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To SAG or not to SAG - that is the question

Last night at the monthly panel put on by Women in Film and Media Colorado, the question came up about whether or not to join SAG here in Colorado. It was a very large and diverse panel with a range of perspectives on the issue, and we were lucky to have SAG board member (and WIFMCO member) Shannon Dunn in attendance to offer even more guidance.

(Caveat: I am not an expert on this subject, nor a SAG member (I am currently a must-join). The following is based on my own understanding and is meant simply to help those considering their options to organize their own thoughts on the subject. Before making any decisions, actors should thoroughly research all the options for themselves.)

There are three options for those working in Colorado: turn down union jobs once you have reached must-join status, join SAG and don't work any non-union jobs, or go Fi-Core (Financial Core) and work both union and non-union jobs. Many actors in Colorado choose to go Fi-Core once they reach that point in their careers, which means that they are a "fee paying non-member". Productions are not allowed to discriminate against Fi-Core members, although these members are not allowed to claim SAG membership on their resumes. We also learned from Shannon last night that once you go Fi-Core, you will never be allowed to be a regular SAG member, even if you move to another market.

Ultimately, the union decision will depend on your goals as an actor. If your goal is to move to one of the larger markets, then a full SAG membership is the way to go. It is easier to start in a smaller market like Denver, where there is less competition from union members and a higher chance that you will be hired for a union job. Once you have SAG eligibility, all you have to do is pay the difference in initiation fees in order to be a SAG member in LA or any of the other markets. Also, if you plan to keep living here but work on bigger projects all over the country, and you want to proudly claim your SAG membership in those larger markets, being a full SAG member is again what you want.

What if you don't plan to move and can't fly all over the country chasing acting roles? Then your best move still depends on what kind of work you want to do here in Denver. In addition to not taking non-union film roles, SAG also expects you to honor their sister unions' rules as well--which means they don't want you to do non-union theatre or voice-over work either. There are equity houses in Denver, in fact we have some of the best regional theatre in the country, but there are still relatively few roles compared to the number of actors out there. Also, consider the kind of work you want to do. If you're happy with local and regional commercials, student films, short films, non-paying or low-paying microbudget features and community theatre, then stay non-union or go Fi-Core. As much as the union has helped improve conditions for actors, it really isn't going to help you out at that level.

However, what might be the reasons for an actor who works mainly in Denver to become a full union member? If you don't need to take just any acting work you can get to make a buck, and you don't really enjoy the local commercials and low-budget films, and especially if you can get yourself into regular roles at the DCPA or Arvada Center, it might be worth it to stay full union. If you can get yourself down to Albequerque on a fairly regular basis where they have quite a bit of union TV and film work, and you're really only interested in the bigger projects that come through Denver, then that option might work for you. You will be doing a level of work that is more prestigious and generally speaking, more rewarding for the experienced actor. You will most likely work less, but as your SAG rep will gladly remind you, you will be working less time for more money.

And Denver's market is really picking up. We still don't compare to New Mexico, and certainly not Louisiana and Georgia, but some good work is coming through here. We had both out-of-state and local productions under SAG contracts this year (one of them was a film I co-wrote, Gnaw, which should be premiering soon!).

So, do your homework and make an informed decision that aligns with your ultimate goals. And remember, you can always go from being a full SAG member to Fi-Core, but not the other way around. So keep that in mind in considering your options.

Quantum politics

I’ve finally figured out one of the major differences between liberal and conservative thinking. And you know what? They’re both right.

The difference is in individual versus societal responsibility. Every time one of my liberal friends or I post something on facebook about how much good certain social programs do, about how privilege is such a huge factor in success and failure, or how poverty affects people’s brains we get these infuriating comments about how “life is what you make of it” and “blaming other people for your problems gets you nowhere” and “the dependency culture is killing America”. And it’s so hard to understand because the effectiveness of these social programs is backed up by SO MUCH DATA. Like seriously, I’m not kidding you, I studied psychology at Stanford and have a Master’s Degree in Child and Family Studies. I know whereof I speak. Social programs work. Early childhood interventions works. Food stamps seriously help, people are not typically on them that long and abuse is actually very rare. Spending more on education helps; home visits for at-risk moms makes a huge difference; and giving the homeless housing IS ACTUALLY MORE COST-EFFECTIVE THAN CONTINUALLY POLICING THEM. It really is. Do the research. These programs help people, tons of people. And they are better for society--and the economy--in the long run.

So why aren’t conservatives on board? Especially the religious, who claim to be in favor of helping “the least of these”.

Because they are also right. Life is what you make of it. Blaming other people for your problems really does get you nowhere. Actually, the evidence for the dependency culture thing isn’t there—surprised me too. It turns out the most generous governments also have citizens with the highest work ethics. Seems that if you show people that they are valued first, they end up wanting to contribute more to society, not less. But anyway, back to business. As a personal philosophy, it is unbelievably destructive to believe that you are where you are and you will always be there because of your skin color, your upbringing, your gender, or anything else about you that you cannot change. One of the most important predictors of individual success is a person’s belief that through hard work and applied effort, they can get smarter, improve their life, and change destructive habits.

So, why don’t all us liberals jump on that bandwagon?

Before I answer, let me talk for just a moment about physics. Yes physics. See, there are two schools of thought in physics. There’s the large scale physics, such as classical mechanics, thermodynamics, relativity—which studies objects from grains of sands up to planets and stars and beyond, how they move and interact with each other. These are the physics you probably studied in high school – Newton’s laws, gravity, heat, etc. They all obey a certain set of rules, everything’s quite predictable and orderly.

Then there’s quantum mechanics. Stuff at the subatomic level. Turns out that on this tiny scale, things work differently. The laws that physicists have understood for centuries break down at this level. Really weird stuff starts to happen. Like observing something changes its outcome. I mean, like in ways that make you think time travel is possible. It is really freaky stuff. It’s not really important for this discussion that you have any knowledge of quantum physics, just understand that the way stuff works at the large scale absolutely does not apply on the subatomic scale.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

Both approaches work. Liberal approaches, when used to guide policy, really do work to improve people’s lives and they are actually more cost-effective in the long run on the large scale. But at the individual level that way of thinking really does break down. It doesn’t help at all. If you are counselling individuals, or if you yourself are not happy with your life at the moment, I cannot overstress the importance of individual responsibility.

How can these two ways of thinking be made into a cohesive whole? They’re asking the same thing in physics. The search for a unified “theory of everything” is a really hot topic. And it hasn’t been solved yet. And I don’t know what the answer is for politics either. How do you design programs that help huge groups of people without sending the message to individuals that it’s okay to blame their circumstances for their failures? How do you empower individuals without large programs that target specific risk factors? Shouting clichés about pulling oneself up by the bootstraps from the rooftops certainly isn’t the answer.

I think it must have something to do with a basic respect for human dignity. And in light of Clarence Thomas’ recent remarks about that subject, maybe that will be my next blog post.

On the other hand, maybe these ways of thinking are too ingrained for people to even listen to what I’m saying. But I hope that for a few of you out there, I can help bridge the gap, just a little.

Six Signs You’re Doing Feminism Wrong

First, a disclaimer. I actually really don’t like calling anyone wrong. It's not my place to judge what's right or wrong for you in your life. I would prefer to say, “Six Signs That the Choices You Are Making Surrounding Feminism May Not Be Creating the Results You’re Looking For”, but that’s way too long and really not catchy at all. So on with the show.

1.)    You’re devaluing other women for their life choices. We women face enough judgment already, don’t you think? From the way we dress to how our bodies look to how little or how much we speak up. Do you think maybe we could stop judging each other for staying at home/ not staying at home? For taking that promotion that would bring in more money/ not taking that promotion that would take us away from our kids so much? For working in a male-dominated field/ working in a female-dominated field? Just give it up already. Those life choices are up to the individual woman to make about her own life, and no one else needs to have an opinion about it. And this goes for feminist researchers as well. Who was it who decided that our paychecks determined our worth as individuals? I never agreed to that. It’s a very masculine measuring tool if you ask me. So more women are choosing lower paying jobs—jobs that offer more flexibility and less stress, mind you. Have you ever thought of using life satisfaction instead of the number on a paycheck to determine how women are doing in the workforce—and outside of it? Making sure that choices and encouragement are there for women is vital. Judging them for choosing happiness over dollar signs is ridiculous.

2.)    You’re putting down other women for how they look. Yeah, as stated above, we face enough judgment. We don’t need to be judging each other for looking too girlie/ not girlie enough. Too fat/ too skinny. Too much/ not enough make-up. Heels/ flats/ panty hose/ shaping undergarments… ugh. Just stop it already. Just. Stop. It.

3.)    You have an opinion on what another woman does with her body hair. Really? Do I have to elaborate on this one? NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS.

4.)    You make men feel like they can’t do anything right. Unlike other groups who face oppression, unless you’re living in a lesbian feminist commune, we really do have to deal with the group which has been our historical oppressor just about every day of our lives. Many of us even choose to live with men and are raising little versions of them. It really doesn’t do anyone any good to see men as the enemy and to make them feel horrible about themselves. Opening a dialogue where everyone can feel safe to bring up concerns, clear up misunderstandings, and yes, even question the fairness and validity of your stances will get others on your side and move the cause of women forward. Valuing the masculine over the feminine for thousands of years is what got this culture out of balance. Bringing it back into balance should be the goal, not creating another imbalance. Sometimes we need to make spaces where the feminine is valued more, yes, but always in service of bringing things back into balance. And always with an inclusive spirit that welcomes and values the contributions that all humans have to make.

5.)    You’re using the very masculine energies of domination and aggression to berate people into doing what you think is right for the women’s movement. In some situations domination and aggression are the tools that need to be used, and women should use them to get what they want and need in the world, just like men do. But they are not the tools that will be successful in bringing balance to a culture that already places far too much value on those very masculine energies to start with. Women, and people in general, are allowed to disagree with you about what is the best course of action needed to move toward equality. And in response to those differing opinions, how about showing those who disagree with you just how valuable the feminine energies of compassion and creativity are in solving problems and resolving differences? What if we created safe and nurturing places for both men and women to reach their full human potential? Wouldn’t that be amazing?

6.)    And the biggest sign you’re doing feminism wrong? YOU’RE DRIVING WOMEN AWAY FROM FEMINISM. For reasons listed above and more, many smart, progressive, equality-minded women of all ages are starting to shy away from the word “feminist”. There are some amazing women out there trying to reclaim both the word and the movement, and hallelujah to that. But if your attitude is so off-putting, your stances so immutable, your opinions so freaking holier-than-thou that reasonable, intelligent women want nothing to do with you… then you are part of the problem. And you need to just stop.

First Blog

This is the first Blog Factory post