Guilds plot new strategy for upcoming talks

With contract negotiations looming, SAG and the WGA West have gotten chummy again.

Leaders of the two guilds spent Friday plotting strategy at SAG’s Hollywood headquarters in what’s expected to be the first of several such confabs prior to the launch of WGA bargaining with studios and nets this summer. The WGA’s contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers expires on Halloween; contracts for SAG and the DGA expire in mid-2008.

Both SAG and the WGA declined comment about Friday’s meeting but insiders described it as productive with a major focus on the thorny strategic question of how to push for improved rates for writers and actors in the fast-changing world of digital platforms.

The get-together was an outgrowth of the shifts during the past two years at SAG and the WGA toward elected leaders who have campaigned on taking a more assertive stance at negotiations. And it’s a return to the approach of 2001, when the WGA and SAG were very closely aligned, with DGA and AFTRA observors at all negotiating meetings and joint strategy meetings similar to Friday’s sesh.

In 2004, SAG and the WGA were not in synch as SAG’s leaders opted for a one-year extension, leading the WGA negotiating fruitlessly and leaving the DGA to make a three-year deal that didn’t include any hike in the DVD residual formula. The WGA and SAG then followed with similar three-year deals.

Leaders of both guilds have insisted they don’t want a strike, but producers and the AMPTP have been aggrieved over the WGA opting to wait until July to start negotiations due to the uncertainty created by the ongoing prospect of a work stoppage.

Neither the DGA nor AFTRA were included in Friday’s meeting. The DGA has tended to play its cards close to the vest and is viewed by producers as the most pragmatic of the three major guilds.

As for AFTRA, its exclusion by SAG reflects ongoing tension between the two performers unions on long-standing jurisdictional problems.

Newly minted SAG national exec director Doug Allen has conveyed SAG’s dismay to AFTRA over AFTRA getting half the negotiating committee seats on the film-TV and commercials contracts, even though its contribution on those contracts is well under 15%. SAG’s leaders are also perturbed over AFTRA continuing to sign up primetime network series that are shot on digital rather than on film, which would be SAG’s jurisdiction (Daily Variety, Feb. 14).

According to guild insiders, Allen has told AFTRA that it should plan on getting representation at the contract talks in proportion to the AFTRA contribution to the earnings on the film-TV contract. But nothing definitive has been worked out yet.

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