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Oz producers threaten thesps with shutdown

SYDNEY — Australia’s two main producers orgs are preparing to strike after thesps today rejected demands to go to arbitration over claims for a cut of net profits.

The producers had given the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance a deadline of next Wednesday to agree to have the dispute heard by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission.

“We do not see the benefit in the matter being referred to the AIRC at this time,” was the rapid response from Simon Whipp, the Alliance’s Equity director.

That means most of Australia’s producers will not begin work on any films unless the Alliance relents and agrees to accept arbitration.

Reps of the Screen Producers Assn. of Australia and the Independent Producers Initiative (an ad hoc group of about 50 producers) said their members are no longer prepared to sign deals that give actors a share of net profits.

They argued that producers have agreed to those terms since July only under threat of industrial action and in the false belief the Alliance was willing to strike an agreement.

Since July, 17 films including “Three Dollars,” “The Oyster Farmer,” “The Extra” and “Deck Dogz” have been shot under a so-called “favored nations” agreement, meaning the terms would be no worse than any pact subsequently agreed to by the parties.

“Producers can no longer accept the deals that have been reached under duress,” SPAA’s Geoff Brown and IPI’s Jane Scott said in a letter to Whipp.

“SPAA and IPI believe that such agreements have been extracted unfairly and are, … arguably, unenforceable.”

The letter said negotiating with the Alliance for each pic could mean productions would operate on different industrial terms. The legal costs involved would be prohibitive and would cut into the production budget.

The Alliance wants thesps to receive a little more than 8% of net profits. IPI and SPAA have offered actors 5% of net profits for films where the producers are entitled to half the profits, and less when their entitlements are 40% or 30%.

Whipp appeared in no mood for further negotiations last week when he told Daily Variety, “We gave negotiations a good chance for 18 months. We’re doing what our members are telling us, which is they only want to work under the new agreement.”

He said the Screen Actors Guild had ordered its members not to work in Aussie films that did not use the Alliance’s profit-share model.

Scott said producers had agreed to virtually all other claims, including increases in fees, per diems, allowances and pension payments.

“Film production in Australia is at a desperate stage and both sides cannot afford to have hard won productions compromised by industrial action, extensive individual negotiations and the cost of litigation,” SPAA and IPI said.

As few Aussie films ever make profits, many producers can’t see why the Alliance is taking such a hard-line stance. “Oyster Farmer” producer Tony Buckley has been making films for 32 years and said only 1976’s “Caddie” made a profit.

“There are more important things to be fighting for than for a share of mythical profits,” he added.

If the dispute drags on, it may impact that start date of “December Boys,” “Little Fish” and “Irresistible,” which are slated to roll in September/October.

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