Reality Bites

Why the actors’ strike won’t happen.

Jack Nicholson

Actors’ strike? We have been reluctant to address the latest labor conflict in Hollywood, but with the Screen Actors Guild contract set to expire Monday, we turn to the subject just long enough to say this about a strike: There’s not going to be one.

Not that there’s going to be peace and love between the studios and SAG. Things may get ugly, but there will be no strike.

Brief recap: Normally the Screen Actors Guild joins hands with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists—overcoming mutual dislike and distrust—to negotiate a deal with the studios. Not this time. AFTRA cut its own deal, and members are set to vote on it by July 8. (AFTRA is smaller than SAG, which has jurisdiction over studio films and most scripted prime-time shows.)

SAG is trying to convince members who also belong to AFTRA that they must reject the deal. Lots of actors, including Tom Hanks and Sally Field, support the AFTRA deal. Others, including Jack Nicholson and Sandra Oh, back SAG.

We predict that AFTRA members will approve the contract. Before that can happen, however, SAG’s deal expires on June 30. And that creates the potential for a voyage into the twilight zone, with no deal, no bargaining, and no production going forward.

Already, production has slowed way down in Hollywood because no one wants to be caught with the cameras rolling if the actors were to walk. But SAG hasn’t even called for strike authorization (which would take three weeks and the approval of 75 percent of those voting). The reason seems obvious: The union wouldn’t get it. The economy sucks, and the rank and file simply don’t have the appetite for a strike after the Writers Guild walkout earlier this year.

So if (when) the AFTRA deal is approved, SAG seems likely to be left as the lone holdout. At some point, it seems clear that SAG will have to sue for peace. Perhaps the studios will give SAG a fig leaf—allow the union to say it improved on AFTRA’s terms in a couple of respects. But entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel, who keeps a watchful eye on Hollywood’s labor turmoil, puts it this way: SAG has overplayed a weak hand.

Note that we’re not addressing the merits of SAG’s arguments that actors deserve an improved deal in new media, more money for DVDs, and a host of other areas. We’re just sticking with something that makes a lot of money for industry executives these days even if it kind of sucks: reality. (link)

June 17, 2008

Correction: This piece raised questions about a photograph of Claus von Stauffenberg that appeared in a United Artists promotional campaign for the movie Valkyrie. The piece pointed out that the photo UA used looked more like Tom Cruise, the star of the film, than a similar-looking AP photo of von Stauffenberg. Because of insufficient photo research by Slate’s editors, we failed to discover another archival image of von Stauffenberg, which appears to be the one UA used in its publicity campaign. As a result of this mistake, the question the piece raised—whether the photo had been doctored in an effort to make Claus von Stauffenberg look more like Tom Cruise—was unwarranted. 


It appears that Tom Cruise isn’t putting all his eggs into the Valkyrie basket. Valkyrie, you’ll recall, is the Bryan Singer-directed thriller in which Cruise plays a German officer who tried to assassinate Hitler.That project has hit some bumps on its way to theaters. Meanwhile, Cruise is also making an attempt to go back to his roots. But making that happen isn’t simple: It seems that the Cruise camp recently reached out to Paramount about making Mission: Impossible 4 and got seriously disavowed.

Paramount’s response was to ask whether Cruise would like to produce the film—as in, produce but not star in. And, since he’s contractually guaranteed the right to produce such a film at this point, it wasn’t much of an offer. This tells us not to read too much into that supposed rapprochement between Cruise and Sumner Redstone. And it suggests that the fighting between Cruise and Paramount studio chief Brad Grey over the deal for M:I3 was a lot more rancorous than we knew at the time.

We don’t want to keep you in suspense: Cruise’s answer was no. Our source tells us that Paramount met this with a shrug, since in the not-too-distant future the studio expects that it will be free, contractually, to make the movie without involving Cruise’s production company. Some film executives say they think Paramount is being foolish, because they believe there is an avid audience for Cruise in this role. After all, the last one grossed about $400 million worldwide. (Maybe M:I4 could pair Cruise with Shia LaBoeuf as the young successor.) But Paramount seems to think it could relaunch the franchise with a young star and leave Cruise out of the equation.

So back to Valkyrie. We’ve already delved into the drama surrounding this film, in which Cruise plays would-be Hitler assassin Claus von Stauffenberg. Somewhere along the line, someone mentioned that there had been bad press in Germany. Well, of course there was. Tom Cruise is a Scientologist, Germans don’t care for Scientology, and the subject of Valkyrie is a German hero. But this was different bad press. The rumor that our source had heard was that there was a kerfuffle because some people believed Cruise’s company, United Artists, had tweaked a photo of von Stauffenberg to heighten a postulated resemblance to Cruise.

Indeed, United Artists released a side-by-side photo comparison some months back in which the resemblance was striking.

Our (not definitive) search didn’t turn up any German press about this alleged photo tweaking. When we asked UA, the studio said that tweaking didn’t happen. We took a look at an AP photo and then at the image used by UA. *

And we weren’t sure. So we submitted the pictures to our experts at Slate.

Jim Festante, a Slate designer, wrote: “Look @ the nose, mouth, and chin. Definite (but slight) altering. Also, the head’s width is squeezed slightly.” And then designer Holly Allen added this: “To me, the nose looks different and definitely the eyebrows. Cheekbones and angle of the chin, too.” Finally, as a coup de grace, designer Jacob Berlow overlaid the AP photo of von Stauffenberg with the United Artists version:

Looks like someone tweaked the photo. * Finding out who may be mission: impossible. (link)

June 12, 2008

Roman Polanski

Push back: Following up our report this week about the new Roman Polanski documentary, we take note of a weird statement released Wednesday under the signatures of the prosecutor and the defense attorney in the case.

Recall that both are featured in an HBO documentary, Roman Polanksi: Wanted and Desired, in which they bemoan the shabby treatment that alleged child rapist Polanski suffered at the hands of the Los Angeles Superior Court in 1977.

As we reported, the documentary originally ended with the assertion that an unnamed judge in 1998 was going to permit Polanski to return to the United States without risking jail time, but only if he appeared at a court proceeding that would be televised.

Last week, the Los Angeles Superior Court identified that judge as Larry Paul Fidler and vehemently denied that he had ever imposed such a condition. After a pause, HBO said Friday that it would change the end of the film to say that Polanski feared the proceeding would be televised, which is quite different from having a judge insist that it had to be.

The altered documentary aired Monday. Yesterday, the film’s publicists released a statement signed by the prosecutor in the case, Roger Gunson, as well as defense attorney Douglas Dalton. It contends that at the 1998 hearing, Dalton pressed “for a resolution of the case that would allow for minimal news media.” The statement says Dalton “recalled that Judge Fidler would require television coverage,” and then adds: “Mr. Gunson recalls television coverage discussed at the meeting.”

Talk about lawyer words. There’s no further elaboration as to what, if anything, Gunson remembers about that discussion. Presumably, it could have gone like this:

Gunson: “So, your honor, what about television coverage?”Fidler: “Hate it.”

The statement, based on this rather threadbare set of assertions, concludes that both lawyers denounce the court’s “false and reprehensible statement” disputing the notion that Fidler demanded television coverage.

No word from HBO on whether the film will be changed again. (link)

Correction, June 18, 2008: Because of an editing error, a promotional headline for this piece on Slate’s home page originally referred to von Stauffenberg as a Nazi. He was a German officer but not a member of the Nazi Party.