Oz actors want piece of profits

Producers battle with thesps over new pact

SYDNEY — Australia’s screen producers and the actors’ guild are brawling over thesps’ demands for a cut of films’ net profits.

Producers’ reps say those claims are unreasonable and they urgently want to refer the case to arbitration.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance is resisting, preferring to strike deals with individual producers.

The Alliance says producers of 17 films shot since last July, including “Somersault,” director George Miller’s “Happy Feet,” “Three Dollars,” “The Extra” and “Deck Dogz” have signed agreements which give its members a share of net profits.

But many of those producers did so under coercion, fearing industrial action, according to Jane Scott of the Independent Producers Initiative, a group which reps around 50 producers.

Simon Whipp, director of Alliance’s Equity division, argues the agreements with the 17 producers prove its claims are “affordable, workable and manageable.”

Actors staged a one-day strike last July, shutting down numerous TV series, in pursuit of their claims for a new film and TV pact; subsequently a TV deal was agreed.

There is mounting frustration among producers that negotiations on films have dragged on for 18 months, with no indication that the actors are willing to accept arbitration.

Screen Producers Assn. of Australia exec director Geoff Brown says, “There is a strengthening of resolve among members of SPAA and IPI.” Flagging a tougher stance, Brown warns, “We can’t and won’t allow this (situation) to go on much longer.”

The Alliance wants thesps to receive a little more than 8% of net profits. Negotiating in tandem, IPI and SPAA are offering actors 5% of producers’ net profits for films where the producers are entitled to 50% of profits, and lesser amounts when their entitlements are 40% or 30%.

Producers argue they are not empowered to allocate a share of profits owing to third-party investors. The Film Finance Corp, which puts up around 45% of the budgets in 11 or 12 features per year, has rejected the actors’ demand for a cut of its profits. “The worldwide practice is for profit participants to take a share of producers’ net profits,” says FFC chief exec Brian Rosen.

Whipp avers there are precedents for such deals, citing the U.S. and Canadian actors’ pacts which give their members a share of distribs’ revenues. Explaining why the Alliance won’t go to arbitration, Whipp says, “We gave negotiations a good chance for 18 months. We’re doing what our members are telling us, which is they only want to work on the new agreement.”

Scott says, “Very little production is happening. If we impose penalties on investors they will walk away.”

She believes producers are being generous in being prepared to give up 5% of their back-end, when most are struggling to make a living. Scott mortgaged her house to fund the development of her latest pic, “Love’s Brother,” until she was able to secure finance from various sources just before lensing began.

Some producers are puzzled why the MEAA is taking a hard line considering few Australian films ever turn a profit. To that Whipp responds, “We acknowledge that probably only one film in 15 or 20 will make a profit. But when a film does so, it’s only fair that performers share in that.”