Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Studios Pressure SAG With Letter

Majors want pact to mirror WGA, DGA deals


In a move designed to pressure the Screen Actors Guild into making a deal, the majors have told the performers union to forget about asking for sweeter terms than those secured by the WGA and DGA.

In an open letter issued Monday by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, the congloms sent a clear signal to SAG leaders not to expect special treatment at the bargaining table. Though it used a moderate tone, the AMPTP underlined that it won't break the pattern set in the recent deals with writers and directors.

SAG's talks start April 15, and AFTRA -- which split off from the Screen Actors Guild late last month -- begins April 28.

"We hope that our negotiations with SAG and AFTRA will bolster this new economic framework, enabling all of us to share equitably in the success of new media and to respond with creativity and swiftness to market changes," the AMPTP said. "If our industry relies on this new framework, we can all avoid more harmful and unnecessary strikes."

The missive is designed to warn SAG that its leaders' plans to seek improvements in new media and DVD residuals are non-starters. It arrives as the town remains unnerved by the assertive tone of SAG's approach and its strong alliance with the WGA during the 100-day writers strike, sparking worries a second work stoppage may be in the offing after SAG's feature-primetime contract expires June 30.

The AMPTP letter also indicates SAG's informal talks with News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Disney CEO Robert Iger have not been particularly productive. The duo huddled last week with SAG prexy Alan Rosenberg and national exec director and chief negotiator Doug Allen in an attempt to clear away peripheral issues and lay the groundwork for smoothing out the upcoming formal negotiations.

The AMPTP issued its letter as it launched three days of contract talks with the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, with both sides observing a news blackout. Those talks are expected to conclude Wednesday with a deal, which would be the fourth such pact reached so far this year.

In an attempt to isolate SAG in the minds of those in Hollywood, the AMPTP cited the other deals in the letter. "Fortunately, the three labor agreements already reached -- with the DGA, the WGA and the AFTRA Network Code -- provide the new framework for our industry's economic future," it noted.

SAG's Allen issued a terse response to the AMPTP letter: "Screen Actors Guild is ready to start formal bargaining and looks forward to productive negotiations with the AMPTP beginning April 15."

SAG has been under pressure to cool down its rhetoric, particularly since Allen and Rosenberg blasted the new-media and DVD terms of the DGA deal in late January.

"Some have rushed to anoint their deal as the 'solution' for the entertainment industry," Allen and Rosenberg said at the time. "We believe that assessment is premature."

The duo hasn't commented on the specific terms of the subsequent WGA deal, which mostly mirrored the DGA pact.

High-profile SAG members have attacked the guild's leadership on two fronts in recent months. George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep asked SAG in mid-February to start talks ASAP; and more than 1,400 SAG members -- including Amy Brennamen, Sally Field and Charlie Sheen -- have signed a petition asking SAG leaders to limit voting eligibility among the 120,000 SAG members to those who meet specific work requirements.

SAG's national board will meet Saturday to consider the petition, but Rosenberg's already proclaimed that the effort's counterproductive with negotiations about to start. He's also predicted the board won't approve such a measure.

SAG's also facing an unappetizing prospect if it can't get a deal done in two weeks, which would open the door for AFTRA to make its own deal on primetime TV and start expanding its jurisdiction. AFTRA, which covers three shows under the contract, had no comment on the letter. The majors took a mostly nonconfrontational tone in the letter. "We are committed to creating a genuine economic partnership with the talented men and women who help us create entertainment," the AMPTP said. "That means that we should all share fairly in the revenues we generate -- including new revenue from the emerging areas of new media."

The AMPTP also said such a deal has to give the companies the flexibility to adapt to rapidly changing markets and technologies -- a mantra it recited repeatedly during the lengthy WGA negotiations before hammering out a deal that mirrored the DGA's agreement in giving the guild a foothold in revenues from ad-supported streaming.

"Too many industries have failed to respond quickly enough to these changes, and we are determined to position our businesses -- and the employees and shareholders who rely on them -- to succeed and grow in this challenging environment," it added.

The AMPTP also said actors, directors, writers and the people who work behind the scenes are all "vitally important" to showbiz. "We remain committed to ensuring that the rewards of our success are distributed fairly among all of our industry's talent, so that we all have appropriate and meaningful stakes in the outcome of our work," it added.

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