Fog of war clouds Hollywood pact plans

When it comes to handicapping whether Hollywood will have a strike, you can’t tell the players without a scorecard. In fact, you can’t even tell what’s going on with a scorecard.

A few of the facts are indisputable. The WGA contract expires Oct. 31. The DGA and SAG pacts expire June 30. Key points of contention include the producers‘ proposal for a rollback in residuals, as well as money from the dizzying array of new media platforms.

Beyond that, it gets murky.

For one thing, it’s not clear either side has a united front.

  • SAG and negotiating partner AFTRA are locked in internal fights over the 50-50 allocation of seats at the bargaining table (SAG performs 90% of the work under the film-TV contract) and a recent move instituting bloc voting by SAG reps.

  • Peter Chernin and Barry Meyer have led the charge for the producers, demanding a rollback in residuals, which wouldn’t kick in until studios recoup on a project. But it’s not clear whether any of the studio heads — who also include Jeffrey Katzenberg, Ron Meyer, Leslie Moonves and Harry Sloan — will support this hardline plan if an imminent crisis loomed. If push comes to shove, will the producers present a united front?

  • Some in town are nervous that some key guild negotiators have never before negotiated a showbiz contract.

And, though it seems a little confusing, the writers’ contract is the first to expire but it’s likely that the directors will be in the driver’s seat.

When the Oct. 31 WGA deadline passes, the most likely scenario is that the writers will keep working. And the focus will shift to the other two guilds.

The DGA — which has no significant internal dissent — tends to make deals earlier than SAG or the WGA.

DGA leadership believes the best deal is the early deal, since it has a premium attached in exchange for labor peace. Studios like dealing with the DGA, since that guild is traditionally the most united and easy to work with.

Historically, the DGA avoids inflaming its members and shows up at the table focused on key proposals rather than peripheral issues.

However, the resid-rollback issue was presented to the Writers Guild — which reacted with vocal anger — but has not yet been advanced to the DGA. The questions are: Will this proposal be offered to the DGA and, if so, how would it react?

If the DGA does make a deal, there’s no guarantee that strikes by writers and actors would be averted, but it may lower its probability. Such a pact could set the template for terms that are likely to be included in the subsequent WGA and SAG deals.

If that happens and the WGA and SAG follow, it would repeat how negotiations played out three years ago. It’s not such a long shot, either. The same players remain in place at the DGA — Michael Apted, recently named to his third term as president; Gil Cates, who’s set to head the negotiations committee for the third consecutive time; and Jay Roth, who has been the DGA’s exec director since 1995.

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