Producers say ad prod’n won’t halt if strike occurs

Current actors unions contract set to expire March 31

Independent commercial producers plan to operate in business-as-usual mode if union actors strike in April by using nonunion talent and going to foreign markets.

“It is the intention of our member companies to move forward with their production commitments and continue to provide their clients with the highest quality production possible,” said Matt Miller, president of the Assn. of Independent Commercial Producers, in a letter sent Friday to casting agents. “We anticipate that production companies will be able to meet the needs of advertisers here in the U.S. In the unlikely event that production companies fail to meet the needs here, then we can be certain they will look to foreign markets.”

The current commercials contract covering the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists expires March 31. The unions mailed 135,000 strike authorization ballots last week to members and will resume negotiations Tuesday on a new contract with advertisers, who are represented by the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies and the Assn. of National Advertisers.

The groups held two weeks of talks in February with unions seeking a 20% pay hike for principal performers in commercials, a 30% increase for performers in Spanish-language ads and major increases in cable pay rates and residuals. Advertisers have proposed an expanded buyout period for cable and concessions to reduce costs, such as excluding actors from principal pay if they appear for two seconds or less in a finished spot.

Miller’s letter noted that SAG’s current leadership has held rallies to push for strike authorization and predicted that if an agreement is not reached by March 31, the unions will walk out. Many SAG officers, led by president William Daniels, were swept into office last fall after criticizing incumbents for not negotiating aggressively on contracts.

SAG and AFTRA drew more than 1,000 actors to a recent rally at the Hollywood Palladium in support of their negotiators, and the orgs will stage a rally Tuesday in New York. Commercial actors last struck in 1988 with a three-week work stoppage.

Miller said he hopes current negotiations can be resolved “in a way agreeable to all parties and in a timely manner.” But he also expressed concern over “the potential impact an impasse in negotiations would have on this industry.”

John McGuinn, chief negotiator for the advertisers, told the industry earlier this year to consider completing production on commercials before April 1.

Such preparations may have helped power a 21.6% gain in commercial production in Los Angeles County during the first two months of the year, based on statistics released by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. The figures showed February production for commercials jumped to 769 days from 696 last year on the heels of jumping to 648 from 469 in January.

Miller said the local upsurge probably stemmed mostly from a generally healthy economy and increased ad spending by Internet companies rather than producers preparing for a strike. The EIDC also showed a boom in off-lot film production with a 26.4% rise in February to 1,100 days. TV production fell 8.5% to 821 days.

“Producers are realizing again that Los Angeles is the place to be for filmed entertainment,” EIDC president Cody Cluff said. But he added that the organization will continue to push for government incentives to hold down runaway production to foreign locations, which continue to attract low-budget projects.

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