Hollywood may have averted another labor shutdown Thursday with concessions won by the Producers Guild of America from the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group that represents the major studios and TV production companies.
The Producers Guild, buoyed by a letter from a local Teamsters union leader urging members to honor its picket lines, went into a meeting with the alliance Thursday morning talking strike and came away 2 1/2 hours later not talking at all.
A two-sentence statement, prepared jointly by the two groups, said only that the Producers Guild would report to its board and then get back to the alliance. What the guild was taking back to its board was not revealed, but the main issue is recognition of the 30-year-old group by the industry as a legitimate labor body.
Producers Guild Executive Director Charles FitzSimons had called Thursday's meeting a last-ditch effort to avoid a strike, which the union's 860 members had authorized overwhelmingly a week earlier.
"We are ready to strike and we will strike, I assure you," FitzSimons said.
The Producers Guild wants recognition so it can begin negotiating for health, welfare and pension benefits, FitzSimons said. The guild is also anxious to negotiate for profit-sharing in the secondary markets of their work--from TV reruns, cable and pay-TV, and videocassette sales.
The actors, writers and directors guilds--by means of strikes, or threatened strikes--have already won those benefits from management. The producers must negotiate individually.
From 1977 to 1981, the Producers Guild had contracts with Universal and Paramount that provided health and welfare benefits, but FitzSimons said the contracts were not renewed because the guild was unable to draw the rest of the industry into line.
Since then, the guild has allied itself with the Teamsters Local 399, and with its support, seemed finally to have the clout to halt production.
"If the wheels don't roll, the show stops," FitzSimons said.
One problem the guild has had in enlisting support, FitzSimons acknowledged, is the misuse of the term producer. In the public's mind, there is no distinction between the people who put the projects together and see them through to completion and the companies who deliver them to viewers via TV or movie theaters.
Also, people widely assume that producers are fat cats who should be able to provide their own benefits.
FitzSimons said that some producers are indeed reaping fortunes, but most are barely making a living and many work on speculation, developing projects that may or may not pay off.
"Producers are not fat cats," FitzSimons said. "The going rates for producers on TV compared to directors is ridiculous. On a 2-hour movie, a high rate for a producer is $50,000, and he'll work 26 weeks. The minimum for a director is about $49,000, plus residuals, and he may work 30 days."
FitzSimons said a union would help rid the industry of phony producer credits--the friends, agents and attorneys of stars and directors who are paid but do no work.
"We've told the studios that a contract with us would save them money," says producer Robert Radnitz ("Sounder"). "When a star came to them and said 'I want my hair dresser to be the producer,' they could say, 'We'd really like to help, but we've got this contract that defines producer and we're afraid your hair dresser doesn't fit."
If the PGA wins recognition from the AMPTP, FitzSimons said producer qualifications will be one of the first items on the agenda.
Thursday's announcement did not give a date for the PGA's board meeting, or a deadline for its response to the AMPTP.
PFFFT: Oscar-winning actor Timothy Hutton took a giant stride toward a career as a film director Thursday when he went behind the cameras to direct an episode of Steven Spielberg's "Amazing Stories" TV series.
How giant a stride is it?
Hutton reportedly turned down a $1 million-offer to star in a Warren Beatty production called "Stick-Up Artists" because the two projects would have overlapped.
"Stick-Up Artists" has not been announced, but sources say it is a go project at a major studio, with another actor in the role offered to Hutton. Neither Hutton nor Beatty was available for comment.
Hutton's "Amazing Stories" episode, "Grandpa's Ghost," is based on an original idea by Hutton and it stars Andrew McCarthy. It is the 25-year-old Hutton's first dramatic directing opportunity, following two well-received rock videos--Don Henley's "Not Enough Love in the World" and The Cars' "Drive," which was nominated this week for an MTV Music Video Award.
ROOKIE JINX: As reported by writer Patt Morrison in The Times July 17, 24-year-old Santa Monica police officer Anita McKeown just completed a rookie year in which she was beaten up, hacked with a butcher knife, shot at, run over by a drunk driver, bitten by a snake and smashed-up in a high speed chase.
One night, a man held a gun to her head and pulled the trigger. It misfired.
During her first year, McKeown (dubbed "Calamity Jane" by her colleagues) worked two months and spent the rest of her time recuperating from broken bones, a wrenched back, a bruised heart and two concussions.
Then, Hollywood came nipping at her heels.
"She's got an incredible story," says Andrew J. Fenady, one of more than a dozen producers who contacted McKeown after reading Morrison's story. "It's a feature, or a movie of the week, or a series."
Fenady, an author and veteran TV producer, bought the rights to McKeown's life story and says there are already two networks champing at the bit for a Calamity Anita project.
"I don't know exactly what I'm going to do with it yet," he says. "If you could cast it properly with somebody like Daryl Hannah, you'd have a feature. Thirty years ago, it would have been Doris Day."
Fenady did not disclose how much McKeown is being paid, but it figures to exceed her $22,000 annual salary with the Santa Monica Police Department, where she is about to re-start her rookie year (she didn't have enough time in service the first time).
Whatever Fenady makes of her story, or how stardom affects her, at least McKeown has some control. She will serve as technical consultant on the project, and she'll have the satisfaction of knowing that, for a change, no one held a gun to her head.
WISHFUL THINKING: Charles Bronson said no to Cannon Films when he was asked to co-star with Chuck Norris in the $15-million terrorist adventure "Delta Force," now in production in Israel.
But he said yes to "Death Wish IV."
Menahem Golan, in a phone interview from Israel (he's directing "Delta Force"), said Bronson, who just completed work in "Death Wish III," will return at least one more time as the architect-turned-killer Paul Kersey.
"Death Wish III," in which Kersey apparently abandons his lone-wolf vigilantism to lead an outraged community into action, is scheduled for release this fall. Golan said "Death Wish IV" will go into production next fall.
By the time it's released, Bronson will be 65 years old. Maybe then Kersey will retire.
COCOON CON: Remember all those dolphins chirping in the moonlight in the opening scene of "Cocoon"?
Dolphins are smart, but no one has been able to get them to hit their marks as a choir. So the producers of "Cocoon" hired Bob Short, the mechanical effects whiz responsible for Daryl Hannah's functional fin in "Splash!," to create some dolphin dummies.
Short was told by 20th Century Fox marketing execs, who had no use for that kind of publicity, to dummy up himself and not to reveal the con. Short's been a good trouper, but word finally leaked out and Fox, with "Cocoon" ticket sales finally trailing off (the movie has grossed $60 million), agreed to let Short tell all to an "Entertainment Tonight" crew.
The Great Dolphin Scam, and other tricks of the trade, will be uncovered on the program's weekend show Sunday (KNBC, 6 p.m.)