Thesp talks break for 6 days

Pace, long hiatus signal little chance of early deal

Film-TV contract bargaining between actors and studios remained on a sluggish track Thursday with negotiators announcing a six-day break after only three hours of negotiations.

The leisurely pace of the talks and the length of the hiatus, which comes only five weeks before the contract expires, strongly signal that there’s little possibility of wrapping up an early deal.

Many in Hollywood hoped that negotiators could use the May 4 Writers Guild pact to help reach an agreement well before the June 30 deadline, eliminating worries about the possibility of a strike.

But reps for the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have held only four afternoon sessions since talks started May 15, likely reflecting the thesps’ intention to take the talks down to the June 30 deadline and possibly several days beyond.

Talks resume next week

Negotiations will resume Wednesday at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Encino. Both sides continued to observe the news blackout, but the six-day break enables East Coast reps for actors to fly home for the Memorial Day holiday.

Talks recessed at 5:30 p.m. Though details of the proposals are sketchy, recent speculation is that the two sides remain far apart.

Reps had no comment on specifics and whether SAG and AFTRA have moderated their original proposal, which came in well above expectations and included a 5% annual hike in minimums. Under the current film-TV pact, the SAG daily minimum is $617 and the weekly is $2,147.

The industry’s proposals include creating a new class of lower rates for performers who have less than four lines in a production; easing some of the requirements for producers to fly performers in first class; and offering a 50% discount on residuals for half-hour TV shows in syndication markets reaching under 50% of U.S. viewers.

The Writers Guild agreement included a similar provision for a discount on TV shows, with the condition that it will be an experimental program for the three years of the contract.

Interim deals

SAG has also indicated that it is on the verge of offering interim or waiver deals that would allow independent producers to start movies after June 30 with SAG members even if there is a strike. A guild exec recently wrote producers that the SAG/AFTRA negotiating committee was “in the process” of approving use of such deals but gave no date for completing that move.

SAG prexy William Daniels has declared he is strongly in favor of granting waivers for low-budget filmmakers but has also stressed the ultimate decision will be made by the negotiating committee. Waivers would allow companies to use SAG actors during a strike by agreeing either to terms of the guild’s last offer or to the final settlement.

Hardliners within SAG believe granting waivers is misguided since it takes away leverage at the negotiating table, but moderates contend it reinforces the value of the contract that SAG is seeking. SAG has received hundreds of waiver requests from independent filmmakers this year.

SAG has already granted “extension” agreements to several independent projects already in production that will allow members to keep working if there is a strike (Daily Variety, May 24).

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