The tentative three-year deal, coming two months after writers settled their contentious negotiations, ends any threat of a devastating strike this summer. It also caps an extraordinary turnaround in Hollywood's labor fortunes. For the last year, the industry operated as though strikes were inevitable, accelerating scores of productions as a hedge against walkouts.
Negotiations on the final day focused on a variety of issues but chiefly on the payments actors receive when their work is rerun on cable TV.
But the final hurdle was overcome when a solution was found to address studio concerns that the cable arrangement that actors wanted was too pricey.
The package also includes better payments for Fox TV programs, a special $5,000 payment for lower-paid actors in film roles and better pay for middle-income actors who appear as guest stars in TV shows. Films that are shown on fledgling video-on-demand systems will pay actors according to current pay-per-view formulas. Actors will receive a 3% raise in minimum payments for TV work the first two years of the contract and 3.5% the final year.
The agreement with the studios was reached by the Screen Actors Guild and its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, about 9 p.m. at the industry's Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers headquarters in Encino. The deal came after a day of tensions that ebbed and flowed.
When the 26-member negotiating team of actors voted, a roar of jubilation filled the conference room. Some of the actors wept. Others laughed and hugged each other. Cheers continued to ripple among the emotionally drained group.
"People who politically oppose each other in the unions were working cheek by jowl and crying and hugging each other," said John Connolly, a co-chairman of the actors negotiating group. "This was not some abstract chess game. It was a gut-wrenching game of poker where you had to both feel your passion and control it in order not to give away your hand. The personal feelings of fear and worry and triumph were extraodinary, and they all hit at once when we took that vote."
Both sides celebrated at a news conference, heaping praise on each other.
"These were very difficult negotiations because of the complexities of our business today," chief studio negotiator J. Nicholas Counter said.
William Daniels, president of the Screen Actors Guild, was giddy in announcing the deal.
"I'd have to say I'm slap happy with an emphasis on the happy," Danials said. "Since last October I've been telling everybody who would listen there was a deal to be made, and I was right."
The contract is expected to be ratified by actors. The SAG and AFTRA bargaining committees unanimously recommended the tentative agreements.
At one point, it appeared as though negotiators would fail to meet a self-imposed goal of reaching an agreement before the Fourth of July. Producers were irked by four of the actors' counterproposals, which they felt went further than what the two sides had previously agreed on, according to a source close to the talks.
But both sides risked losing the momentum that had built for the last 10 days of intensified talks. The agreement comes six weeks after negotiations first began and three days after the contract expired.
Affected are 135,000 actors represented by the SAG and AFTRA .
Journeymen actors, who earn on average $30,000 to $70,000, had been identified by union representatives as the focus of the talks. They mostly play guest roles on television shows and bit parts in movies, and have been struggling because producers are feverishly looking for ways to slash increasing costs.
Payments Increased for Cable Reruns
The final plan on cable television, which puts an additional $3.5 million in the pockets of actors, eliminates the pension and health contributions that are taken out of the checks actors receive when shows are rerun on cable TV. Studios will then contribute an equal amount to the actors' pension and health fund, which was badly drained last year during the six-month strike by actors against advertisers.