SAG signs interim pact

Guild aims to pact with indies

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.

The Film Department, Mark Gill and Neil Sacker’s year-old shingle, announced late Wednesday that it had reached pacts with SAG for nine pics. 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 Film Department pics include writer-director Bart Freundlich’s romantic comedy “The Rebound,” starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha. Production starts next week in New York City. Others are “Law-Abiding Citizen,” a thriller starring Gerard Butler, which starts production Aug. 11; WWII thriller “Brothers in Arms,” directed by Marcel Langenegger and set for late summer/early fall in the Czech Republic; “The Other Side of Paradise,” the story of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald, with production in late summer/earlyfall; and romantic comedy “Earthbound.”

“We’re thrilled to have reached these agreements with SAG, with every indication of significant benefit for their members and for our filmmakers who have worked so hard to get their movies ready for production,” Gill said. “Effectively, this allows our films to proceed into preproduction in April, May and June against production starts in July, August and September — a time during which production volume looks likely to be down by at least 50 films, as the studios are currently unable to proceed.”

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.

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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