Bryan Caplan  

An Honest Slogan for SAG: "Don't Quit Your Day Job"

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From the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly:

[S]ome producers fear that a strike is inevitable - especially since an estimated 80 percent of SAG members are unemployed and thus have nothing to lose by walking out.
This is a cute quip, but it's off the mark. Actors could easily believe they have nothing to lose. But they're mistaken. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Pushing wages above the market-clearing level causes unemployment. Yes, SAG is one of the main reasons* why actors have an 80% unemployment rate in the first place!

The upshot: If SAG manages to negotiate a "better deal" for actors, working actors will benefit, but getting a "big break" (or even a little break) will be harder than ever. Unemployment actors may think things can't get any worse; but if SAG succeeds, "don't quit your day job" is going to become even better advice than it already is.

* Normally, I'd say that it's *the* reason; but acting is one of those weird occupations where most "workers" have negative productivity to begin with. In other words, they can't actually do the job they're struggling to get.

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COMMENTS (4 to date)
gregory writes:

oh, this is good, i love such flips in view, sag is the reason for the 80% ... thought maybe sag over-encouraged membership beyond a sustainable employment number, skewing the stats, and what would we say about stone masons, say, an example of where life has just moved on?

Steve Sailer writes:

So, if the SAG daily minimum (about $970 per day, last I checked) was cut in half, they'd employ twice as many screen actors? Would they have each line in the movie read by two actors in unison?

What % of the cost of making studio movies goes to actors making the SAG minimum? 2%? So, I doubt it has much effect at all the employment level of actors.

Hollywood needs a lot of slack in the system in order to keep things flowing on time, so talent doesn't work much but is well-paid when it does..A sit-com showrunner told me that one day at 3pm, he decided he needed an accordion player for one shot the next day, so his assistant put the word out, and the next morning at 9am, there were five accordion players sitting in his lobby waiting to audition. "And each one was excellent."

liberty writes:

Aside from making more films by keeping costs down (and I think there is the demand for more films, especially getting away from the usual Hollywood blockbuster), there might be more employment as extras.

I was an extra on a film once, where about half of the group was SAG and half walk-ins. The SAG pay for extras was I think $250 if you had no lines, and shot up very fast if they gave you a line or if you got a face shot. (The rest of us got I think $120 for each day). It was at a baseball stadium, we were filling out the bleachers. One noticeable choice was to have us all move around every couple hours, to fill the stands behind this shot, then that shot, and also the back bleachers were all cardboard cut-outs. It was a blockbuster hit, and it surprised me how willing they were to fake the crowd in such a cheesy way.

Can't say for sure, but maybe if the "professionals" had come a bit cheaper, they would have hired more of them.

Steve Sailer writes:

Yeah, think how much higher the American standard of living would be if more extras were employed in movie crowd scenes.

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