Kevin E. West joins the Anthony Meindl Podcast

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Hollywood tends to be viewed as the land of the young and pretty. Funny, how the idea of being talented is used a lot when

Hollywood tends to be viewed as the land of the young and pretty. Funny, how the idea of being talented is used a lot when and agent or casting director is not interested in you but “young and pretty” is what’s so often the focus early on. Unfortunately, in many ways, the old cliché, “Youth is wasted on the young”, reared its ugly head a lot during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA TV/Theatrical contract negotiations. The small shock of it for me, when you juxtaposed youth with this negotiation we’re currently in, was how odd and terrifying A.I. was viewed.

Now, yes, A.I. is absolutely an existential threat to on-camera and voice-over performing artists without question, but I was a bit surprised at the lack of perspective some of our younger members didn’t retain. Why? Well, I’m the “older guy” not one who grew up with a cell phone in my back pocket at age 10. I’m the guy who grew up with 8-track tapes, long phone cords and NO answering machines when I was 10 years old. So, just the nature of A.I. seemed to me to be in line with a technology level younger union actors would understand.

I have known Anthony Meindl for nearly 20 years. He’s one of the most well-known and revered acting coaches, not only in L.A., but multiple cities in the U.S. and abroad. While not all of his students, are young, he does tend to have an average age-range of actors that certainly skews more toward 25 than 40 for sure. I was quite pleased as we entered our second month of the strike action that he wanted to have me as a guest. By this time, post our near 6-weeks of negotiations behind us, without success a lot of talk out on the picket lines was indeed based on the over fear of the union successfully negotiating extremely stringent A.I. provisions. For me, that was kind of a “yeah – DUH” but wanting something, easily showing how crucial or paramount an element in a fight may be, does not in any way guarantee that your opponent cares or will ever accept it.

Please know, that in this moment, we were not just “on strike” for only A.I. provisions but there is NO doubt amongst any of our negotiating committee that it is at the TOP of the damn list in terms of priority. Still, what commonly was getting lost in this #HotLaborSummer was the sense of perspective and reality when it came to the true “state of A.I.” as it APPLIES to being an actor not at some paper-pushing corporation. Yes, with Open A.I., people were repeatedly posting images, talking heads, and all sorts of other AI-generated content to show HOW easy it all was. Again I, in no way, am fluffing off the severe threat or frightening reality of what A.I. can do or, more notably, will be able to do in just a few years but I am trying to get you to breathe for a little.

Not only has it been 40 years since SAG-AFTRA has been on strike – we have also had 20-plus years of digital technology experience in that time too. We have witnessed great technological advances, both internet related, mobile phone related, in home electronics, the gamer industry as well as, A.I. But what so many younger actors that I engaged with on a DAILY basis for what would eventually be 118 days, was that failure to recognize what it takes and costs to produce a real-life “Digital Replica” that anyone would BELIEVE was a real person actually acting in a scene alongside an actual real person. This was confounding to me, and yet, it is my job to ensure that my peers and community understood as much as they could, so I wanted to do Anthony’s podcast. Also, you have to bear in mind, that when negotiations have commenced even if you go out on strike, ALL of the information you have in your possession of printed materials, access to all of the proposals and 100% of the information that has been discussed is CONFIDENTIAL. I cannot just tell you what’s being said in the room.

Because so many of the wonderful union members who joined the picket lines, and became strike captains were indeed younger members, I found myself constantly battling what I call, the Google metaphor. What I mean by that is the large number of people between 18-35 who just grew up with the simplicity of: “If I can think it – then I can find the answer on my phone.” This, again, is not a negative it is just a CULTURE of mentality that doesn’t apply to the process of employment contract negotiations over a BILLION-dollar pile of pages. Using Google just means you don’t have to go find it in the encyclopedia, but negotiations, is much closer to trying to get ALL of your friends to behave exactly as you want them to during a party that lasts 6-months long. Ha ha – kinda different, right? Yes, A.I. is our number one priority, but we have another 48 proposals to help us all have a better chance at making a living working, and they matter as well. It’s a lot!

Please know that if you click below to listen you will be leaving the Actor Business BLOG.

Podcast Note from Anthony Meindl (Interviewer): Welcome to In the Moment’s SAG Strike Episode where Anthony chats with actor and SAG AFTRA Negotiating Committee Member Kevin E. West. From explanations on how negotiations work, to why the strike is happening, and how AI is involved!

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Kevin E. West