HOLLYWOOD — Forget DVD — that was the unmistakable message from film and TV companies during two weeks of negotiations with SAG and AFTRA earlier this month.
“It really is a line-in-the-sand issue for the producers,” noted a knowledgeable source. “I’m not completely certain if it’s a line-in-the-sand issue for the actors, where they would be willing to bleed over this.”
Another knowledgeable insider notes that those in SAG and AFTRA doing the most saber-rattling on the DVD issue have the luxury of doing so because they are narrowly in the minority and their tough talk will likely amount to naught.
The two unions and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers launched the talks Dec. 6 with a news blackout that remains in effect. The current contract, which covers film and primetime TV, expires June 30. But with big-budget movies requiring lengthy pre-production skeds, the window for negotiations to wrap up without a resulting work slowdown is rapidly closing.
SAG and AFTRA, which return to the bargaining table on Jan. 5 following a three-week holiday recess, have been put in a tough spot if they insist on an increase in the 20-year-old formula for homevideo residuals. There are five key reasons why:
- The DGA and WGA were unable to achieve any movement on changing the formula, which allows exclusion of 80% of wholesale revenues from residual calculations. DGA prexy Michael Apted warned in September that the AMPTP would not budge on the DVD issue without a lengthy strike and perhaps not at all.
- Studio execs insist they can’t give in on the issue due to the soaring costs of filmmaking and marketing.
- Unlike the WGA, SAG and AFTRA have not attempted to fire up their memberships on the DVD issue. Instead, the unions’ leaders have asserted in general terms that they will seek improvements in contributions to the health and pension plans, residuals, TV agreements and protections for background and stunt performers.
- Rising costs forced SAG’s and AFTRA’s health plans — jointly operated by reps from the unions and the companies — to tighten eligibility and cut benefits in recent years.
- The idea of a strike is unappealing to many actors amid an uncertain economy and the memory of the bitter six-month commercials strike in 2000.
Similar deals seen
The consensus among labor observers is that SAG and AFTRA will opt for contracts similar to those of the DGA and WGA. Those deals included gains about $60 million over three years, with two-thirds of that coming in the form of increased producer contributions to health care.
It’s also unlikely that SAG and AFTRA members will vote down a contract. DGA members “overwhelmingly” endorsed their deal; WGA members approved their contract with 74% of scribes voting to ratify amid significant opposition due to the lack of gains in areas in which the industry has racked up impressive growth — DVD residuals and reality TV — and no agreement on residuals for Internet download sales.