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Name and title: David P. White, general counsel Age: 36 Western Union: The Screen Actors Guild, headquartered in Los Angeles, is the nation’s largest actors union, representing nearly 120,000 performers in 20 branches nationwide. SAG negotiates collective bargaining agreements with film, television, commercial and music video producers, setting standards for wages, residuals and working conditions. Currently headed by President Melissa Gilbert, SAG has included among its past presidents such screen legends as Ronald Reagan, Eddie Cantor, Robert Montgomery, James Cagney and Charlton Heston. In Department of Labor filings, the 350-employee union reported $100 million in receipts and a $12.2 million operating surplus in 2003. The Scam Artist: A SAG membership card is a coveted Hollywood property because major movie and television producers generally hire only union actors for speaking roles. The guild issues cards only to performers who land a principal role, or three background roles, in productions covered by a SAG contract, or who belong to other actors unions. Scam artists sometimes prey on aspiring actors by offering bogus shortcuts, said SAG General Counsel David P. White. Recently, said White, SAG’s in-house lawyers helped build a criminal case against Thyvronn Hill, who allegedly received up to $20 per person to provide “audience fillers” for live television shows and filled these seats by falsely promising a SAG card “voucher” for those who sat through 10 or more TV shows. He credits in-house counsel Sam Khare with “almost single-handedly” persuading Los Angeles City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo to file false advertising and other criminal charges against Hill in July. “We have a tremendously talented team,” said White. “If you give them support and let them go, good things will happen.” The Office: White supervises 11 in-house attorneys. Their major role is to enforce the collective bargaining agreements with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, advertising producers and other employers. He reports to SAG Executive Director and CEO Robert Pisano. SAG members file thousands of claims annually, said White, with the “vast majority” resolved informally by SAG’s contract office. White and his lawyers focus on “hard core cases” of nonpayment of wages and residuals, or failure to provide guaranteed working conditions. “Some producers don’t pay up front, but performers want experience so much that they’re willing to do the work on good faith that they’ll be paid sometime,” said White. “When it turns out that they never get paid, then it becomes a problem.” This year, SAG tackled this problem with an unprecedented action against deadbeat producers. Invoking the security clause in its contract with moviemakers, the guild foreclosed on seven independent films, including Blood Money (1996) and Telling Lies in America (1997), to recoup more than $400,000 in unpaid residuals. In July, SAG began selling off the rights to these films, auctioning one for an undisclosed “five figure” sum. According to White, the well-publicized foreclosures have encouraged other delinquent producers to pay up. They helped “send the message that failure to pay residuals simply cannot be tolerated,” he said. The Firms: SAG’s principal outside counsel include three L.A.-based firms: O’Melveny & Myers, Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan and Geffner & Bush. Washington’s Bredhoff & Kaiser also assists in election and other union matters, including last year’s proposal to combine SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a proposal that guild members rejected in a close vote. The Best Defense: Since becoming SAG’s legal chief in 2002, White has tried to counter the impression that the guild “was afraid of bad press coverage, and therefore you could sue us and we would settle,” he said. “Now we’re taking a hard-line stance against-and winning-lawsuits in order to change that unfortunate culture.” He’s had ample practice this year fending off lawsuits by former SAG officials. Courts recently dismissed two termination actions and a libel suit filed by former executives. The suits were “unfortunate,” said White. “With each one, we felt strongly that we were in the right, and I’m happy they worked out how they did.” White is similarly circumspect about a federal complaint by two guild members against Pisano, SAG’s CEO and executive director, who is also a board member and major stockholder of Netflix Inc., an online DVD company. The plaintiffs allege that Pisano’s ties to Netflix, which has revenue-sharing agreements with film producers, creates a conflict of interest given his role in negotiating actors’ residual fees for DVD sales and rentals. “We intend to defend our institutional interest vigorously,” said White, declining further comment on the suit. Hollywood Ending: The Kansas City, Mo., native graduated in 1990 from Grinnell College in Iowa with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He then attended Oxford University on a Rhodes Scholarship. After working from 1993 to 1997 as executive director of Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a youth and family outreach program in Kansas City, White enrolled at Stanford Law School, where he received his law degree in 2000. He signed on as associate with O’Melveny & Myers, working primarily on labor and employment matters. SAG hired White as general counsel in August 2002. Becoming a GC of a high-profile union in his early 30s was “a little daunting at first,” said White, “but once I got into the swing of things, it felt like a great gig.” Personal: White is married to screenwriter Susan Watanabe, who is currently working on the UPN television network series One on One. Last Book and Movie: Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (starring SAG cardholders Jim Carrey and Kate Winslet).

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