Actors’ strike lacks drama, but it’s closely watched

Steve McNally Jan 9, 2007

KAI RYSSDAL: There’s some labor unrest going on north of the border that might interest you. Canadian actors are on strike. It’s a remarkably tame affair. But Steve McNally reports from Toronto the future of television might be on the line.

STEVE MCNALLY: For a bunch of actors, they haven’t mustered much drama. Nobody’s actually walked off the job, especially since they began collecting 5 percent increases.

But they’re not staying because they’re getting more money. The fact is, they can’t afford to walk out. Scale for a Canadian actor is about 30 percent less than for an American one. And the average annual take-home is about $10,000.

Both the actors and producers have agreed to keep current productions running. But veteran actor Wendy Crewson says everyone is drawing their line in the sand over future royalties from downloaded TV and movies.

WENDY CREWSON: We cannot sell the residuals for Internet usages and new-media usages for free.

The union is rejecting an up-front 5 percent buyout to cover new media, including cell phones and PDAs. It took a similar buyout before the DVD wave and says it missed out big on the benefits.

CREWSON: This is our watch, and we will not let this go on our watch.

The producers can’t pay more, says Association spokesman John Barrack, because it’s the low wages that attract budget-conscious U.S. moviemakers.

JOHN BARRACK: Part of the reason that production comes here is price. And it’s a business decision. And that’s probably why we have an industry here.

As tame as it might be, the dispute is drawing blood. Two Hollywood producers have abandoned plans to shoot films in Canada. And Tinsel Town is watching closely, hoping no precedents are set that might affect future negotiations with America’s acting unions.

In Toronto, I’m Steve McNally for Marketplace.

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