Don’t bet on a Screen Actors Guild strike just yet, but sources say several of the studios are running scared, with hard-line plans to stop production starts in Hollywood as soon as April 15.

Sources inside Paramount say the studio has ordered that no pix start production after mid-April. Execs there reportedly are expecting a SAG strike. Officials at Sony, Universal and Fox are said to be equally worried about the possibility, though they have made no specific plans just yet.

Even talent agents around town say offers to thesps are flying fast and furious. The studios, irked by strong SAG demands and the lack of movement on major issues in the last few weeks of talks, are all intent on getting projects into production so they can be finished by the June 30 contract deadline.

When asked why the studios would plan for a strike even in the midst of ongoing talks, one high-ranking studio exec said: “The fear is that if there is a work stoppage, there’ll be a schmuck who didn’t plan. But this does lead to a certain cynicism about the collective bargaining process that can be detrimental.”

Apparently, five unresolved issues are hampering the talks, which started in early February. Sources on the management side say a cogent fear of a strike could bloom if these five issues are not resolved in the next few weeks.

Though the negotiators are sworn to secrecy about the context of the talks, noteworthy issues reportedly include lower pay scales at the Fox web let and the rampant debate over new technologies and the rights to images used in the interactive arena.

SAG simply wants Fox to raise its rates to meet current network standards. The web let claims it should not be considered an equal with the other networks on this count. The Writers Guild of America, in its recent contract talks, fought for a similar proposal and came up with a deal that allowed the rates to climb to a level that was clearly short of the Big Three level but allowed for minimal gains.

One SAG source calls reports of a de facto strike “strategic rumors that are being floated” by the studios.

Ken Rossetti, exec director of SAG, says such rumors can be problematic. “One thing that never seems to change are the rumors. The negotiations are not at any stage where anyone can characterize them as good, bad or indifferent.”

Orsatti said SAG has successfully tried to start the negotiation process earlier in the year to avoid just this type of shutdown. “We certainly intend to do everything we can to make certain we negotiate to a settlement so that the de facto shutdown won’t happen,” Orsatti said.

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