Actors to vote on lingering primetime crisis

The contract expires June 30, but for Screen Actors Guild honchos, D-Day really arrives on July 8.

That’s the date when AFTRA ballots — worded in obtuse legalese guaranteed to confuse even the most erudite union member — are due, and AFTRA unveils the results of its ratification vote on a primetime deal.

The tallies will show SAG leaders how much (or how little) muscle they can flex. If the ballot shows hefty actors’ support behind AFTRA’s terms, it weakens SAG’s efforts at securing better terms.

If it’s rejected, that would be a clear sign that many of the 44,000 actors who belong to both guilds have heeded SAG’s plea to spurn the deal.

“The AFTRA deal falls far short of ‘good enough,'” declared national exec director Doug Allen in an email to members sent late Monday.

An AFTRA spokesperson responded by accusing SAG of “misinformation and mischarateerizations from SAG’s desperate Hollywood leadership” and said the tactics are intended to mask the guild’s lack of progress at the bargaining table.

SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers held their 36th day of negotiations Monday, with no reports of progress and talks set to resume today. Most observers expect the guild will attempt to prolong the talks until the July 8 announcement of the ratification vote on AFTRA’s primetime deal.

Over the weekend, SAG ramped up its anti-AFTRA campaign with automated phone calls from former SAG president Ed Asner asking for a no vote from the 44,000 SAG members, while AFTRA added Sally Field and former SAG president William Schallert, in addition to the previously announced Tom Hanks (Daily Variety, June 23), to its list of endorsers, who have warned that SAG’s efforts will probably lead to a strike.

Field and Amy Brenneman spearheaded an unsuccessful move earlier this year to persuade SAG leaders to impose a work requirement for members to vote on the contract.

In the meantime, SAG and AFTRA have continued to blast away at each other. SAG’s criticized AFTRA’s contract agreement on the grounds that it falls short in areas such as DVD, new media and force majeure protections; AFTRA’s defended its deal and asserted that SAG’s forcing the industry to shut down.

SAG’s continued to insist it doesn’t want to strike.

“A no vote does not mean a strike,” Allen asserted in the message to members. “In fact, it makes a strike less likely, because it will send a clear signal that working actors aren’t satisfied with the AFTRA deal and, to get a deal, management will have to do better. It gives us more leverage at the negotiating table and makes it less likely that we would have to consider the utlimate leverage of a strike.”

AFTRA’s touted the new-media provisions of its deal, which mirror the DGA and WGA pacts, but SAG’s vigorously opposed those as too “producer-friendly.”

In response to Allen’s statement, an AFTRA spokesperson said, “AFTRA strongly maintains, and a growing number of actors agree, that the new AFTRA primetime television contract is a solid agreement that achives economic gains for every category of performer and confirms New Media jurisdiction. In our view, actors would be better served if the guild’s leadership would focus its energies on negotiating its own agreement — and ending the work stoppage that is already underway — than on undermining the AFTRA contract.”

Meanwhile, production is slowing down as the June 30 deadline appoaches.

However, the guild continues to sign more waiver deals with indie producers that allow for features to shoot even if SAG strikes.

More than 40 productions have signed waivers — or “guaranteed competion contracts” — in the past week. SAG has now signed more than 355 such pacts, in which a production company agrees to adhere to whatever terms SAG negotiates in its new deal with the AMPTP.

Only non-AMPTP companies are allowed to sign such deals.

The numbers may seem staggering to those who recall the 21 waiver deals that the writers guild signed last fall. However, the numbers aren’t really comparable. The WGA signed waivers with 21 production companies, which allowed those companies (often TV producers) to continue with multiple productions.

The SAG waivers are all for films, and they cover everything from a pic that’s already started lensing to those that begin shooting many months down the road. SAG hasn’t publicized which producers have signed guaranteed completion contracts, but indies have been continuing to sign.

Some of the more notable indie projects that have signed on so far include “Edge of Darkness,” directed by Martin Campbell and starring Mel Gibson; Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush drama “W,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks; “My One and Only,” starring Renee Zellweger and Chris Noth; “Big Eyes,” with Kate Hudson and Thomas Haden Church; “Bad Lieutenant,” starring Nicolas Cage; “Labor Pains,” starring Lindsay Lohan; and “Brooklyn’s Finest,” with Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle.

SAG has not yet scheduled a strike authorization vote, which would take three weeks to complete and require 75% approval from those voting.

Hollywood production is expected to largely cease next week, except for indie features that have SAG waivers and a few TV pilots (Daily Variety, June 17).

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more