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SAG, studios may be close to an accord

After weeks of back-channel talks, Hollywood’s biggest actors union and the major studios appear to have broken their logjam and could be close to striking a deal on a contract, according to people close to the situation.

The agreement would come as a breakthrough for the Screen Actors Guild, whose members have been working without a contract for nine months as various attempts at negotiations with the studios collapsed.

Talks picked up again after the union’s former chief negotiator was ousted by moderates who took control of SAG’s board in elections late last year.

Only a month ago, as the economy worsened and more workers in the entertainment industry found themselves without jobs as the studios made cutbacks, many in Hollywood despaired that the two sides would ever be able to resolve their differences.

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Now SAG’s interim executive director, David White, and a group of top entertainment executives are “very close” to resolving most of the remaining sticking points that caused negotiations to break off in February, said people familiar with the situation.

White has spent the last four weeks meeting privately with several top Hollywood executives, including Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Bob Iger and News Corp. President Peter Chernin, to end the standoff.

Chernin and Iger played a pivotal role in helping craft new contracts last year with Hollywood’s directors and writers.

SAG spokeswoman Pamela Greenwalt declined to comment about a possible breakthrough. “SAG’s leadership remains engaged in ongoing efforts to secure a fair deal for SAG members,” she said.

Although some points remain in flux, the deal is said to include agreement over the most contentious issue: the expiration date of a new contract.

SAG leaders insisted that their new contract run through June 2011 so that the union could line up its next round of negotiations with the expiring contracts of other Hollywood talent unions. The studios, however, wanted a three-year term, which would push SAG’s contract expiration into 2012.

If studios agree to SAG’s demand for a shorter term, the actors union might have to give up something in return.

SAG chief negotiator John McGuire, who just negotiated a new commercials contract for SAG members, is expected to present the outlines of an agreement to the guild’s negotiating task force Tuesday, which could set the stage for the return of formal negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which bargains on behalf of the studios.

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The union’s national board could vote on a final contract when it meets April 18.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com


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