Actors want clarification on the digital technique

With motion capture becoming increasingly popular production technique, the Screen Actors Guild is investigating how thesps perform the work — a signal the issue may emerge as a factor in next year’s contract negotiations. In an announcement this week, SAG invited members and non-members who do the work to a Dec. 3 session at the guild’s Hollywood headquarters to discuss the impact of performance capture. The contract department staff and members of the TV/Theatrical Standing Committee will attend. It’s the first such meeting SAG has held on the issue.

“We’re holding this event in order to learn as much as we can — how the work is performed, the concerns of members and what we need to do about those concerns,” said national deputy exec director contracts Ray Rodriguez, in an interview with Daily Variety. He would not comment further.

SAG has jurisdiction over actors in most major films. But thesps have expresed concerns in recent years over the dearth of specific language in the master contract over how motion capture performances are covered, such as whether the stunt, background or dance provisions apply.

SAG’s raised the performance capture issue in past contract negotiations, as members have expressed the desire for language spelling out motion capture work during the “wages and working conditions” process to formulate contract proposals. But the companies have responded during negotiations by asserting that mocap — the emerging lingo for the work — is a “non-mandatory” subject of bargaining and not open to negotiation.

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

SAG’s scheduled to launch seven weeks of negotiations on its feature-primetime contract with the AMPTP on Oct. 1. That means the guild’s mandated “wages and working conditions” process will likely begin in the late spring or early summer.

The technique — first popularized in “300,” “The Polar Express” and “Beowulf” — is used in Robert Zemeckis’ “A Christmas Carol,” James Cameon’s “Avatar” and Tim Burton’s “Alice in Wonderland.”

Motion capture, in which movements are recorded and translated to a digital model, is also used in performances for videogames. That’s an area in which SAG has little jurisdiction.

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