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Actors, Studios Spar in Trades

15 Dec, 2008 By: Erik Gruenwedel

After dissing the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) regarding failed labor negotiations in a full page ad in the Los Angeles Times, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) Dec. 15 again lashed out at SAG national president Alan Rosenberg with an ad in the Hollywood trades.

In the ad entitled “Seriously?” the AMPTP presented a tale-of-the-tape comparison citing alleged “facts” vs. Rosenberg’s alleged “rhetoric.”

Specifically, the studios said their contract offer featured an increase of $250 million in benefits, including first-ever residuals and jurisdiction for new media work. The ad claims Rosenberg believed the new deal would be the “beginning of the end” for any type of new media residuals.

The ad disagreed with the union president’s allegation that the proposed contract would make it “impossible” for the majority of SAG’s membership to make a living. The studios say they want to increase minimums and guest star premiums.

The studios countered Rosenberg’s belief that their contract amounted to a “massive rollback” of health, pension, overtime and trailer compensation. The AMPTP disputed union characterization that the proposal represented “life or death for SAG.”

In response, SAG issued a statement decrying the studios’ ad as “great fiction,” with “convoluted bullet points” and “confused messages.”

SAG said the studios’ streaming offer amounted to $46 per actor for newly streamed TV product for the first year, and not per episode. It said the contract allowed for no union jurisdiction on new media with budgets under $15,000 per minute.

“That’s the vast majority of all new media,” SAG said.

The union claimed there would be no residual compensation for repurposed programming on network-related Web sites. It said the studios wanted to remove “force majeure” from the contract — a common clause in contracts that frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, such as a war, strike, riot or crime prevents one or both parties from fulfilling their obligations under the contract.

SAG earlier this month said it would seek authorization Jan. 2 from union members for a strike. If 75% of the 120,000 members approve a strike against the AMPTP, the union’s national board could authorize Hollywood actors’ first major work stoppage since 1980.

Both sides have failed to find agreement despite involvement of a federal mediator, and continue to operate under the previous labor contract, which expired June 30.

Actors are seeking greater compensation from Internet distribution, in addition to revamping the 20-year-old home video residual agreement, which studios have steadfastly refused to address. The agreement originally applied to VHS, but the subsequent arrival of DVD and Blu-ray Disc made potential residuals a more lucrative prospect.

In addition to increased minimums, pension and health care provisions, the new contract presented by the AMPTP offers jurisdiction on new-media programs, in addition to first-ever residuals on ad-supported streams of movies, TV shows, permanent downloads (burn to disc), original and derivative new-media programs.

The union over the weekend released a list of prominent actors who pledged solidarity and promised to vote “yes” in January to authorize a strike against the studios. Among the signatories: Ed Asner, Scott Bakula, Mel Gibson, Ed Harris, Holly Hunter, Jerry O’Connell, Martin Sheen, Frances Fisher, Elliot Gould, Hal Holbrook, Rob Morrow and Connie Stevens.

Separately, a group of 130 actors, including George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Charlize Theron, Morgan Freeman and Sally Field, issued a statement in opposition to a strike. Calling the current studio offer an "imperfect agreement" that could be readdressed in three years, the group, in a letter, said current economic conditions did not warrant a work stoppage.

Sentiments apparently shared by leaders of SAG's New York office, which sent a letter to Rosenberg reiterating a desire to settle with the studios due to the economy.