SAG negotiations still in limbo

The Screen Actors Guild and the majors continue to creep back toward the negotiating table, with federal mediator Juan Carlos Gonzalez and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers agreeing to meet again Thursday.

No date’s been set yet for the resumption of SAG contract negotiations, which broke off on July 16. Neither side had any comment Monday.

The confab will be the second meeting between Gonzalez and the AMPTP, coming two weeks after their first powwow. SAG asked for the mediation on Oct. 19 and met five days later with Gonzalez, then met again with him last Wednesday.

It appears the earliest date for restarting the SAG-AMPTP talks would be late next week. The AMPTP restarted negotiations Monday with the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees; those talks are scheduled to continue through Wednesday, then resume next Monday through Wednesday.

And it’s still unclear if Gonzalez will be able to persuade both SAG and the AMPTP that it’s worth giving formal bargaining another try. After meeting for more than 40 sessions between April and July, negotiators failed to close major gaps on multiple fronts — particularly new media — with SAG contending it has to achieve sweeter terms than the other Hollywood guilds and the congloms insisting they won’t revise their final offer, especially amid a souring economy.

The final offer was issued June 30 as the guild’s master contract expired.

SAG’s move toward mediation began in August, when the moderates on the guild’s national board sought such a step and were spurned by SAG president Alan Rosenberg, who criticized the idea as counterproductive. In September, SAG members strongly supported holding out for a better deal in a postcard poll; the AMPTP blasted the effort as flawed and the questions as misleading.

Control of the SAG board shifted in September to the moderates, resulting in last month’s resolution to bring a mediator aboard. The calculator on the AMPTP website estimated that as of Monday, SAG members have lost more than $30 million in gains they would have achieved over the past 4½ months had the majors’ final offer been ratified.

Uncertainty over a possible SAG strike — which would require 75% support in an authorization vote by guild members — has slowed feature production in Hollywood in recent months. Stats released Monday by the FilmL.A. permitting agency showed that October off-lot feature production slid 36% to 408 days, following a 37% decline in the third quarter.

October TV production stayed steady, however, with dramas shot off lot edging down 2% to 758 days while reality shows jumped 10% to 1,134 days. Overall third-quarter TV production was the second highest ever, soaring 17% to 6,959 days.

Studios appear to be betting that SAG won’t strike. Feature production is expected to ramp up next year as studios prep to put at least 40 films into production between spring and summer in order to fill slates for 2010 and 2011 (Daily Variety, Oct. 8).

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