As a child star of the 1974-'83 television series "Little House on the Prairie," Melissa Gilbert portrayed Laura Ingalls, a young woman facing the trials and tribulations of pioneer life in the 19th century. Now, she finds herself facing the real-life trials and tribulations of rescuing a multiemployer health benefits fund in the 21st century.
As the new president of the Screen Actors' Guild, Los Angeles, the union representing actors and actresses in the television and motion picture industry, Ms. Gilbert's responsibilities will include oversight of a $131 million health benefits plan. The plan has lost $23 million in the past five years because of film and television productions that were produced by Americans but filmed outside of the United States, said Ilyanne Kitchaven, SAG's associate director of communications. The union is projecting losses of $38 million over the next five years, she added. Under the union's Global Rule 1, production companies are required to make contributions to the SAG health benefits fund even if the film is produced in a foreign land, but union members must request the rule be applied in their contracts - and they don't always do so.
To boost contributions, the union has begun an education campaign to make sure members are aware they can receive benefits for productions filmed outside of the United States.
"It's pretty obvious many movies of the week have gone to Canada," said Ms. Kitchaven. In recent years, television series such as "The X-Files," as well as feature films "The Score" and "The Whole Nine Yards," have been filmed partially or entirely in Canada.
In addition, SAG is supporting the United States Independent Film and Television Production Incentive Act of 2001, which would give tax credits to producers that film in the United States.
The health benefits plan has a 90% exposure to fixed-income investments, said Bruce Dow, administrative director of the $2 billion SAG pension plan.