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Studios not willing to accept actors’ demands

Major Hollywood studios said Wednesday they were not willing to accept demands for what they called huge pay raises sought by the Screen Actors Guild in contract talks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Major Hollywood studios said Wednesday they won’t accept pay hikes sought by the Screen Actors Guild in contract talks, suggesting a deal is unlikely before the talks temporarily end later this week.

In a statement posted on its Web site, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said significant gaps remain between the two sides after 13 days of talks.

The alliance blamed the problems on the guild’s insistence on doubling payments that actors receive from DVD sales and demands for “huge increases in compensation and benefits.”

SAG officials did not immediately return a message seeking comment.

The statement was the most public sign thus far of discord in the talks aimed at reaching an agreement before the current contract covering theatrical movies and primetime TV shows expires on June 30.

The negotiations “are going nowhere,” said Norman Samnick, an entertainment lawyer who has represented Warner Bros. in previous contract talks with actors and remained close to negotiations. “This thing’s not going to be settled until the end of June.”

Both sides have said they want to avoid a replay of the 100-day writers strike that shut down TV production and caused an estimated $2.5 billion in economic losses in the Los Angeles area.

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The situation has already caused a delay in the filming of some new movies, as producers worry that a possible strike could disrupt shooting, according to a person familiar with the issue who was not authorized to speak publicly and sought anonymity.

In its statement, the studio alliance offered a point-by-point rebuttal of recent statements the guild has made to its members.

In particular, the studios challenged a proposed restructuring of the formula for residual fees received by actors from DVD sales, which it said would double the current $500 million total that actors would receive over three years if the current formula was unchanged.

“The DVD market is flat, and this is no time to be adding significant new costs to the ability of producers to do business in this sector,” the alliance said.

The studios also rebutted the guild’s claim that actors’ pay is declining.

Actors’ pay for theatrical-release movies rose 6 percent in 2007 from a year earlier to $596 million, and increased 1 percent to $705 million for television appearances, according to alliance estimates.

The alliance said the actors guild had requested 70 changes to the contract framework previously accepted by writers and directors for content distributed over new media — “some of which would go a long way toward making the framework itself unworkable.”

The guild proposals also seeks shorter “residual-free” windows during which shows can be rerun online for promotional effect, currently set at 17 or 24 days.

A smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, is set to begin talks with the alliance Monday, with some observers expecting AFTRA to put up less of a fight, since it already has reached a deal on shows such as “American Idol” and “Survivor.”

AFTRA’s remaining contract covers only a few primetime TV shows such as “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Til Death.”

The producers alliance said it would “continue to work as hard as we can” to reach a deal with SAG over talks set to end Friday, but neither side ruled out another round at the bargaining table following the alliance’s negotiations with AFTRA.