Agents, thesps spin rulings, prep talks

Future uncertain for SAG in wake of decision

So where do we go from here?

That’s the question remaining after Bion Gregory, California’s legislative counsel, issued an opinion last week on a very sticky issue: easing SAG’s financial-interest restrictions on talent agencies’ acquisition of and by production and/or distribution entities.

To no one’s surprise, both sides offered opposing interpretations of the opinion. As SAG pointed out, Gregory found that the agents’ most recent financial-interest proposal, which sought clearance for a 49% ownership, would violate state law; the Assn. of Talent Agents contended Gregory’s ruling supported their position and stressed that agents always planned to obey state law.

The only area of agreement: Both sides expressed a desire to bargain before SAG’s master franchise agreement expires Jan. 20.

“This is a labor dispute, not a legislative matter,” noted ICM topper Jeff Berg. “The legislative counsel is not an enforcing body.”

But little clarity exists as to what would happen that day if no new agreement is reached. Would agents suddenly be free to wheel and deal, or would the labor commissioner intervene?

Confidence in Pisano

Berg simply repeated his “We reserve our options” statement from last month’s legislative hearing. But he also expressed confidence in the bargaining talents of new SAG CEO Bob Pisano, a former top Par and MGM exec.

“Pisano is a thoughtful, experienced negotiator with a real understanding of all the pieces,” Berg said.

Many of SAG’s elected leaders, led by prexy William Daniels, have been adamant that they do not want agents to be able to sell a 49% stake in their firms because of the potential conflict of interest. At the table last year, SAG made it clear that it wanted more than just ATA’s proposed protections, which include waiving the 10% commission.

So is there a deal to be made? SAG sources believe a possible agreement could be struck if agents came on board publicly on enforcing the guild’s contract. For example, SAG’s board has already put the guild’s 98,500 members on notice that it is toughening enforcement of rules against working on non-union projects overseas and set May 1 as the implementation date.

SAG’s staff has, in the past, avoided disciplining members who violate Rule One by working non-union overseas. But high-profile members including Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Tess Harper, Holly Hunter and Kevin Spacey have urged SAG’s rank-and-file to refuse work on non-union contracts.

First test for leaders

The only real clarity on the issue seems to be that it will represent the first major test for Pisano and for whoever wins the SAG presidential election, which concludes this week.

Front-runners Valerie Harper and Melissa Gilbert have disagreed sharply on how the issue should be handled, with Gilbert blasting Daniels for not having made a deal already.

Adding to the intrigue is SAG’s sister union, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, which began talking with the ATA last week about possible revamps in the AFTRA franchise agreement. AFTRA reps have refused to disclose any details about specific content of the discussions.

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