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For the week of July 12 through July 18, 2000

Film industry clash in Stanley backcountry

SAG vs. ad industry

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"I’ll warn you again one time if you interfere with the filming, then I’ll arrest you and you won’t see the judge till Monday."

Micky Roskelley, Custer County sheriff

Express Staff Writer

STANLEY—Amid the stunning mountain vistas that have caught the eye of the film industry, four protesters from the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) formed a makeshift picket line across Roaring Hell Creek Road in the Stanley Basin early Saturday morning.

The protest was in support of an actors guild strike against the advertising industry that began May 1.

SAG’s target on Saturday was the shooting of a Chevrolet Blazer commercial along the banks of the Salmon River. A big ad agency with federal permits to film there was in charge of the production.

Angry SAG members wanted to shut down the filming.

Ratcheting up the tension was the local sheriff who threatened to jail union activists who interfered with the shoot.

Prompting the confrontation was a contract protecting SAG members who do commercial work. The pact expired at the beginning of the year.

Since then, negotiations between SAG and the advertising industry have stalled. As a result, SAG union officials have vowed to chase commercial productions, which they perceive to be in violation of the strike, wherever they go.

Mary McDonald-Lewis, a SAG board member and veteran activist, stood in the road with a protest sign in one hand and the peace sign flashing from the other. McDonald-Lewis, who was arrested last month for disrupting a Chevrolet commercial in Oregon, was intent on blocking the production crew of 35 from the film site.

"These are our brothers and sisters on this set and they’re betraying us," McDonald-Lewis told a reporter.

Custer County Sheriff Micky Roskelley then rolled onto the scene and laid down the law.

"Here are the ground rules, consider this your warning," Roskelley told the protesters. "I’ll warn you again one time if you interfere with the filming, then I’ll arrest you and you won’t see the judge till Monday."

As the production crew crossed the picket line, tension mounted between opposing camps who were familiar with each other following confrontations at three filming locations in Oregon over the last two weeks.

Chicago commercial actor Danny Goldring, the most peaceful of the four protesters, offered what he called Amish peace bread to ease the tension.

"I’m here to break bread not heads," Goldring said.

Obviously tired of being harassed by the protesters, members of the production crew declined Goldring’s offer, commenting that the bread was probably poisoned.

"People in Chicago look at us in the picket line and think were a bunch of spoiled rich actors," Goldring said. "But we’re just part of the working class. We are the little guys right down to the bottom."

Campbell Ewald Advertising of Warren, Mich., is handling the advertising campaign for Chevrolet. The production crew received permits from the SNRA and Ketchum Ranger District to shoot the commercial footage in the Stanley Basin.

"This is public land," McDonald-Lewis said. "They have permits but we have an ethical mandate to discourage the production of work performed during a strike."

McDonald-Lewis claimed Campbell Ewald had brought in nonunion labor and that SAG members were also working on the production in violation of the strike.

Campbell Ewald producer Steve McRoberts denied the accusations.

"We want to stay within the guidelines of the strike," McRoberts said. "I have SAG members on the crew but they’re not working in a SAG capacity so it’s not an issue."

SAG official McDonald-Lewis predictably disagreed.

"Those union members, despite the fact that they’re not doing union work on this job, are allowing production to take place which will prolong the strike," she said.

Alex Deleon, a caterer with A&M Catering of Northridge, Calif., traveled with the production crew from Oregon to Idaho.

Deleon, who is not affiliated with the striking union and declined to take sides, tried to put the controversy into perspective.

"If you’re on strike you’re fighting for what you believe in," he said. "They have the right to protest, but I don’t agree with them interfering," he said. "Both sides have opinions, but both sides have to feed their families and make a living."

Stuart Pemble-Belkin, executive director of SAG for Oregon, Idaho and Montana, said the strike was targeting all companies that didn’t sign the SAG interim agreement.

"Now it’s Chevrolet," Pemble-Belkin said. "Tomorrow it could be Chrysler, Proctor & Gamble or AT&T."

For the most part, negotiations center on a couple of key issues:

 SAG members are being asked to give up their "pay-per-play" formula which has been used for 35 years. This would give the advertising industry unlimited play of commercials with no additional pay to actors.

 SAG wants the pay-per-play formula for cable television; and it wants financial guarantees for Internet commercial use

"We feel SAG members have a moral obligation to support the strike," Pemble-Belkin said. "By crossing the picket line our fellow actors are helping the companies that are hurting us."

McDonald-Lewis said protest is legal in America, but handled differently by law enforcement in every state.

Pemble-Belkin said Sheriff Roskelley was restricting their right under federal law to protest the Stanely Basin commercial shoot. He contended that on public land—in this case, a federal forest area—protesters should be allowed beyond the boundaries of the filming permit which includes the background of the shot.

"We were told by the sheriff that if we were anywhere in the shoot we would be arrested," Pemble-Belkin said.

"They’ve [the production crew] got their permits…and have gone through the hoops," Roskelley said. "It’s good for business and promotes the area…They should be able to go about their business without being harassed."

"I find it especially disturbing that local law enforcement was brought in to be the lap dog of the producers," McDonald-Lewis said following the protested shoot. "That’s a shameful thing for any state to lay claim to."

Following the sheriff’s ultimatum, the confrontation was reduced to a war of words and exchange of propaganda. However, issues were raised involving rights afforded by the U. S. Constitution.

"There’s human drama here, it’s a fundamental struggle over liberty and rights," McDonald-Lewis said. "This is over trade labor, working class issues that affect all Americans, not just actors."

During the Oregon confrontation in which McDonald- Lewis was arrested, another SAG protester in an all-terrain vehicle collided with a production truck while trying to disrupt the shoot.

"They have the right to protest," Campbell Ewald producer McRoberts said. "I have no problem with that as long as they don’t interfere or do something crazy."

"They’re fanatics," said assistant commercial director Devin MacDonald. "This is whacked that they’re doing this stuff."

McDonald-Lewis, a member of a committee implementing strike policy nationally, is a veteran union activist and no stranger to confrontation. The ad agency’s words didn’t faze her.

"The tradition of unionism is founded in our Constitution," she said. "If we are radicals, then so were the men who signed the Declaration of Independence.

"Yes, I’m militant about ending this strike and getting back to the table and about achieving a fair contract for all my union brothers and sisters—including the scabs on this shoot."


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