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As summer approaches, stunt driver Roger Richman of Malibu is usually out tooling around in a high-performance car as the cameras (and money) roll. But this year, he’s been out walking picket lines with his wife, Dorianna Richman, also a stunt driver, hoping to break the bitter deadlock between commercial actors and advertising agencies that has gripped Hollywood the past six weeks. The Richmans haven’t worked since May 1, when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) struck against advertising agencies. The dispute is largely over how much — or, say the strikers, how little — actors are paid for commercials. Ad agencies reap huge revenues for producing commercials, but want actors to accept a flat fee for commercials shown on cable and network television. The actors want residuals (a fee every time the ad airs), a common practice for TV series. Those and related issues have not only stalled commercial production, but have also caused a ripple effect in the legal community. “If your clients aren’t working, you’re not getting your 10 percent,” says Richman, referring to the standard rate transactional lawyers earn making deals for actors. That includes legal work on commercial shoots for “on-camera” talent, such as drivers, stunt performers and dancers, as well as voice-over artists for radio and television ads, who are currently on strike. “I haven’t traded paper or phone calls with my lawyer in two months,” says Richman, who worked nearly every day this year until the strike. He normally generates hefty fees from the 200-plus days per year he works as a driver or stunt coordinator for Lexus, Infiniti and other high-end automobile manufacturers. “How are they going to shoot [car commercials] without Richard Dreyfuss, the ‘voice of Honda?’” asks Richman. Dreyfuss and several other top actors have been strong supporters of the strike, even joining the picket lines. Some production companies tried an end-run around the strike by hiring nonunion commercial actors. Richman predicts that will backfire: “Who’s going to watch commercials for the Summer Olympics if no one can recognize the people in them?” Good question. A Nike commercial starring golfer Tiger Woods was among the first productions put on hold shortly after the strike started. But while transactional work for commercial actors may be idling, lawyers who handle labor and employment issues in Hollywood are seeing the flip side of the strike. A number of labor law issues have arisen, particularly since SAG adopted the strategy of extending membership to nonunion actors who agreed not to cross the picket lines. Because that lowered the threshold to qualify for SAG membership, some have questioned whether the move may violate the union’s own bylaws. Labor issues may generate their own brand of business during a strike, says Robert Schwartz, an entertainment partner at L.A.’s O’Melveny & Myers, who was with the firm during Hollywood union strikes in the 1980s. Those were more wide-ranging than the current strike, which is limited to the advertising segment. “The ‘corporate’ or ‘studio’ [law] firms lost some minor transactional work, but a few picked up a lot of labor work in return. We did,” recalls Schwartz. “But it’s all very short-term — people want to go back to work.” This week, for the first time in two months, SAG and AFTRA are sending their chief negotiators to New York to meet with the advertising industry brass, a move many find encouraging. “I want to work as much as anyone else, but we’re not going to cave in,” says Richman, who represents the stunt community in strike negotiations. “If it takes a year, it takes a year.” That could be devastating to law firms that handle commercial production work. Should the strike spread to television and feature film production, say lawyers, entertainment boutiques would suffer the most. That was never more true than during the protracted SAG strike of 1980, says Alan Brunswick, a partner with Manatt, Phelps & Phillips in West Los Angeles, who was then with Kaplan Livingston, a top Beverly Hills entertainment boutique. Because the 1980 strike encompassed movies and TV shows, says Brunswick, business dwindled significantly. Shortly after the strike ended, the firm closed its doors for good, events Brunswick says were connected. Firms could see an instant replay of that scene if SAG and the Writers Guild of America (which represents screenwriters) go through with a rumored strike against the film and television industries next spring, when their contracts expire. The current commercial strike, predicts a top Hollywood agent, is “just a preamble to a year of labor unrest. We all know what’s coming.”

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