Negotiations may go past deadline into July

Hollywood’s strike fever has dropped a few degrees as SAG and the majors resumed talks Wednesday with the majors after AFTRA signed a primetime pact in the middle of the night.

AFTRA’s deal, completed at 3:30 a.m. Wednesday on the 18th day of talks, will serve as a pressure point on the Screen Actors Guild to accept similar terms — though SAG’s leaders emphasize that they’re a long way from closing half a dozen key deal points. Insiders say the guild’s talks will probably go right up against the June 30 expiration and may continue into July, requiring a day-to-day extension of the current contract.

After a perfunctory meeting Wednesday, SAG and reps for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — who were sleep-challenged by the marathon negotiation with AFTRA — are set to resume talks at 2 p.m. today.

The American Federation of Television & Radio Artists agreement, which will go into effect July 1 if ratified, mirrors the DGA and WGA pacts in its new-media provisions; SAG leaders have insisted that actors can’t adhere to those terms. The guild has also indicated that it’s unlikely to accept the terms AFTRA reached on the issue of consent for the use of clips online — which emerged as a surprising sticking point for the unions in the first round of SAG talks and in AFTRA’s bargaining seshes.

Despite the tough talk, SAG hasn’t taken the step of scheduling a strike authorization vote, which would require 75% approval among those voting — and would, of course, ignite passions on both sides.

The toxic relations between SAG and AFTRA add a volatile element to the mix. On Wednesday SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg issued a decidedly chilly reaction to the deal announcement — sans any congratulations to its sister union — after complaining the day before that SAG had been left out of the loop during the last week of AFTRA’s negotiations. The DGA, IATSE and Assn. of Talent Agents, on the other hand, issued statements praising AFTRA’s deal.

“The SAG negotiating committee and staff will thoroughly analyze and evaluate the principles of a tentative AFTRA deal with the AMPTP,” Rosenberg said in his statement.

“We look forward to receiving an update from AFTRA staff regarding the negotiations as soon as possible. We look forward to hearing more during a face-to-face briefing with AFTRA’s negotiating committee as soon as AFTRA provides the opportunity.”

Rosenberg sent a message to members late Tuesday before the AFTRA deal closed, noting that SAG was restarting its negotiations with the AMPTP and reiterating that significant differences remain on online clip consent, DVD residuals, product integration, force majeure and jurisdiction over low-budget projects for the Web.

Like the WGA pact, the AFTRA deal contains no advances on DVD or product integration. But the union touted gains on clip consent and coverage of performers working on low-budget made-for-Internet productions.

In the wake of the deal announcement, AFTRA president Roberta Reardon told Daily Variety that union leaders were particularly pleased that the pact retains actors’ consent over online use of clips.

“The clips discussion took up an enormous amount of time,” she added. “That’s partly because the unions had not anticipated the companies pushing the issue and partly because no business model currently exists. It’s a real win for us.”

Reardon also said she’d be open to using any framework that may emerge from the second round of SAG talks. The guild negotiated with the AMPTP for three weeks starting in April, but the studios recessed the talks on May 6 despite the guild’s objections to begin previously skedded talks with AFTRA.

Both SAG and AFTRA had opposed the AMPTP’s proposal that actors agree to drop the consent requirement for online clips. The companies had contended initially that the change was essential in order to establish a viable business model that could compete with the massive levels of pirated clips on the Web.

The pact calls for AFTRA and the companies to “develop a mechanism” by which performers can provide or withhold consent for nonpromotional use of clips from TV libraries — which means asking congloms to find software programs to allow performers to expeditiously opt in or out. Reardon said several proposals have been under discussion, adding that ratification will trigger a 90-day deadline for negotiators to come up with a specific framework.

Under the new pact, companies will be able to bargain at the time of original employment with individuals for consent for online use of clips on programs produced after July 1– probably on a season-by-season basis. SAG’s contended it’s not interested in changing the 50-year-old consent requirement for clips.

The AFTRA talks lasted far longer than many observers expected. According to people close to the negotiations, a breakthrough on clips came late last week in a daylong meeting with AFTRA topper Kim Roberts Hedgpeth, negotiating committee chair Matt Kimbrough and outside counsel Kenneth Ziffren on one side and Disney general counsel Alan Braverman and Fox Filmed Entertainment co-chief Tom Rothman on the other.

AFTRA achieved jurisdiction on made-for-Internet content with terms mirroring those of the DGA and WGA with thresholds of productions with budgets of $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series, whichever is lowest. It also established that it has jurisdiction below those thresholds when a perfomer’s already “covered” — meaning that the thesp meets a specific requirement of having performed covered work in one of five areas.

The new pact must be approved by AFTRA’s national board on June 6-7 and ratified by its members. It covers about 10 shows including “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Flight of the Conchords,” “Dante’s Cove,” “‘Til Death” and “Reaper” plus new CBS series “Project Gary,” “Harper’s Island” and ABC pilot “Roman’s Empire.”

With AFTRA perceived as more pragmatic than SAG, many expected the AFTRA talks to go smoothly. But Reardon stressed that the negotiations had not been easy.

“Our ability to achieve these crucial breakthroughs for performers was a direct result of AFTRA members’ pragmatic approach to collective bargaining,” she said. “We recognized the hard realities currently affecting the traditional TV business, and we focused on creating a framework that would allow union members to participate fully in the emerging new-media marketplace.”

The AMPTP issued a statement Wednesday noting that the AFTRA deal’s the fourth labor pact it has completed this year following the DGA and WGA deals and AFTRA’s network code agreement, which covers TV outside primetime.

“Both AMPTP and AFTRA were challenged during these talks to find a way to fairly and sensibly tailor our industry’s new-media framework to meet the needs of actors,” the org said. “We now look forward to the resumption of talks with SAG, to building on the foundation laid during our first round of SAG talks and to reaching an agreement that will prevent another harmful and unnecessary strike.”

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