State tries to break deadlock

Should a talent agency be allowed to own a noncontrolling interest in a production company and vice versa?

Today’s much anticipated legislative hearings on California’s agency rules should signal whether the Screen Actors Guild and tenpercenters can break a long-running stalemate on that contentious financial-interest question.

Event caps a six-month review by the state Senate Select Committee on the Regulation of Talent Agencies of the state’s Talent Agency Act, which grants the labor commissioner power to regulate agents. But Hollywood will be watching just as closely for indications of whether a SAG deal can be reached on its own 16(G) agent franchise rules, which expire Jan. 20.

Senate President pro-tem John Burton created the panel in part due to the inability of SAG and the Assn. of Talent Agents to hammer out an agreement on the ATA’s request to loosen the financial-interest rules and other regs in 16(G).

Coming together

SAG and ATA have not negotiated for nearly a year. Once Burton announced the panel’s creation in April, the guild said it would not resume talks until after the hearing.

Confab will draw leaders of SAG, ATA, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, the Independent Talent Agents Assn., the Producers Guild of America, the Office of the State Labor Commissioner, the Talent Managers Assn., SAG board member Richard Dreyfuss and manager Brad Grey.

Participants have refused to disclose details of testimony, due to start at 9:30 a.m. at the Reagan building in downtown Los Angeles, but the event could provide guidance on:

  • Whether SAG or labor commissioner Arthur Lujan will supply a legal opinion to back SAG president William Daniels’ 7-month-old contention that the ATA’s proposal violates state law. The ATA has insisted that its proposal, which would allow production and distribution companies to invest in agencies and vice versa, is legal.

  • SAG’s readiness to resume negotiations, particularly now that it has a new CEO in the person of former studio exec Robert Pisano.

  • Whether SAG will follow through on its request for an open forum with ATA on agent issues. The ATA has given a conditional OK but no date has been set.

  • AFTRA’s willingness to negotiate with ATA on its operating regs, which have not been revised since 1958. An AFTRA rep said talks have been set to start next month.

  • Whether Burton or Lujan support any changes in state legislation. SAG has already announced a three-pronged request for tougher state rules, including stricter penalties, broadening the regs governing who can file complaints and eliminating a so-called safe harbor provision allowing agents and managers to work together.

Agents have contended that SAG rules against financial interest are outmoded in today’s vertically integrated marketplace and note that the guild is refusing to enforce a ban on members using managers to perform agent functions. SAG contends that easing the rules could create unacceptable conflicts of interest despite ATA’s proposals for safeguards, and that rank-and-file members do not want the rules changed.

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