of PMK, told Inside.com last month, “I don’t know what the SAG rules are going to be, but there’s a real possibility they’ll consider [promoting movies] work.” Nancy Kane, whose company Kane and Associates represents film and TV actors, disagrees. “Ben Affleck [who’s not her client] shot ‘Pearl Harbor’ this past fall. When he does the cover of a magazine like Details for July, I don’t think anyone will say he is acting against the union. Those films made before a strike are all we’ve got.”
As far as amorphous movie dates being an issue, Kane believes that long lead magazines are safe for the next few months. “Many magazines are project-specific, but they can be loose enough that they’ll still have a Minnie Driver on the cover even if her movie is a few months off.”
In the event of a long strike, magazines might have to get creative with their covers. “Obviously, we could use pick-up shots, but I would hate to have to get to that point,” said Solomon.
Added Wells, “Who knows? Maybe we’ll all have Hillary Clinton covers!”