While publicists are for the most part disinclined to make themselves the story, they’re making their voices heard now, coming out of the woodworks to address their thorny meeting with SAG-AFTRA leadership earlier this week.
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Tuesday’s Zoom meeting with guild leaders, including National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, was called to address questions as to how talent firms might navigate the devastation of dual strikes. Many were particularly outraged when Crabtree-Ireland apologized for the impact of the strike on their businesses, while at the same time admitting that the labor fallout will lead to “collateral damage” for people in the industry like themselves.
One senior publicist at a premier firm told Deadline today that the tone of SAG-AFTRA leadership came across as “negative” and “unsympathetic” to PR professionals, who are simply trying to keep the lights on. The reality, one source said, is that “instead of enlisting the help of the people who could amplify [SAG-AFTRA’s] message, [Crabtree-Ireland] dismissed us…He referenced that the membership voted for this to happen. They voted for a strike, and in order to achieve the goals of the union, these are the circumstances.”
The publicist added that the climate emerging within their world, particularly in the aftermath of the meeting, has been one where “despair and anger” reign.
Publicists are calling for the guild to “loosen the stranglehold” around publicity, according to one source. The crux of this argument is the contrast between SAG-AFTRA’s approach to publicity and that of the WGA. When the actors guild went on strike earlier this month, it told its 160,000 or so members that they would be strictly forbidden from promoting any projects with struck companies, including past work. While the writers guild took the same tack at the start of their strike, rules appeared to have loosened informally in the weeks that followed, with numerous writers and writer-directors fulfilling obligations for both awards season and theatrical campaigns.
Already, within the world of talent PR, rosters are being evacuated, as actors go on hiatus from their reps, without much to promote. The consensus among the publicists contacted by Deadline today was that should the strike stretch into the fall, there will be firms that close their doors, having already been fighting to survive Covid and its aftermath, never to open them again.
The disparity in what’s happening with decision-making between the two guilds comes down to the basics of what makes craftspeople in each area tick, sources say. “Writers create words. They’re used to going their own way,” one person said, whereas “actors interpret words and express them” for a living, and look to the director more so for guidance — meaning they’re more inclined to fall in line.
One issue is that some members of the actors guild are being permitted to engage in publicity for projects from “truly independent” producers, as was seen when Lily Gladstone-fronted feature Unknown Country landed an interim agreement from the guild. At the same time, our sources tell us that talent-wise, “everyone is on lockdown” regardless, unwilling to become the first performer to draw ire or even harsher repercussions by putting themselves out there.
The situation now, sources said, is one of pervasive fear and confusion amongst publicists, who despite the volume of communication coming from guild leaders, aren’t entirely clear on their dictates at all. Publicists are frustrated that they are being bound by regulations even though they are not members of SAG-AFTRA themselves, even if their clients are.
Publicists are so disturbed as to the possible scenarios awaiting them in the coming months that one high-level rep organized a private Zoom meeting for members, Deadline has learned. The email distributed to top-level PRs that rep A-listers, as well as independent operators, was sent out this morning, with the meeting to have taken place this coming Monday at 10 am PT.
“A lot of you reached out to me after the SAG[-AFTRA] call this week to set up a meeting with all the PR companies to discuss next steps, strategy, etc. I have set one up for Monday, July 31st at 10 am PT/1 pm ET. Hope most of you can join,” read the email sent out this morning, which Deadline read. “This is a difficult time, and we need to stand together.”
Such is the fear in the air at the moment that by day’s end, word of this story had gotten out, with multiple sources confirming that, as of now, the meeting amongst PR reps has been canceled altogether.
This year is a historic one for Hollywood in the most unfortunate of ways — first and foremost, being the first to see actors and writers hit the picket lines together since 1960. The labor unrest is a nightmare scenario for many a publicist who, while entirely on the side of the actors and writers in their negotiations, feel that SAG-AFTRA’s publicity policy has been an “overreach.” At the end of the day, says one, representatives taking part in the “symbiotic,” interconnected Hollywood community are perhaps due “some consideration”.
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