A person with the Screen Actors Guild said Wednesday the union has signed contracts to allow actors to work on more than 300 independently produced films in the event of an actors strike, adding pressure to the major studios to reach a deal.
The person, who was not authorized to speak publicly and requested anonymity, said the wide range of films contained a slew of A-list talent, including Mel Gibson in “Edge of Darkness,” Nicolas Cage in “Bad Lieutenant,” and Oliver Stone’s “W.”
The disclosure may put fire to the feet of big studios such as Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros. by demonstrating that the Hollywood movie machine can roll on without them even if an actors strike occurs after June 30, when the current contract expires.
“They can put pressure on the major studios by allowing smaller companies to produce films,” said Scott Witlin, an entertainment lawyer who has represented television networks in the past. “Whether or not it’ll have an impact is not entirely clear.”
The guild and the major studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, continued Wednesday with contract talks covering films and prime-time TV shows. Negotiations began April 15.
The producers alliance declined to comment.
A smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, reached a tentative deal with the studios on a handful of prime-time TV shows last week. The agreement will last through June 2011 if it is approved by AFTRA’s board at a meeting June 6-7 and then ratified by members.
SAG’s completion guarantees were offered only to independent movie producers with no current financing nor distribution deals with the major Hollywood studios.
The guarantees also required the independents to retroactively abide by whatever deal is eventually reached. About 95 had been signed by mid-April.
Aaron Ryder, a producer whose Raygun Productions received a completion guarantee on “My One and Only,” starring Renee Zellweger, said the contracts could allow independents to work with talent they never had access to before.
“If there is a strike, there will be a lot of actors who will only be allowed to work in this arena,” Ryder said.
Shooting on the Raygun film was to begin Monday in Baltimore and continue through August, he said.
Ryder said many independent productions, including his own, will later attempt to sell the films to major studios, who they rely on for wide distribution.
Such relationships potentially dilute any economic pressure the guild can put on the majors concerning its demands for higher fees for DVD appearances and a greater say in product endorsements in scripted scenes.
Norman Samnick, a lawyer who has represented the studios in previous talks with actors, said the completion guarantees had precedent in previous contract disputes.
“Arthur,” a movie starring Dudley Moore as a happy, rich alcoholic, was given a guild guarantee to finish shooting during the three-month actors strike in 1980, he said.
Orion Pictures Corp. completed the film over the objections of Warner Bros., but the studio went on to distribute the film anyway after a deal with actors was reached.
Orion’s decision riled the Hollywood studios by breaking ranks, but it did not cause the producers to cave in during negotiations, Samnick said.
“Is this going to make a difference to the majors? The answer is ‘No.”’ Samnick said. “It may make them beg a little. They’re not going to break.”