Guild, studios enter fourth week of talks

With Hollywood’s nerves stretched to the breaking point over a possible strike by thesps, it’s make-or-break time for the Screen Actors Guild at the bargaining table.

Negotiators for SAG and the majors face a self-imposed deadline of 5 p.m. PDT today to either make a feature-primetime deal or let the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have its turn starting Wednesday. The SAG talks have been extended twice and are now in their fourth week.

Both sides met well into Monday night without commenting publicly. But it’s understood that the majors have become disinclined to grant a third extension to SAG unless both sides have a deal within sight this afternoon.

And it remains uncertain whether SAG and the AMPTP will start the give-and-take of hard bargaining today. SAG may want to wait until closer to the June 30 contract expiration date in hopes of achieving sweeter terms.

The guild’s given only a few signs that it’s willing to back off from many of its demands, particularly in new-media provisions, as its leaders have insisted that actors have to receive better terms and salary hikes than those contained in the Directors Guild of America and Writers Guild of America pacts. For its part, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers has insisted that any SAG deal has to follow the pattern set by the directors and writers.

Monday’s talks launched mid-morning in the 17th session since bargaining began April 15 and the third since Friday’s announcement that talks would be extended on a day-to-day basis through today.

Friday’s extension was triggered by SAG’s dropping its demand for a doubling of DVD residuals, opting instead for a hike in pension and health contributions on DVD residuals. SAG also agreed Friday to drop pay-hike demands for guest stars and extras.

The concessions sparked a small surge of optimism that SAG was headed toward a deal rather than a strike. With the SAG contract expiring in seven weeks, the lack of resolution has caused serious headaches for the studios and thrown a monkey wrench into the development process since execs have stopped greenlighting features until SAG signs a deal.

For its part, SAG has signed interim deals — dubbed guaranteed completion contracts — on 95 indie features that will allow production even if it strikes. The WGA signed 21 such deals during its strike.

SAG runs several risks if it does not make a deal today:

  • AFTRA, which angrily split off from joint negotiations in March, would likely make a primetime deal within the next two weeks and then use that pact to expand its coverage of shows in areas of shared jurisdiction.

  • Once AFTRA’s signed a deal, the AMPTP would likely tell SAG it would have to accept the AFTRA terms on primetime.

  • To make good on its strike threat, SAG would have to ask members for a strike authorization. The guild’s required to receive a 75% endorsement to go on strike; any number that’s not well above that level would be an indication that a significant chunk of SAG’s 120,000 members don’t have the stomach for another strike this year.
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