All actors want for Xmas is a new pact

Thesps hope to log deal by Yuletime

Hollywood’s actors unions want a deal by Christmas.

SAG and AFTRA, which start bargaining Dec. 6 with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, are aiming to conclude negotiations on their film-TV contract as early as this week. That would trigger a member ratification vote in January, five months before the June 30 contract expiration.

Why the holiday-season rush?

Leaders of SAG and AFTRA believe that concluding a deal now will help achieve the best possible contract terms, with a premium attached in exchange for avoiding the uncertainty derived from last-minute talks.

There was no official word about the negotiations, which entered their sixth day Monday at AMPTP headquarters in Encino amid a news blackout. Knowledgeable sources said the talks have not yet reached the “give-and-take” stage that could lead to a deal, but added that many members of the negotiating teams will be unavailable next week.

Prior to the talks, SAG and AFTRA placed emphasis on increased residuals and on boosting health care and contributions from producers, improved TV agreements and protections for background and stunt performers.

The unions have taken a notably low-key approach to the talks, even on the contentious DVD residuals. The one exception came in two months ago when SAG prexy Melissa Gilbert declared the residuals structure was unfair and that the time has come for actors to be “more fairly included in the studios’ explosive growth and success.”

Studios have insisted they won’t budge on changing the two-decades-old homevideo/DVD formula, which allows exclusion of 80% of wholesale revenues from residual calculations. Execs contend soaring costs of filmmaking make it essential to rely on ancillary revenues from DVD.

The DGA and WGA achieved no progress on DVD in negotiations this fall, and opted instead for increases of about $60 million each in three-year deals, with about two-thirds of that gain coming in health plan contributions.

SAG CEO Bob Pisano is heading SAG’s negotiating team. SAG members Scott Wilson and Tom Bower have filed a conflict-of-interest suit to oust Pisano from that position due to his posts as an advisory board member of pay TV outfit Cinema Entertainment Group and his seat on the board of DVD rental outfit Netflix. SAG’s board has backed Pisano; the next hearing in the case is set for next Monday before U.S. District Court Judge R. Gary Klausner.

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