Behind the Masks: The Story of the Screen Actors Guild
Producer: William Gazecki
Director: William Gazecki
Associate Producer: Stephon Litwinczuk
Format: 4-Part, 5-Hour
Behind the Masks is a 4-act, 5-hour story of one of the most enigmatic labor unions in history. This 85-year chronicle will show how the Screen Actors Guild was conceived, founded, and built into the most prestigious performer’s rights organizations in the world. From the beginning, the Guild has faced the challenges of dealing with the Hollywood moguls, the Mob, war, television, labor battles with other unions, and its own internal struggles to find unity and foster prosperity. We will see how a few great stars of the Golden Age of the silver screen came to the aid of hundreds of working actors, bit players and background performers, applying the motto of “the few strong helping the many weak”.
The film will embody over 10 years of research and preparation, utilizing unprecedented access to the Guild’s own historical archives. Many of the founders and key historical figures will be shown, culled from over 30 years of oral history video documentation. Utilizing over 75 individual interviews, the film will include film and television clips, archival stills, period music and an original score. Many of the images will be never-before-seen depictions of the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Hollywood labor movement.
The Screen Actors Guild (known to many as S.A.G.) was founded in 1933. Today it has 120,000 members. Only a few hundred of those members are stars. The rest are a unique, dedicated assemblage of supporting players, background performers, stunt players, commercial performers, animation voices, singers, dancers, puppeteers, etc. Collectively they are known as “working actors”. A working actor is an actor who makes his or her living solely from the craft of acting. Eighty-five percent of the members of the Screen Actors Guild do not make a living from acting.
S.A.G. started as the primary collective bargaining representative for Hollywood movie actors. During the Great Depression, wages and working conditions suffered in Hollywood as much as anywhere else. The simultaneous advent of sound, and the logistical and technological challenges that presented, spurred a slow revolt of the actors, who in 1937 were recognized by the powerful Hollywood studios as the exclusive bargaining agent for screen actors. Today, the Screen Actors Guild represents movie, television and commercial actors as well as stunt performers, dancers, singers, animation voices, videogame voices, and actors for industrial films.
While day-to-day operations are administered by a paid staff, the Guild is largely run by actors. Working with the Guild leadership, and especially working with actors overall, has been a novel experience. I have grown to have tremendous respect and affection for the challenges and accomplishments within the acting profession. Acting is one of the most difficult careers in the entertainment business, largely due to the incredible competition and ambiguity. There are hundreds of possible actors for any given role, and the final selection of who gets a particular part is generally made based on the personal preferences of the producer. Because of this, actors are forced to live on shaky ground 24/7. In addition, I have found that if any group needs a union to represent them, it is the actor. The powerful media conglomerates would like nothing better than to pay once for an actor’s performance, and never deal with them again, while continuing to generate profits from their performances indefinitely. In this regard, actors are faced with a daunting adversary, especially as delivery and distribution methods continue to evolve at a rapid pace. Every new method of distribution requires yet another carefully negotiated contract to secure fair compensation for the actor.
The Screen Actors Guild is to be commended for decades of diligence and steadfast unity in creating a safe and equitable haven fofor the working actor.