Unions remain mum on progress

The sabers have been sheathed but likely won’t remain so much longer at the Screen Actors Guild’s negotiations with the majors.

With talks moving into their fourth day today, discussions between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have remained cordial by all accounts. The lack of acrimony comes while Hollywood remains unsettled over fears of a summer strike, which could start as soon as SAG’s feature-primetime contract expires June 30.

Most of the sessions have been devoted to presenting details of initial proposals. And so far, the tone and tenor of the SAG talks offers a sharp contrast with the cycles of anger and recrimination that dominated the WGA negotiations between July and December.

Though there’s no news blackout, the guild and the AMPTP have refrained from any disclosure beyond announcements that talks have ended for the day.

SAG president Alan Rosenberg has been emphasizing the need for a new deal that will address the concerns of middle-class actors — a mantra reiterated during the months leading up to these talks — without resorting to invective. SAG members Amy Brenneman, Laura Dern and Tatum O’Neal have put in appearances to support the guild.

But the civilized tenor will probably shift soon. The nitty-gritty of hard bargaining may begin as early as today, once negotiators begin exploring possible frameworks for a deal.

SAG hasn’t backed off its promise to make demands that the AMPTP has said it won’t grant, most notably for an increase in DVD residuals and far sweeter new-media terms than those in the DGA and WGA deals.

The companies’ positions likely won’t change, either. In informal talks with SAG leaders earlier this month, Disney prexy Robert Iger and News Corp. president Peter Chernin made it clear to Rosenberg and SAG national exec director Doug Allen that the majors will only make a deal patterned after those for the directors and writers.

SAG’s scheduled to meet every day, except this Sunday, until April 26. The two sides will caucus this morning and then resume negotiations at 1 p.m.

AFTRA is scheduled to begin its talks on its handful of primetime shows on April 28. If SAG hasn’t signed a deal with the AMPTP by then, it’s widely expected that AFTRA will be able to reach an agreement quickly.

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