Actors, studios still far apart

Times Staff Writers

After more than two weeks of negotiations, studios and the Screen Actors Guild appear to have made little headway toward a new contract.

Despite mounting pressure on both sides to avert another costly walkout after the 100-day writers strike, the talks have bogged down over how much actors should be paid across both new- and old-media platforms, said people close to the negotiations who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Guild negotiators are pushing for significant improvements in the proposed three-year contract above what writers and directors negotiated in their recent deals. Among other things, actors are seeking to double what they earn from the sale of DVDs, on grounds that the formula has remained unchanged since 1986.

Studios, however, have refused to budge, saying DVD revenue is needed to offset rising production and marketing costs.


The sluggish pace of the talks suggests the parties could fail to hammer out a contract by Friday, barring a last-minute breakthrough. That’s the end of the three-week period that studios and actors had set aside to reach a new agreement.

Although the actors contract doesn’t expire until June 30, negotiations are expected to go down to the wire, creating more uncertainty about a potential work stoppage that would shut down most film and TV production.

One mitigating factor could be Hollywood’s smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which is set to begin negotiations Monday. Those talks are expected to move swiftly, given AFTRA’s favorable view of the writers and directors contracts.

A deal with AFTRA, whose members include actors in daytime television and reality shows, could increase the pressure on SAG to reach its own accord shortly thereafter.


The two unions, which share 44,000 members, had planned to bargain jointly with the studios, as they had done for 27 years. But a longtime turf war recently prompted AFTRA to break ranks with SAG to negotiate a separate contract for prime-time television.

Studios, however, will still have to come to terms with SAG, which represents film as well as television actors. They have been preparing for months for a possible walkout by SAG’s 120,000 members by ensuring that most movies finish shooting by late June.

Since negotiations began this month, the atmosphere has been cordial, in contrast to the rancorous negotiations between studios and writers.

But that hasn’t done much to narrow the gaps. Studios balked at SAG’s demands for significantly higher residuals for shows distributed online than what writers and directors had negotiated.

Although SAG has since scaled back some of its initial proposals, last week the union nonetheless insisted on more than 70 changes to the new- media framework established by the other unions. Among other things, the sides are at odds over the length of time shows can be streamed online before residuals are paid to actors. They’ve also clashed over which shows created specifically for the Internet should qualify for union contracts.

Guild leaders Doug Allen and Alan Rosenberg have stipulated that their concessions in new media were contingent on the studios’ agreeing to improve compensation in traditional media. Citing what the guild says is the shrinking income of rank-and-file actors, the leaders have asked for a 52% pay hike for guest stars, 80% for stand-in actors and as much as 200% for certain types of extras.