Indie films get SAG waivers

Deals will allow shooting even if there's a strike

If the top movie stars plan to keep working after June 30, they may have to resign themselves to living in what agents are calling “Waiverland.”

That means they’ll sign onto one of the 300 waiver deals that the Screen Actors Guild has been carving with indie producers. These deals will allow features to continue shooting after June 30 if there’s a strike by agreeing in advance to adhere to whatever deal SAG negotiates.

The prevailing sense among studio toppers is that a strike’s unlikely, and a few projects currently shooting — “Transformers 2,” “Terminator Salvation,” Eddie Murphy starrer “A Thousand Words” — have a built-in hiatus so shutting down won’t be costly. Several other tentpoles — Roland Emmerich’s “2012,” Sony’s “Da Vinci Code” sequel “Angels and Demons,” Disney’s “Prince of Persia” and Universal’s “Nottingham” — are set for late summer on the presumption there won’t be a strike.

The stars and studios are nonetheless gearing up for the worst possible scenario. The current number of waivers is triple what SAG had signed three months ago — and an indication there will be a modicum of feature shooting in the coming months.

Even if there’s no SAG strike, the major studios will probably need a few months to slot in production starts, so indie projects will dominate activity in the late summer and early fall.

SAG and the AMPTP held their 22nd day of talks Tuesday, adhering to the usual no comment about the substance of negotiations, and they plan to resume bargaining today. SAG’s most recent message to members noted that gaps remain in half a dozen areas, including online clip consent, product integration, DVDs, force majeure and new-media jurisdiciton.

Randall Emmett, a producer on the “Bad Lieutenant” remake, told Daily Variety, “Nobody wants a strike, and there’s optimism a settlement is near, but this SAG waiver allowed us to set a July 8 start date, and it’s a godsend to us.”

Some of the key titles that have obtained waivers:

  • “Edge of Darkness,” directed by Martin Campbell and starring Mel Gibson. Graham King’s GK Films is financing. William Monahan wrote the script. It’s set for an early fall start.

  • Oliver Stone’s George W. Bush drama “W,” starring Josh Brolin and Elizabeth Banks. Moritz Borman is producing with Bill Block and Jon Kilik. Block’s QED Intl. is financing the film, which began lensing a month ago.

  • “My One and Only” starring Renee Zellweger and Chris Noth and directed by Richard Loncraine. Raygun Prods., Artfire Films and Merv Griffin Entertainment are producing.

  • “Big Eyes,” with Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski directing. Kate Hudson and Tom Haden Church star. Bona Fide Pictures Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa are producing.

  • “Labor Pains,” with Lara Shapiro directing a Capitol Films castoff in which Lindsay Lohan stars as girl who fakes pregnancy to get ahead. Avi Lerner’s Nu Image/Millennium and Overnight are producing.

  • “Pandorum,” a sci-fi space thriller starring Dennis Quaid and Ben Foster and directed by Christian Alvert. Overture and Constantine are producing.

  • “Bad Lieutenant,” starring Nicolas Cage. Werner Herzog is directing, and Edward R. Pressman and Emmett are producing; Nu Image/Millennium Films is financing.

  • “Killing Pablo,” with Joe Carnahan directing and Bob Yari producing for an October start.

  • “Brooklyn’s Finest,” with Antoine Fuqua directing Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Don Cheadle. Nu Image/Millennium’s financing.

SAG won’t disclose the number of pacts or who signed them. The guaranteed completion contracts are available only to independent feature productions that have neither financing nor distribution deals with any AMPTP-repped company.

The Film Department, Mark Gill and Neil Sacker’s year-old shingle, made the first major announcement three months ago by disclosing it had reached pacts with SAG for nine pics, including Bart Freundlich’s romantic comedy “The Rebound,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones; “Law-Abiding Citizen,” a thriller starring Gerard Butler, which starts production Aug. 11; and WWII thriller “Brothers in Arms,” to be directed by Marcel Langenegger and set for late summer/early fall in the Czech Republic. “Without the waiver, nobody could start a movie that wouldn’t finish by the end of the month, and you couldn’t get a completion bond,” Lerner told Daily Variety. “The way they looked at it, as long as you don’t do an upfront deal with a studio, you are treated as an independent, and that got us a waiver. We’re happy to have it, but I’ll never understand why SAG would strike, or why the Writers Guild did a few months ago.”

The uncertainty over a possible SAG strike has also unsettled the TV biz — evidenced by the unusually high volume of skeins that are actively shooting in an effort to bank as many fresh segs for the 2008-09 season as possible before a possible actors strike.

More than a dozen broadcast network skeins — including CBS’ “CSI” and “Cold Case”; Fox’s “24” and “House”; NBC’s “Heroes,” “Chuck” and “ER”; and ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” and “Dirty Sexy Money” — are in production at a time when casts and crews of most shows are on their second month of spring/summer hiatus.

SAG still hasn’t set a strike authorization vote — a step that would be required for a strike, along with a 75% endorsement in such a vote.

But the prospect of an actors strike hitting after the current SAG contract expires spurred a ramp-up in feature production at the majors last year and earlier this year. Production schedules have been designed so that most shooting’s completed by mid-June — with insurers insisting they won’t issue completion bonds for projects that can’t be completed by that deadline.

During its strike, the WGA signed more than 20 interim deals as a way of gaining leverage over the congloms. Companies agreed in advance to adhere to terms of the guild’s final contract agreement.

The first WGA interim pact was signed in late December by David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants. The guild eventually signed Lionsgate, RKO, Marvel, Weinstein Co., United Artists, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, Media Rights Capital, Jackson Bites, Film Department, Intermedia and Mandate.

(Cynthia Littleton in Los Angeles contributed to this report.)

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