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SAG, PRODUCERS SETTLE IN A CLIFFHANGER DEAL

Averting what could have been an industry crippling halt to feature production starts, SAG/AFTRA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers hammered out a last-minute tentative agreement on the morning of March 24, after an exhausting 25-hour bargaining session.

“Both management and the unions agreed that there were more difficult issues to be resolved in this negotiation than in any prior negotiation with the AMPTP,” said Ken Orsatti, the Screen Actors Guild’s national exec director and chief negotiator.

“I’m very pleased that the majority of these issues were resolved in time to reach an agreement prior to the theatrical film shutdown that occurs several months before the contract’s expiration date,” he added.

The AMPTP had threatened to advise studios to stop production starts if a deal wasn’t reached by March 23. And several studios, including Paramount, had already indicated those plans were being made. Dozens of pix at studios across town would have been affected.

Mark Canton, chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Cos., said the settlement brings a sigh of relief to all the studios that were worried about a “de facto” strike.

“This will help all the studios in terms of their schedules and it will also help financially because it means that we don’t have to do things the abnormal way to have movies move forward,” Canton said.

Another studio source added: “There’s no question that there were pictures on the cusp that might or might not have gone, especially pictures involving TV stars with a brief period of time to do feature films. Everything is now really in a ‘go’ mode.”

Details of the pact were not announced by SAG/AFTRA or by the AMPTP.

But the deal still leaves unclear the status of ABC, NBC and CBS, which chose to negotiate with SAG separately from the AMPTP. The webs, still angry over the way the AMPTP handled talks last December with the Writers Guild of America, wanted to hammer out their own details in the pact.

According to SAG insiders, there will be only one union contract with the AMPTP and the webs. But some terms will be negotiated separately. SAG and the American Federation of TV & Radio Artists will meet with the networks in coming months.

The union’s biggest bone of contention in the talks reportedly was the desire to have Fox Broadcasting Co. designated as a full-time web.

The WGA had fought for a similar proposal in its last contract session, ultimately winning only modest gains in wage rates.

Regarding other gains, SAG/AFTRA earned a 3.5% flat wage increase for each of the three years of its contract, despite initially seeking 10% per year.

The guild also gained a 0.5% increase in pension and health fund contributions after originally asking for a 1% raise from 12.5% to 13.5%.

Sources said that even the 0.5% raise will effectively be worth much more than the original 0.5% because it will be compounded through residuals.

SAG/AFTRA got increases in the formula for extras and for “major role performers” on half-hour and hour-long episodics. The latter deal reportedly will pertain for the first time to Fox, as well as to the fledgling United Paramount and WB networks. One issue that SAG had lobbied heavily for, but ultimately pulled off the bargaining table, involved a major increase in residuals for basic cable.

Studio sources said the AMPTP would not yield. “We couldn’t burden that area further,” said one source. But a SAG source countered: “They took plenty of things off the table too.” The new pact must now go to joint boards of directors for SAG and AFTRA and then to the full membership of both guilds before the June 30 contract deadline.

Despite the last-minute bargaining, SAG/AFTRA and AMPTP officials lauded the process for establishing a deadline and sticking to it. But there was some disagreement on how serious talk of a potential de facto strike really was.

“Whatever SAG might have been saying, that is a big bluff, but they took these negotiations very seriously and they worked,” said one studio source.

A SAG source countered, however, that the studios had to worry about a potential strike, even if it didn’t come to pass.

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