It was just after dawn on the morning of May 25, and Mercer Street in Soho was already bustling with activity. A commercial for Colgate was scheduled to shoot that morning, and a team of burly crew members began to arrange lights and cameras for the production. Across the street lingered a gaggle of casually dressed actors, but these actors had no intention of smiling for the camera. They were on strike, they were angry and they were about to get rowdy.
When the cameras began rolling, the striking actors let the commercial crew have it, unleashing a noisy torrent of shouts, honking horns and whistles. Especially targeted were the non-union actors on the set–a group of handsome, clear-skinned men and women in their early 20′s, most of whom seemed to have little clue about the commotion around them. The picketers startled some of the actors by calling out to them by name, urging them not to work a non-union shoot. Promises were made to help them join the Screen Actors Guild if they walked off the set. “This won’t be your big break–this will be a big mistake,” the actors chanted at one point.
The commercial crew pressed on, but one teary-eyed extra eventually walked off the set, as did one of the commercial’s male principals, who bolted across Mercer Street to the cheers of picketers and into in the arms of Lisa Scarola, the president of the New York branch of SAG. “I just felt like I came to New York to be a professional actor and these aren’t the kind of conditions I wanted to work under,” said one of the actors who abandoned the set.
The official bargaining stance of the New York advertising industry is “business as usual.” But protests like the one in Soho have disrupted other commercial shoots throughout New York City, turning the month-old commercial actors’ strike into a major headache for the city’s ad community.
“I wouldn’t recommend shooting in New York to any of my clients,” said Stephanie Seligman, the New York executive producer of Villains, a bicoastal production company that counts Fargo ‘s Ethan and Joel Coen among its commercial directors. “It’s too distracting with the picketers.”
Indeed, concerns over confrontations with actors from SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have prompted some major advertisers to send their work on the road.
“Because New York is a hotbed of union activity, we are taking more work outside of New York to avoid being disrupted,” said David Perry, director of broadcast production at Saatchi & Saatchi. “Sometimes we’re even taking it out of the country.”
The commercial actors are striking over the issue of “pay per play,” the old system whereby actors are paid residuals for each time an advertisement is aired on a broadcast network, such as ABC or NBC. The actors’ unions, noting the increased influence of cable television, want “pay per play” expanded to cable, replacing the current flat-fee system. The ad industry, however, counters that the rise of cable has diminished the impact of broadcast TV, and wants to do away with pay per play altogether, replacing it with an entirely flat-fee system. The industry’s position is that there are so many channels in the cable (and, eventually, Internet) universe, there’s more work than ever before, and actors’ overall wages will not diminish.
The unions and the industry are deadlocked, with both sides acknowledging that emotions are high and progress has been low. Ira Shepard, counsel to the Joint Policy Committee on Broadcast Talent Union Relations, which represents two of the nation’s largest advertising associations, said there have been “no substantive discussions, none whatsoever” between the industry and the actors’ unions. Actors insist they are prepared for a long haul. “Any kind of romance about this [strike] got out of people’s veins early on,” said SAG picket organizer and actor Rob Keith.
Meanwhile, major ad agencies have tried to find ways around the work stoppage, such as shooting overseas, or using younger actors who are less likely to be union members.
But here in the city, the impact is felt, as ads for everything from Old Spice to Singapore Air have been targeted by picketers. “Business has definitely slowed down,” said Ms. Seligman.
Michael Karbelnikoff, a commercial director who has shot spots for Sprint, Visa and Dell, among other clients, said the strike has affected casting–especially for advertisers that rely on celebrity talent (many celebrities are SAG members and are honoring the strike) and older dramatic talent. “It’s just difficult, if you’re looking for speaking parts especially,” Mr. Karbelnikoff said.
There are also indications that the strike is affecting the creative side of the ad industry. “I haven’t seen any slowing down [of business] but I will say that I have been casting more campaigns that have less speaking in them,” said New York casting director and film producer Amy Gossels. “It makes me wonder whether agencies are taking a slightly different creative direction, as far as developing campaigns that aren’t as actor driven, but more driven by faces.”
Ms. Gossels said she wasn’t taking sides in the labor dispute, but she took exception to some of the “scare tactics” that the actors have used during the strike. She said union members showed up at one casting session and copied down the Social Security numbers of the actors who showed up. And while a SAG spokesperson said the union has instructed its members not to threaten non-union actors by telling them they won’t be able to join SAG should they work during the strike, statements like “This will be your last job!” were heard a few times at last week’s toothpaste shoot.
Mr. Shepard blasted such tactics. “We certainly understand that SAG has a right to picket, and they can exercise that right, but they don’t have a right to issue threats,” Mr. Shepard said.
Still, New York’s striking actors remain vigilant, saying that the protests are necessary to get their message out, and prevent the advertising industry from breaking their union. Though some expect the protests to die down during the heat of the summer, actors insist otherwise. Picket lines of whistling actors might not sound as intimidating as striking dock workers with baseball bats and bicycle chains, but they have been making noise and getting notice–especially here in New York.
Fired up by the strike? Tonight on TBS, tune to WCW Wrestling . You can watch the commercials–or not. [ TBS, 8, 9 p.m. ]
Thursday, June 1
This week, CNN begins its 20th anniversary rah-rah with Twenty Years of Stories: This Is CNN . [ CNN, 10, 9 p.m. ]
Friday, June 2
ABC adds a touch of Hollywood to its prime-time lineup next season. Gabriel Byrne will star in a new sitcom, as will the long-legged Geena Davis. Andre Braugher returns to TV for a medical drama, and the cigarette-inhaling Denis Leary is set to star in an ABC cop caper.
But one big name has been overlooked amid all the ABC hype:
No, not the brown-eyed, big-foreheaded indie film queen, the one starring with Matthew Broderick in the Broadway dud Taller Than a Dwarf . ABC has signed up a different Parker Posey. Parker McKenna Posey.
This Parker P. is four years old, likes potato chips, Will Smith and slasher horror movies.
Parker McKenna Posey–a Hollywood native whose mother is white and father is black–will play Damon Wayans’ daughter in My Wife and Kids , a sitcom scheduled as a midseason replacement for ABC’s fall lineup.
Yes, she’s heard a lot about her given name.
“All the time,” said Ms. Posey’s mother, Heather Stone. “Even before I put her in [show] business, people were like, ‘Parker Posey, isn’t she …?’ And I was like, ‘Yes!’”
But Ms. Stone said her daughter isn’t named after the famous Parker P. She’s named for her father Rodney Lewis Posey’s late great-aunt, still another Parker Posey.
Ms. Stone said that she was five months pregnant when she learned there was an actress named Parker Posey. She said she was standing in a grocery store checkout line flipping through a copy of People when she came across a photograph of Ms. Posey. She nearly had a nervous breakdown, she said. “I said, ‘You know, Parker is an odd name for a girl to begin with, but for her to have the exact same name [as someone else] is strange, too.’”
Indeed, while Parker McKenna Posey isn’t the first person to share a name with a famous person, she does share a name more curious than most. The older Parker Posey was named after the 1950′s supermodel Suzy Parker. As the story goes, Ms. Posey was born prematurely and was not expected to live, and her mother, Lynda, wanted her to have a strong name, a fighter’s name. (The older Ms. Posey did not respond to a request to be interviewed.)
Ms. Stone, an actress who has since split from Parker McKenna’s musician father, said that once her daughter started auditioning for commercials and TV, she considered giving her a new name. “And I said, you know, I can’t do Parker McKenna Stone, because her initials would be P.M.S.,” Ms. Stone said. “And then I didn’t want to do Parker McKenna Stone Posey, because that’s just entirely way too long.”
Ms. Stone settled on Parker McKenna Posey, her daughter’s given middle name. Asked if she ever uses the full name at home, Ms. Stone said: “We do when we get mad.”
Ms. Stone put the young Ms. Posey on the phone. NYTV asked Ms. Posey if she knew there was another actress with that name. “Yeah,” Ms. Posey said, shyly. Has she seen any of her movies? “Yeah,” she said.
How’s the sitcom going so far?
“I colored my picture,” she said. “I played with Tisha [Campbell-Martin, the actress] and Damon. I call him Damie.”
Ms. Posey gave the phone back to her mom, who revealed that these days, Parker McKenna Posey prefers a different name altogether, a nickname:
Tonight, the older Parker Posey, not Mookie, is a guest on a repeat of Late Night with Conan O’Brien . [ WNBC, 4, 12:35 a.m. ]
Saturday June 3
Rachel Dratch has been performing in comedy for more than a decade now, but it took her getting a featured role on Saturday Night Live for some folks to start paying serious attention to her work.
“It’s funny, when I was slaving away in Chicago [as a member of the Second City comedy troupe], I was having a lot of fun, but my relatives didn’t know what I was doing,” Ms. Dratch said the other day at the Algonquin Hotel, where she and S.N.L. head writer Tina Fey met to talk about their upcoming two-woman comedy show, Dratch & Fey . “Then I get on S.N.L. , and everyone wants to talk about it. It’s cool, but it’s weird how TV legitimizes you.”
Indeed, now that Ms. Dratch is on the tube, all kinds of weird stuff has been happening. Later this month, the 34-year-old actress will be the keynote speaker at her high school alma mater in Lexington, Mass.
“I think that the president of the class’ mom ran into my mom at the supermarket or something,” Ms. Dratch said. “Now I have to write this speech.”
Ms. Dratch joined S.N.L. last fall. Ms. Fey, her friend and writing partner–also a Second City performing vet–has been a writer for the show for three years. The just-wrapped 1999 to 2000 season was Ms. Fey’s first as head writer. The 30-year-old Philadelphia native is the first woman to hold that big-cheese title.
“I was happy to have Rachel there,” Ms. Fey said. “At first, when she was auditioning, I felt like I was her mother, very protective. Once she got in the door, I was fine, because she had the ability to do good work. And we did write together a lot.”
One of the running S.N.L. skits that Ms. Fey and Ms. Dratch co-wrote together (along with another S.N.L. writer) was “Sully & Denise,” which features a bunch of hard-partying suburban Boston kids dropping the R’s from their syntax. Ms. Dratch also scored with her impression of the hollow-cheeked Calista Flockhart, TV’s Ally McBeal .
Ms. Dratch is a featured performer on S.N.L. , not a full cast member, and doesn’t know for certain if she will be back next fall. She was asked if she did anything crazily desperate to stand out in the last few weeks of the season.
“Like that kid in Cider House Rules !” Ms. Fey said, laughing. “‘Take me! I’m the best one!’”
No, Ms. Dratch, like everyone else, finds out her S.N.L. fate in July. In the meantime, Dratch & Fey has been a fun distraction. Ms. Dratch and Ms. Fey originally performed the live sketch comedy show last summer in Chicago, where it was praised for being ha-ha funny. It bows in New York on June 7 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater on West 22nd Street between Sixth and Seventh avenues.
Tonight on S.N.L. , a repeat. Host: Joshua Jackson. [ WNBC, 4, 11:35 p.m. ]
Sunday, June 4
Ridley Scott’s overrated Blade Runner tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel. [Sci-Fi, 44, 9 p.m.]
Monday, June 5
On May 31, CBS’ Survivor, a megahyped voyeur-TV series about a bunch of rat-eating castaways living on a desert island, each trying to win a million bucks, makes its debut. Viewers preferring old-school voyeur-TV (and old-school rats) watch CSPAN’s Public Affairs tonight. [CSPAN, 38, 8 p.m.]
Tuesday, June 6
It’s pretty much summer now, so you’re not supposed to be watching TV. Case in point: NBC drags out the rotting carcass of Veronica’s Closet . [ WNBC, 4, 8:30 p.m. ]
– With Matthew Pacenza