LONDON — There’s a chink of light in the labor dispute between British film producers and actors, which has been in stalemate since December.

Actors’ union Equity has called a special meeting of its council March 5, at which it hopes to ask for a mandate to restart formal negotiations with producers’ org PACT.

Talks were broken off in early December, after Equity and PACT found themselves too wide apart on the parameters for a new film contract to replace the one that expired Dec. 1. Contact has continued behind the scenes, and in recent days the gap between their positions has narrowed sufficiently to make the resumption of formal talks a real prospect.

To recap the issues: British actors want the right to residuals, just like their American colleagues. Producers accept this, but can’t agree how much. For indie movies, the two sides aren’t that far apart — actors will get a small percentage of the producer’s net profit, but since producers never expect to see any net profit, a percentage point here or there doesn’t make much difference to them.

The problem is over the deal for Hollywood movies shooting in the U.K. Actors want a slice of worldwide video. Pact wants to exclude revenues from North America and continental Europe, around 70% of the world. Hence, an impasse. Except that recent soundings by PACT in Hollywood have revealed greater flexibility on this issue than previously thought.

Meanwhile, Equity has technically been on strike. In practice, the union has agreed to interim deals with every production that has sought one, including “Bond 20″ and “Harry Potter 2.” Nonetheless, the climate of uncertainty is driving Hollywood movies away from Britain.

Equity has called a gathering March 4 of its most active film actors and their agents, to test their mood. If all goes well, officials will ask the council the next day for the greenlight to hammer out a deal.

OSCAR’S PSYCHIC HOTLINE?

One man who knows a bit about Oscar campaigning is convinced this year’s British Academy Film Awards will swing the race for Hollywood’s greatest prize.

“I was thinking that ‘A Beautiful Mind’ was ahead for the Oscars, but now it’s gonna be ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” growled Miramax co-chairman Harvey Weinstein after watching the Tolkien epic grab best film and best director at the BAFTA ceremony Feb. 23. Weinstein, of course, has an exec producer credit on “Rings.”

In a year when hardly any of the other orgs that aspire to be Oscar bellwethers has picked Peter Jackson’s movie, BAFTA would love Weinstein to be proved right. But as chairman Simon Relph points out, he would be even happier if winning a BAFTA was seen as an end in itself.

DreamWorks and Universal will be hoping Weinstein is wrong about BAFTA’s influence. The studios are extremely nervous that Russell Crowe’s violent outburst toward the producer of the BAFTA TV show, coming just a few days before Academy Awards ballots are sent out, could blow his chances of taking the best actor Oscar.

VICTIM OF CIRCUMSTANCE

As usual, no one knows exactly what Mike Leigh’s next movie, “Untitled 03,” will be about. But at least Variety can reveal what it won’t be about — flight attendants. Leigh has long harbored a wish to make a movie about trolly dollies, and was planning to do so once he finished his latest pic, “All or Nothing.” But after Sept. 11, that subject was deemed off limits, so Leigh was forced to turn to Plan B –whatever that is. Coin is coming from StudioCanal and the Film Council’s Premiere Fund.

StudioCanal has also teamed with Leigh’s producer, Simon Channing-Williams, to develop a movie version of John Le Carre’s novel “The Constant Gardener.” Jeffrey Caine, who co-wrote the Bond movie “Goldeneye,” is writing the script.

Meanwhile, the Premiere Fund is set to board another Channing-Williams project, “Nicholas Nickleby,” directed by Doug McGrath. Gotham-based Hart Sharp is co-producing this Dickens adaptation, with United Artists taking worldwide rights. Confirmed cast includes Charlie Hunnam, Jamie Bell, Jim Broadbent, Christopher Plummer and Nathan Lane, with offers out to Anne Hathaway, Michael Gambon, Jeremy Northam, Alan Cumming, David Bradley, Romola Garai and Phil Davies. Pic is set to shoot April 2.

POWELL PICKS UP ‘PASSENGERS’

Nik Powell’s Scala Prods. has optioned film rights to Matthew Kneale’s Booker Prize-winning novel “English Passengers,” and signed up veteran TV writer Alan Bleasdale to adapt it. Set in the 19th century, book weaves a tragicomedy around the brutal suppression of Tasmania’s native population by British colonists.

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