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Guilds Spoiling for New Fight Over DVD

21 Nov, 2005 By: Holly J. Wagner

Talent's fight for a bigger piece of DVD may not be over, and Hollywood is bracing itself.

Movie and TV producers are reportedly marshaling their forces and creating a plan of action in case the unions representing actors and writers strike, even though their contracts don't expire for two years.

The defensive maneuvers are a reaction to recent agitation from the unions, which have called for guidelines on product placement, better representation for reality show writers and the golden egg: residuals for DVD and other new technologies.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) had thought the issue was laid to rest. But in recent weeks, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Writers Guild of America (WGA) - West have ousted key negotiators their members believed were too soft during talks.

As new delivery technologies proliferate, the guilds are making it known they are prepared to fight harder for a share in the next round of negotiations. The day Apple announced the video iPod, SAG, the WGA and guilds representing directors and TV and radio performers made this joint statement: “We look forward to a dialogue that ensures our members are properly compensated for this exploitation of their work.”

A band of WGA members crashed the International Radio and Television Society breakfast in New York Nov. 14, demanding better treatment. The subject of that protest was better pay and health benefits for reality TV writers, who claim they work long hours and don't get the same benefits as guild members. Producers view reality TV as a cheaper alternative to scripted shows with actors.

The actors have been particularly vocal about the formula for video residuals, which has not changed since before the advent of DVD.

SAG's members ousted their leadership in the guild's most recent election and voted actor Alan Rosenberg as the union's president. Rosenberg, who played Eli Levinson on the 1980s legal drama series “L.A. Law,” won the election on a promise to take a harder line in negotiating for residuals from DVDs and other release windows. In particular, he criticized the union's capitulation in earlier negotiations for DVD residuals. The union agreed to a contract months before deadline and with no DVD gains.

A month ago, Rosenberg announced that national executive director and CEO Greg Hessinger had been replaced with the union's CFO, Peter Frank, as interim national executive director.

“The recent election made clear that our membership expects concrete results, particularly in our collective bargaining and our nationwide organizing efforts,” Rosenberg said.

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