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Hollywood producers suspend talks with SAG

Hollywood producers on Tuesday temporarily broke off contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild, calling its demands regarding DVD sales and online content “unreasonable.”
/ Source: The Associated Press

Hollywood producers on Tuesday temporarily broke off contract talks with the Screen Actors Guild, calling its demands regarding DVD sales and online content “unreasonable.”

“With SAG’s continued adherence to unreasonable demands in both new and traditional media, continuing negotiations at this time does not make sense,” the producers said in a statement.

The guild responded in a statement by saying the producers’ decision to end talks after 18 days was unfortunate.

Both sides have said they sought to avoid a repeat of the 100-day writers strike that ended in February. The union’s contract for films and prime-time TV shows expires June 30.

“We made significant moves in their direction,” Doug Allen, the guild’s executive director, told The Associated Press. “We’re trying to get the deal done and we’re not the ones who walked away.”

Allen said the guild asked for a third extension of talks that were originally set to end a week after beginning April 15, but the producers refused, instead offering to resume talks May 28. No date has been agreed upon.

AFTRA’s turn at the bargaining tableOn Wednesday, the smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, takes its turn at the bargaining table, and it is expected to reach a deal quickly. Its contract also ends June 30.

The producers in their statement urged the guild to “recognize the fundamental business and labor principles” that were agreed upon in deals made earlier this year with writers and directors.

Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger said in a conference call with financial analysts that the producers had made their position clear.

“The fact that we did deals with the writers and the directors should certainly signal our position on the critical issues,” Iger said. “I think SAG is well aware of that.”

Last week, the producers had accused the guild of holding up talks by asking for a doubling of fees for DVD sales amounting to $500 million over three years.

The guild later reduced that demand to what amounted to a 15 percent increase in the form of studio payments for health insurance and pensions, a request the producers have opposed.

Actors want more than writers and directorsAllen said the guild had accepted much of the framework established by writers and directors for content distributed online, but with two major exceptions.

It sought the actors’ right of refusal on the use of their appearances in clips on the Internet, and it asked producers to mandate exclusive guild coverage for original low-budget, made-for-Internet-only shows.

The producers agreed in previous deals that union contracts were optional for writers or directors for productions that cost less than $15,000 a minute.

“They refused to consider any substantive change from their new media proposal,” Allen said. “They weren’t really negotiating about that, they were dictating.”

AFTRA said Tuesday it will impose a press blackout on details of its upcoming discussions, which involve actors on prime-time TV shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Rules of Engagement,” “Cashmere Mafia” and “Til Death.”

A week ago, it said 93 percent of members who voted backed a separate deal with producers covering shows such as “Oprah” and “American Idol.”

SAG and AFTRA had negotiated together on the theatrical movie and prime-time TV contract with studios for the past 27 years but split in March when AFTRA accused SAG of trying to entice actors in the soap drama “The Bold and The Beautiful” to abandon the federation.

The Screen Actors Guild has 120,000 members, while AFTRA represents about 70,000 people. The two unions share 44,000 dual members.

If AFTRA cuts a quick deal, a continuing stalemate with SAG could leave the guild with a difficult choice between pushing for a strike that has little support among its members or attempting to wring concessions from producers in other areas.

Allen said the guild could still seek a strike authorization vote if negotiations bogged down.

“We’ll see how events play out,” he said.