SAG signs on for interim indie deals

Guild, studios resume negotiations

As contract talks with the majors enter their second week, the Screen Actors Guild has amped up pressure on the studios by signing interim deals on 95 indie features that allow actors to continue working — even if SAG strikes this summer.

The development came with negotiators for SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers huddled Tuesday at AMPTP headquarters in their seventh negotiating session with neither side commenting. Talks, which have been proceeding with an absence of saber-rattling, will resume today.

The interim deals, dubbed “guaranteed completion contracts,” are based on producers agreeing in advance to adhere to terms of the guild’s final contract agreement in exchange for being able to use SAG actors in the event of a strike. The completion contracts are available only to indie productions that have neither financing nor distribution deals with any AMPTP-repped company.

SAG and the AMPTP had no comment about the completion contracts. But top execs have emphasized that such deals won’t impact major studios much since they’re holding off on starting any projects until SAG reaches a deal with the AMPTP.

SAG’s strategy in signing the interim deals is similar to that of the Writers Guild of America, which signed 21 such pacts in the last six weeks of the writers strike.

The first announced SAG deals came a week ago, when the Film Department disclosed it had pacts with SAG for nine pics and Roaring Leo had signed a SAG deal for “Shifting the Canvas.”

The prospect of an actors strike after the current SAG feature-primetime contract expires June 30 has spurred feature production at the majors, with schedules designed so that shooting is completed by mid-June.

SAG and the AMPTP have four more days set for negotiations through Saturday — probably enough time to complete a deal if negotiators can engage in hard bargaining and compromise. The majors will then launch talks on primetime with rival actors union AFTRA on Monday.

If SAG hasn’t reached a deal by then, it faces the prospect of the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists signing a deal with the majors and using that to expand coverage in areas of shared jurisdiction. AFTRA angrily split its negotiating partnership with SAG in late March.

SAG also reiterated its talking points in an email sent Tuesday to members, notably leaving out its demands for improved DVD residuals and new-media terms that are better than those in the DGA and WGA pacts. Both those positions are non-starters for the majors.

SAG asserted that average annual TV/theatrical earnings for members are $52,000 a year; overall compensation and session earnings are decreasing; and residuals fell 7% from 2003 to 2007 after adjusting for inflation; changes in the broadcast biz model mean fewer employment opportunities; reality TV has taken a big bite out of residuals and initial compensation.

“One of our top priorities in our current TV/theatrical negotiations is the plight of middle-income actors,” the email said. “We’ve heard it over and over again … you are not earning the same income that you did several years ago for the same work.”

The email said SAG’s asking for increased minimum fees for performers, increased major roles minimums and compensation or pre-approval rights for product placement endorsements within scenes.

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