Combatants face deadline with no deal yet

With only three weeks left before the Jan. 20 expiration of the Screen Actors Guild’s master franchise agreement, there’s no crack in the stone wall between Hollywood’s agents and SAG.

Both the guild and the Assn. of Talent Agents have held meetings among themselves on the issue in recent weeks, but despite the looming deadline, no date has been set for resumption of negotiations. SAG’s negotiating committee, including four Gotham reps, is set to meet Jan. 3-4 in Hollywood.

“SAG has no comment,” Tom LaGrua, chairman of SAG’s negotiating committee, said Thursday.

ATA exec director Karen Stuart said, “Our mission will remain the same: to represent our clients.”

The year-old dispute revolves around SAG-ATA rules that prohibit agencies from taking a substantial stake in companies, or vice versa, if those companies are involved in production or distribution. Although there are divisions among SAG leaders, many contend that loosening the ban represents an unacceptable potential conflict of interest.

Talks collapsed

During the last round of negotiations in November 2000, talks collapsed over the agents’ proposal that they be allowed to diversify by selling stakes in their shops, even though the agents pledged they would not become producers and would forgo commissions on any project involving a company with an ownership interest.

Earlier this month, SAG’s national board tapped 3rd VP LaGrua as chief of its agent negotiating team along with president Melissa Gilbert and nine other members. Gilbert campaigned on a platform earlier this year that advocated reaching a deal: “We have far more to fear from a breakdown of the franchise agreement than a reasonable compromise with the agents,” she said.

SAG’s negotiating team has met twice but the failure to set a date with the ATA is fueling speculation that it has not yet hammered out its positions.

The outlook remains cloudy as to what will happen if no agreement is reached by the deadline. Talent agencies could buy, or be bought by, another type of company; SAG could reissue the agreement and demand that individual agencies sign it; or it may demand that actors leave agencies that have outside business ties.

In addition, since SAG is headquartered in California, the state labor commissioner and state legislature could assume jurisdiction over the matter.

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