Top studios negotiator sounds upbeat on SAG

Counter sez chances of deal are at 50-50

Prospects that the Screen Actors Guild will make a film-TV contract deal without a strike this summer continue to brighten.

With last week’s tentative agreement for writers having already created a wave of optimism, producers’ chief negotiator Nick Counter declared Tuesday that chances are better than 50-50 that a SAG deal will emerge before the June 30 contract deadline.

The declaration by the low-key Counter, who is often guarded in his public statements, came a week before the May 15 start of negotiations at the Encino headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

“With reasonable minds, we should be able to do it by June 30,” Counter said at a breakfast held by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to celebrate the WGA deal. About 100 people attended, mostly business owners who had been part of Riordan’s campaign stressing the negative economic impact of a strike.

SAG, which negotiates jointly with the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, has not yet released its proposal, but Counter said he was encouraged by the recent SAG/

AFTRA statement that the initial offer is “streamlined” by comparison to other recent proposals. “That signaled to us that they are serious about making a deal,” Counter said.

Counter, who was also lead negotiator at the writers’ talks, said that completion of the WGA agreement should help at the upcoming round in areas where there are similarities between the contracts, as with residuals.

“We’ve got the template,” he said. “We know where the deal is. We just have to figure out a way to mold that deal to fit the needs of actors.”

Counter also noted that the AMPTP is already familiar with recent financial data from the companies as a result of having calculated the costs of the WGA proposals. “That short-cuts the time frame for us in terms of preparation,” he added.

The actors unions have already told Counter that they have invited reps from the WGA and Directors Guild of America to attend the talks as observers.

As he had prior to the WGA deal, Riordan continued to declare that he does not believe Los Angeles will see a work stoppage by actors. “Both sides want to reach an agreement,” he said. “They don’t want a strike.”

During a brief ceremony with Riordan and Counter, WGA West secretary-treasurer Michael Mahern gave credit to SAG and AFTRA in striking last year against advertisers.

“People on the management side were not reasonable,” Mahern said. “The courage and persistence of SAG and AFTRA set a tone that allowed us to make this deal. On a hopeful note, if the AMPTP is willing to meet the legitimate needs of actors, there will be no need for an actors’ strike.”

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