Is an early deal possible?

As negotiators for actors and studios return to the bargaining table today, the rising hope in Hollywood is that a tentative pact could be done in as little as two or three weeks, long before a June 30 contract expiration.

Negotiators recessed for two days to review initial proposals after Tuesday’s launch at Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Encino. With a news blackout clamped on since negotiations started, neither side had any comment, but the town continues to be overtaken with optimism, sparked by the May 4 Writers Guild of America deal and a growing sense that the Screen Actors Guild has moderated from its originally militant stance.

Those developments have pushed many to conclude the odds are dwindling that the industry will be hit by a strike by SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists. In recent days, studio execs have turned their attention to casting film projects with fall and winter production start dates.

“There’s no anxiety anymore,” one agent declared. “Three or four weeks ago, all anyone talked about was how worried they were about the strikes and what they were going to do. Now, we’re headed back to business as usual.”

Labor analyst Daniel Mitchell, a UCLA professor of management and public policy, said optimism about an early deal may be justified because of the similarities between the WGA and SAG/AFTRA contracts in some areas.

“The negotiators are not starting from scratch,” he noted. “The WGA agreement gives them a head start. It does not mean that negotiations won’t go down to the wire, but even if they do, it will be easier to resolve at that point.”

Pared-down proposal

Mitchell also pointed out that SAG and AFTRA have narrowed their package to 36 proposals, significantly less than in other recent negotiations. The smaller number may make it easier for negotiators to discard or defer proposals when they are moving toward closing a deal.

In addition, the WGA agreement eases the pressure on this set of negotiations while outlining the financial parameters of the SAG/AFTRA deal. With the AMPTP agreeing to boost writers’ pay by $41 million over three years, the actors will probably see a pay hike in the range of $80 million-$120 million.

Still, not everyone expects a completed deal soon. Before the news blackout was imposed, SAG chief negotiator Brian Walton declared that he expects talks to go up to June 30 and possibly beyond.

Other insiders contend the notion of an early deal is wishful thinking, agreeing with Walton that talks will probably bump up against the deadline for two reasons — the need to show SAG/AFTRA members that their reps held out as long as possible and the sheer complexity of the process.

“It’s very hard for two teams of 30 people each to reach an early agreement,” a union staffer said. “It’s a struggle for both sides to prioritize which items are really important enough to include in a deal. So the expiration is a real deadline that forces people to make those decisions.”