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Talks fuel hopes

SAG, ad reps continue contract negotiations

Striking union actors negotiated with advertisers for a sixth consecutive session Wednesday in New York and agreed to meet again today, keeping alive the hopes that the 21-week strike may end soon.

In a boost for actors, Nicolas Cage announced a donation of $200,000 to the strike relief fund of the Screen Actors Guild. It was the largest donation so far to the fund, which recently received $100,000 contributions from Harrison Ford and Kevin Spacey.

“I have been a member of the Screen Actors Guild for 20 years,” Cage said in a statement while filming in Hawaii. “The union has stood by me, and I stand by it.”

Fund, launched last month with a $500,000 endowment from SAG, is designed to help members whose financial resources have been exhausted during the strike. In recent weeks, SAG has been actively seeking to involve high-profile members in the strike, resulting in contributions from George Clooney, Jay Leno, ‘N Sync and Britney Spears, among others.

In New York, negotiators maintained their policy of refraining from comment about the substance of the session, as ordered by federal mediators. But sources close to the talks said both sides believe they are making slow but steady progress toward reaching a final deal.

Rumors about a pending settlement have cropped up this week but no official word has yet emerged. Members of SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists continued to hold demonstrations against advertisers, including a silent vigil outside the site of negotiations at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Manhattan.

Negotiations broke in the late afternoon and several hundred activists ended their demonstration with their usual rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner.”

High-profile members attending included Al Franken, Michelle Hurd, Bill Irwin, Dan Lauria, former SAG prexy Richard Masur and Rob Morrow.

Picket action

Earlier in the day, New York activists demonstrated outside the DMB&B ad agency. In Los Angeles, pickets hit two Hollywood sites — an AT&T Broadband office and a McDonald’s — to protest the corporations’ shooting of non-union ads.

In Chicago, about 100 activists staged a rally to express thanks and present gifts to talent agents who have refused to send out non-union actors to struck work. “We realize how tough this has been for agents to keep surviving so we wanted to make a point of thanking them,” Chicago SAG/AFTRA rep Linda Swenson said.

The key issues in the dispute center on advertisers’ demand to eliminate residuals for network TV ads and actors’ demands for cable residuals, monitoring and Internet jurisdiction.

Approaching record

Strike, entering its 144th day today, is now 10 days short of equaling the longest in Hollywood history — the 1988 action by the Writers Guild of America. Should a tentative agreement be reached, the strike would not be over until the deal is ratified by the boards and membership of the unions, although SAG and AFTRA’s leaders might allow actors to work under terms of the tentative deal prior to ratification.

In an ongoing signal of the decline in commercial shooting on public property in Los Angeles, permitted shoots declined by 66% for the first 20 days of September, falling to 134 days from 309 days for the same period last year, according to the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. Shooting had declined by 66% in July and by 61% in August as producers took many shoots onto rental stages or outside Los Angeles to avoid being picketed.

Producers have insisted that the overall quantity and quality of ad production remains at pre-strike levels, contentions disputed by the unions.

SAG and AFTRA also disavowed a recent hacking of the Web site for the American Assn. of Advertising Agencies, two months after the site for the Assn. of National Advertisers was hacked. “We don’t condone these acts and wish they would stop,” the unions said.

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