Canadian actors, producers had settled

The battle between Canadian actors and producers is headed to court-ordered arbitration, after a tentative deal to settle the strike Friday was dashed when Hollywood weighed in with a thumbs-down on the terms over the weekend.

Both sides maintained that an agreement remains in the offing.

Friday’s tentative settlement between ACTRA, the CFTPA, the Assn. des producteurs de films et de télévision du Québec repping producers in Quebec and the Hollywood studios includes a 10% pay and benefits raise for thesps over three years and a formula for residuals on new-media use. There is also a sunset clause allowing the new media terms to be revisited after guild negotiations are completed south of the border later this year.

But Hollywood producers complained that the new-media terms, which includes a cut of distributors’ gross revenue, could set a damaging precedent for them when they head to the table with the major actors, writers and directors guilds south of the border.

John Barrack, chief negotiator for the CFTPA, confirmed that the studio bosses with whom he spoke late Friday expressed significant reservations over the proposed Canadian IPA’s new media terms, and that has stalled the deal. “There can’t be a deal until everyone’s satisfied,” he said.

Although the studios are not signatories to the Canadian IPA, they hold considerable sway by virtue of their contribution to the industry here, and are full partners at the negotiating table. “Our agreement among ourselves is everyone has to be satisfied or no one’s satisfied,” Barrack said.

No U.S. studio representative could be reached for comment over the weekend.

Thesps and producers have been in bitter conflict over the terms of their new Independent Production Agreement since October, and an actors’ strike was called in Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan and Manitoba in early January, primarily over wages and the uncharted realm of new media rights.

Pressure is mounting to clinch a deal as industryites grow increasingly desperate in spite of the availability of continuation letters from the union. The studios have said they will not agree to ACTRA’s continuation terms, and business in Toronto in particular has slowed to a trickle. There is only one feature, a Canadian comedy titled “Hank & Mike,” lensing here at the moment.

An ad-hoc group of industryites named the Alliance of Film Services and Labor has called a rally at Toronto’s city hall today, and organizers say the demonstration will go ahead regardless of whether a deal is signed.

“While other cities throughout the world are vying for a stake in this lucrative, clean industry, Toronto seems to be squandering the skills and facilities that would take competitors years to amass,” says a release from the group, which notes that production in Toronto has dropped 36% between its peak of C$928 million ($798 million) in 2001. “Production spending was only C$594 million ($510 million) in 2006, largely due to U.S. feature films by-passing the city due to concerns over pending labor negotiations.”

As it is, Toronto appears to have missed the boat on the television pilot season this year. “One could be optimistic and say maybe they’re not finding a home elsewhere,” said Jonathan Hackett, producer of “The Dresden Files,” “but I’d be surprised.”

What’s most important now, he said, is for the infighting to stop and industryites to pull together to reinvigorate the Toronto industry, including getting more and better studio space online faster and a re-upped political will to promote the city’s strengths as a lensing destination.

“We’ve been quite complacent in the boom years that the business will continue and everyone will continue to prosper,” he said, “when in fact, that hasn’t been the case.”

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