From his break in 1992 playing Bank Nerd No. 2 in the sitcom “Married With Children,” to his
supporting role on the HBO hit “Six Feet Under,” to a part in last year’s “Spider-Man 3,” Tim Maculan has navigated Hollywood more successfully than most actors.
Lately, though, Mr. Maculan, 45, says the actor’s place in the entertainment industry’s economic food chain has changed. And for middle-income working actors like him, it’s not for the better. “It’s not about networks being cheap or evil,” Mr. Maculan said. “It’s just that the industry is dramatically different than it was even five years ago.”
Mr. Maculan, a sarcastic character actor with a wicked grin, rattles off a list of industry shifts that have made it harder for middle-income actors to earn a living. Reality shows have crowded out scripted programs, comedies in particular. The studios are making fewer movies, and the ones they are making are less actor-driven. Networks like NBC have virtually stopped filming pilot episodes, meaning they are hiring fewer actors. Voice-over work, once a staple for less-known actors, is outsourced to other countries or given to A-list stars.
The Screen Actors Guild, now embroiled in negotiations with film and television producers over a new contract, has made the plight of the middle-income actor the centerpiece of its campaign for more lucrative terms. The guild is seeking increases for everything from reimbursement rates for car mileage to continuing payments called residuals. Guild leaders say the economic situation is so severe that they have no choice but to take a militant stance at the negotiating table.
The guild’s contract, which covers about 122,000 actor members, expires at midnight Monday. Because the two sides remain far apart on most issues, Hollywood has been on edge about a strike, taking care, for instance, to wrap production on films so costly location shoots are not drawn out.
But no strike can take place until about Aug. 1 at the earliest. Guild leaders have yet to call for a strike authorization vote, which must be put before the entire membership and approved by 75 percent of voters. Carrie White, a spokeswoman for the Screen Actors Guild, said on Friday that the process would take up to three weeks.
The guild has strongly indicated that it will not consider calling for a strike vote until July 8, when a second actors’ union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, releases the results of a ratification vote on its new contract. That union reached an accord with studios and networks in May and shares about 44,000 members with the Screen Actors Guild.
“Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction,” Alan Rosenberg, the president of the guild, said in a statement Sunday. He added that guild negotiators have been “coming to the bargaining table every day in good faith.”
The two unions have been sparring in recent weeks, with each side lining up marquee stars to push its own agenda.
Aftra, the smaller of the two, wants members to ratify its deal and move on; SAG thinks the rival union negotiated a bad deal, particularly on issues of digital media, and wants to keep fighting for a better one. It worries that its leverage at the bargaining table will evaporate if Aftra members approve their contract by a solid margin.
Like most Hollywood labor organizations, SAG bears little resemblance to unions as most Americans know them.
Most unions represent workers with wallets of similar size, but SAG is a hodgepodge of wildly varying careers. On one extreme, SAG represents stars like Will Smith, who will take home well over $20 million from his coming film “Hancock” once all the receipts are counted. The bulk of its members, about two-thirds, according to some estimates, make less than $1,000 a year from acting, either because they can find no work or because they have moved on to other careers but kept up their dues.
SAG said the average annual income for its membership was $52,000 a year. The guild said it could provide no other economic statistics about its membership, however.
(See how the two actors unions collide in the video).