Sides show cordial gestures, could resume negotiations

Hollywood’s actors and agents have opted to keep their sabers sheathed and maintain their informal extension of the lapsed SAG master franchise agreement.

Although both sides decline comment about the talks, both have made moves indicating they still hold out hope for negotiating a new pact rather than walking away from the table.

At SAG’s request, the Assn. of Talent Agents decided Monday to postpone tonight’s membership meeting until next week. Also, sources said the Screen Actors Guild had scrapped plans for a Monday news conference in Los Angeles that would have featured high-profile members discussing their opposition to easing financial-interest restrictions on agents.

The end of the franchise agreement could open the door for agents to sell off significant stakes in their shops to producers and distributors. SAG leaders have opposed loosening those restrictions because of concerns over potential conflicts of interest, despite guarantees that agents will not become producers.

SAG and ATA launched the latest round of talks on Jan. 16, four days before the expiration of the agreement. Once the deadline passed, both sides agreed to follow the regulations contained in SAG-ATA’s Rule 16g agreement.

The franchise-agreement rules moved into a 15-month termination phase in October 2000, and the previous round of talks collapsed a few weeks later. The key dispute came over agents’ proposal to allow up to 49% ownership of agencies by production and distribution companies, including a waiver of commission on projects in which there is a financial interest.

SAG leaders have contended that any change in the financial-interest rules would have to be approved by a referendum of members. Additionally, the attorney for state Labor Commissioner Arthur Lujan has indicated Lujan also will have to approve.

“The Labor Commissioner does have the authority to review and approve (or refuse) any agreements reached between SAG and ATA,” said David Gurley in a Jan. 8 letter to ATA’s attorney.

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