Hollywood films skip Canada due to possible strike

Picket prospects send 'Pink Panther 2,' 'National Treasure 2' packing

Producers org the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. claimed Friday that two big-budget Hollywood films, “The Pink Panther 2” and Disney’s “National Treasure II: The Book of Secrets,” are skipping Toronto and Montreal because of the prospect of an actors’ strike.

John Barrack, chief negotiator for the association representing English-Canadian producers, says that labor relations brass at Sony and Disney told him that they had been planning on shooting in Canada, but because of the labor instability, they will not lense the tentpole sequels in these cities. Both pics are currently in pre-production.

“In both those cases we have situations where Montreal and Toronto, respectively, came right off the map,” he said.

“I don’t have any specific information about these particular projects, but I know that’s the way our companies work,” said Nick Counter, prexy of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. “If there’s any uncertainty as to a potential work stoppage, they are either forced to plan their productions elsewhere or they would put it off until there was certainty that the contract was finalized.”

News comes as producers and actors traded salvos late last week in the form of a grievance filed against actors by producers and an unfair labor practice complaint filed against producers by actors.

Each side contends the other is failing to bargain in good faith as they struggle to hammer out a new Independent Production Agreement as the clock ticks down to the expiration of their current deal on Dec. 31.

At the heart of the matter is safe harbor letters that the Alliance of Canadian Film, Television and Radio Performers is offering to individual producers in the event of a strike. Barrack claims that the letters are being made available to primarily U.S. productions.

“They’re trying to cherry pick who they’re going to strike against and who they’re not,” said Barrack, who maintains that the letters are illegal.

ACTRA chief negotiator Steve Waddell will not name names for fear of reprisals, he said, but added that “a growing number” of producers have signed on.

In November the producers’ association refused to sign off on a continuance letter that would provide blanket protection for ongoing productions because it balked at the terms. In exchange it would have given actors a 5% pay increase and a 2% increase in benefits — the same deal ACTRA is fighting for at the table.

Despite the legal wrangling, both the producers and actors said on Friday that they are inching toward an agreement. “We are finally making some real progress in negotiating this agreement,” said Waddell.

Producers have taken their most draconian rollbacks off the table, and the two sides have agreed on some new provisions for child actors.

There is still much to be done, however, with the controversial area of rights and wages for new media remaining a sore point.