SAG negotiations enter second day

Talks with studios resume with little fanfare

After two days of contract negotiations with the majors, the Screen Actors Guild is looking to put some pressure on the studios by signing interim deals with indie feature producers that would allow actors to continue working on select projects even if a strike occurs.

SAG’s expected to announce at least one indie signer as early as today. But the majors are unlikely to react to SAG’s manuever, as Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers member congloms have been steadfastly holding off on starting any projects until after a deal with the guild is clinched.

SAG’s guaranteed completion contracts are available only to independent feature productions that have neither financing nor distribution deals with any AMPTP-repped company.

The signing of the “guaranteeed completion contracts” signals that SAG’s not expecting a quick resolution to the talks. The negotiations began Tuesday at AMPTP headquarters in Encino and continued Wednesday with minimal public disclosure as to the substance of the bargaining.

SAG and the AMPTP plan to negotiate every day — except for Sundays — through April 26. The majors will then launch talks with rival actors union AFTRA on April 28.

Neither SAG nor the AMPTP would comment Wednesday on the pending announcement regarding interim agreements.

The guild’s decision to pursue interim agreements is a strong indication that the sides have considerable ground to cover before a new three-year contract is reached. However, reps for SAG and the AMPTP have so far refrained from the kind of public criticism of each other that characterized the AMPTP’s early bargaining seshes with the WGA last fall. Plans are for the sides to issue a joint statement at the end of each day; after the first day of talks on Tuesday, SAG and the AMPTP said only that initial proposals were exchanged.

SAG first announced in early March that it was offering the contracts to independent feature producers, under which producers would agree to observe the terms and conditions of any SAG interim deal that would be offered during a strike. By signing such a contract, indie producers would not have to worry about a strike shutting down their productions.

The prospect of an actors strike hitting after the current SAG contract expires June 30 spurred a ramp-up in feature production at the majors last year and earlier this year. Production schedules have been designed so that shooting’s completed by mid-June — with insurers insisting they won’t issue completion bonds for projects that can’t be completed by that deadline.

The WGA signed more than 20 interim deals during its strike as a way of gaining leverage over the congloms. Companies agreed in advance to adhere to terms of the guild’s final contract agreement.

The first WGA interim pact was signed in late December by David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants. The guild eventually signed Lionsgate, RKO, Marvel, Weinstein Co., United Artists, Sidney Kimmel Entertainment, Spyglass Entertainment, Media Rights Capital, Jackson Bites, Film Department, Intermedia. and Mandate.

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