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Indie films getting guarantees from actors guild

The Screen Actors Guild has reached separate deals that will allow the completion of 95 independent movie productions if actors go on strike, a person with the union said Tuesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Screen Actors Guild has reached separate deals that will allow the completion of 95 independent movie productions if actors go on strike, a person with the union said Tuesday.

The disclosure came as formal contract negotiations between SAG and Hollywood studios entered their second week.

The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly about the deals and requested anonymity, said representatives of the productions have signed guaranteed completion contracts with the guild that clear the way for film companies to raise financing and start work.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents studios, declined to comment on the deals.

‘A very reasonable approach’Both sides have been tightlipped about their formal contract discussions, which began April 15. They are trying to avoid a replay of the 100-day strike by Hollywood writers.

“I think (the guild) has taken a very reasonable approach vis-a-vis the independents,” said Bob Yari, a producer of the Oscar-winning film “Crash” who is applying for guarantees on two films. “They’re not penalizing us by striking us, basically.”

Yari said the guild told him work could continue as long as his productions did not have ties to major studios such as Paramount, Sony and Warner Bros.

His production company was set to start work on “Killing Pablo,” a $40 million project about Colombian drug czar Pablo Escobar starring Christian Bale, and “Governess,” a romantic comedy starring Jennifer Lopez. Filming for both is expected to begin in September.

The deals guarantee the companies would be able to keep actors working during a strike if they abide retroactively by the terms of the long-term contract eventually reached with the major studios.

‘Ankle biters’Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney and former writers guild lawyer, called the independent production guarantees “ankle biters” that would not undermine the actors’ negotiating power.

“The studios are independently and collectively the 800-pound gorillas in the business. Those independent pictures don’t make that level of difference,” he said.

Roaring Leo Productions also received a guarantee on its $1 million production, “Shifting the Canvas,” a film about a group of artists living in Brooklyn after the Sept. 11 attacks, producer Robert Zimmer Jr. said.

“I don’t want to shut down in the middle of my production. It would be a disaster,” Zimmer said. “I’m sure whatever deal is struck by the actors and the studios will be fair, and we’ll be happy to abide by that.”

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The talks with SAG are scheduled every day through Saturday. Separate talks with the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists are scheduled to begin April 28.

In an e-mail sent Tuesday to members, SAG asserted that actors’ compensation was decreasing, and that residuals — the fees actors earn for reruns or DVD sales — fell 7 percent from 2003 to 2007 after adjusting for inflation.

“You are not earning the same income that you did several years ago for the same work,” the e-mail said.

Increased minimum fees for performers, and compensation or pre-approval rights for product placement endorsements within scenes are among its contract demands, the guild said.

Meanwhile, ripples were felt from the Writers Guild of America strike.

The producers alliance, in a filing with the National Labor Relations Board, alleged that the guild violated federal labor law by identifying 28 writers who sought so-called “financial core status,” which constitutes resignation from the guild but allows them to work under its contract.

In a statement Tuesday, the alliance alleged the guild, by “naming names” and encouraging other union members to avoid them, is seeking to deny the 28 writers employment in the future.

“That is a direct violation of federal labor law, and as the employers of those writers we have a responsibility to defend them and the rule of law in this case,” the alliance said.

Any party can file such a claim, which will go through the board’s investigation process before a decision is made on whether there’s enough evidence to proceed to a hearing, said Brian Gee, supervisory attorney for the board’s regional office in West Los Angeles.

“The charges filed by the AMPTP are legally baseless and represent an intrusion by the studios into an internal union matter,” the Writers Guild of America’s West Coast branch said in a statement. “Contrary to the studios’ claim, the guild has not encouraged anyone to refuse to hire a resigned former member.”