Actors, studios play hurry up and wait

Committee formed to replace Orsatti, studio prod'n scrambling

Leaders of Hollywood’s actors unions will hold a key meeting today with negotiators and studio and network CEOs with the goal of starting negotiations as soon as possible on a new film-TV contract.

The session, despite being characterized as a chance for participants to meet informally, will be closely watched for clues as to whether there will be a possible strike next summer by the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. The current contract expires June 30.

SAG prexy William Daniels has said the meeting at the union’s Los Angeles headquarters reflect his oft-stated position that he wants to avoid a strike by starting negotiations as early as possible.

“We are hoping to lay the groundwork toward setting up a schedule for negotiations to avert a work stoppage,” he said. But studio and network execs doubt Daniels’ assurances, and their concerns have been deepened by recent speculation that negotiations may not start until spring.

They have been scrambling to ramp up production to create a stockpile to soften the impact of possible strikes by actors and the Writers Guild of America, whose contract expires May 1.

Today’s meeting comes five weeks after the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers — the negotiating arm for studios and networks –announced it was ready to start negotiations as soon as SAG and AFTRA were ready.

However, several potential stumbling blocks remain, starting with who will negotiate for SAG. Its national exec director Ken Orsatti is leaving Jan. 15, and associate national exec director John McGuire — who was the lead negotiator during the unions’ six-month strike against the ad industry — has said he wants a less time-consuming slot within SAG, if he remains at all.

Daniels announced last week he has formed a search committee to replace Orsatti but admitted the successor might not be named until March (Daily Variety, Nov. 30).

Further delays

Additionally, negotiations could be delayed due to the unions not having the final version of the long-awaited report on TV residuals. Leaders of SAG and AFTRA contend they need the study numbers in order to hammer out a contract proposal.

The residuals report, generated by the AMPTP, was originally expected to be delivered early this year, and a preliminary version was given to SAG and AFTRA in September. But that document contains only “amalgamated” information rather than breakdowns by show, which the unions insist are crucial to formulating their first offer to the AMPTP.

AMPTP prexy Nick Counter has said the final study numbers would be delivered this week, following signing of confidentiality agreements and working out of logistics.

The agreement by the AMPTP to produce the document — which includes information about licensing fees and costs — was part of the unions’ 1998 settlement of contract negotiations. The Directors Guild of America reached a similar agreement last year with the AMPTP.

SAG and AFTRA are also unlikely to be able to complete their proposal until SAG’s wages and working conditions committee completes its series of meetings in January.

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