Clooney on sidelines of SAG battle

Actor opts for neutral stance

George Clooney’s not choosing sides in the increasingly ugly battle between the Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA over the latter’s tentative deal.

Clooney’s concluded that the bickering is counterproductive and only aids the congloms. In a letter released Thursday, he opted for a neutral stance and offered to broker solutions to the ongoing union fight.

“What we can’t do is pit artist against artist, because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthen the negotiating power of the AMPTP,” Clooney said. Nicholson’s the biggest name backing the anti-AFTRA campaign, while Hanks is the leading figure in AFTRA’s pro-ratification drive.

Clooney said both SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have good arguments on their side.

“Both are, of course, right,” he said. “AFTRA feels that a work stoppage would be devastating to its members, and SAG believes that if they don’t draw a line in the sand, the studios will repeat what they did with DVDs.”

Production’s mostly grinding to a halt next week after SAG’s contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Tuesdsay, although the guild hasn’t yet taken a strike authortization vote. Clooney noted a strike would mean “a great deal of harm” to actors, with agencies closing, TV pilots not getting made and more reality shows on the air.

“We all know the scenario,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean just roll over and give the producers what they want. It means diligence.”

Announcement was the first from Clooney since he denied a report several weeks ago that he had decided to back SAG’s anti-AFTRA stance. His letter came with SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers in their 39th day of negotiations, amid a growing certainty that there will be no deal before SAG’s contract expires.

Each side has blamed the other for the stalemate, which probably won’t be broken until after AFTRA announces its ratification vote results July 8.

Clooney — who had joined Hanks, Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep earlier this year in urging SAG to start negotiations as soon as possible — proposed a two-part solution:

  • Setting up a panel of 10 top actors, possibly with Nicholson and Hanks — the kind that producers “don’t often say no to,” is how Clooney put it — to sit down with the studio heads once a year and adjust pay for actors, based on new data that SAG and AFTRA compile

n?Changing SAG’s annual union dues cap (which is currently $6,000) so that top actors would pay $6,000 for every $1 million they earn. “If someone makes $20 million, they pay $120,000 into the union,” he added. “That could go a long way in helping pensions and health care.”

AFTRA and the AMPTP refused to comment Thursday, while SAG deputy national exec director Pamm Fair issued a vague response: “Screen Actors Guild appreciates George Clooney’s observations and opinions regarding our current negotiations and the critical issues facing all actors today. We welcome this valuable input.”

Clooney said he offered the proposals because he’s been lucky in his career and feels obligated, as a result, to look out for his fellow thesps. “Anything less is irresponsible of me,” he added.

And Clooney admitted his idea may not fly.

“To be sure, I’m not the brightest bulb out there,” he said. “So maybe someone has a lot better idea. I just happen to believe so strongly in both unions. My father, my mother, aunt, uncle, even cousins were all members of either SAG or AFTRA long before me.”

Clooney hasn’t been afraid of taking on the town’s guilds. He filed for financial core status last year from the Writers Guild of America to show his displeasure over a decision by WGA arbiters to deny him a screenplay credit for “Leatherheads.”

For its part, SAG’s complained that AFTRA’s primetime deal falls short in minimums, new-media residuals and jurisdiction, force majeuere protections and DVD residuals. It has urged the 44,000 guild members who also belong to AFTRA to turn down AFTRA’s deal, asserting that doing so won’t necessarily lead to a strike but rather to a better deal for AFTRA.

AFTRA hit back Thursday at SAG with a message to its 70,000 members, saying, “Don’t be suckered into a strike.

“This misguided campaign is designed to confuse members into voting against their best interests — and AFTRA has been working to counter these attacks, correct falsehoods and educate members about the merits of the deal,” AFTRA said. “But AFTRA members are smart and can understand the facts when given them.”

Click here to read Clooney’s statement.

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