Oz producers call on panel in thesp rift

'Boys' won't begin prod'n until dispute resolved

This article was updated at 8:32 p.m.

SYDNEY — Australia’s film producers have asked the Industrial Relations Commission to mediate their pay dispute with actors, even though thesps nixed the idea on Wednesday.

And producers say they will not start work on any new films until the issue is resolved.

The dispute centers on the cut that actors get from a film’s profits. The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance contract with producers’ orgs expired at the end of 2002: Since July thesps have demanded an 8.33% cut on top of their salaries, which is put into a pool and split among the cast.

The Screen Producers Assn. of Australia and the Independent Producers Initiative claim they are not entitled to offer a share of net profits. Instead, they are offering actors 5% of their profits.

Traditionally, producers get half the profit from a film, with the rest going to investors.

In the deals they’ve signed reluctantly since July, producers say they are forced to give up 16% of their backend because investors and financiers are not willing to forgo any of their coin.

In fact, the percentages are a moot point since very few Oz films actually turn a profit.

“All we can do is to put pressure on MEAA to present themselves (at the commission) and hope we can get the matter conciliated,” said Albert Baumgartner, SPAA’s industrial relations manager. “We do not want to face industrial action. That’s not in anyone’s interests.”

Baumgartner hopes a date for the hearing will be set within a week or so.

Simon Whipp, the alliance’s Equity director, said he will attend the commission hearing but added, “We don’t think there will be any benefit.”

Parties appear before the commission voluntarily, and it has no legal power to force them to abide by any decisions.

However, a dispute over TV residuals and working conditions was settled last year after confabs between SPAA and MEAA at the commission.

The actors grievances date back to “The Castle,” a huge local B.O. hit in 1997, after which none of the cast saw a cent from the profits.

Meanwhile, the dispute is already hitting film production.

Producer Richard Becker is considering delaying “December Boys,” which was due to shoot in South Australia in November.

He and director Rod Hardy were about to start a nationwide search for four boys to play the leads in the pic about kids who leave an orphanage for a holiday by the sea.

“This dispute worries the hell out of me,” he said. “We won’t go ahead until this has been cleared up.”