April 8, 2008 / 2:06 AM / 11 years ago

Hollywood studios issue warning on actors talks

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With the next round of Hollywood labor talks a week away, the major studios on Monday urged actors to avoid renewed strife by embracing the framework of deals already reached with directors and striking screenwriters.

Tourists pause on a walkway at a shopping mall which offers a view of the famed Hollywood sign at the hills in California, March 14, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser

The message implicit in the open letter from the studios’ bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, appeared to be that union demands going much beyond terms already ratified by two other major Hollywood guilds are out of the question.

“If our industry relies on this new framework, we can all avoid more harmful and unnecessary strikes,” the AMPTP concluded in its six-paragraph statement. It left open the door for “reasonable compromises that are necessary.”

There was no immediate response from the Screen Actors Guild, which opens negotiations with the studios on April 15 for a new three-year contract covering 120,000 film and television performers.

SAG leaders have said they would seek to improve on the labor settlements reached earlier this year by the Writers Guild of America and the Directors Guild of America.

Those deals, including the one in February ending a bitter 100-day writers strike that crippled much of Hollywood’s film and TV industry, hinged on key provisions giving union members more money for work distributed over the Internet.

But their letter suggested the studios see little room for major additional concessions.

“They said in a press release what they could have said in a sentence, which is: “We’re not giving any more in new media than we already gave,’” said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with ties to both sides in the labor talks.

Besides seeking a larger share of entertainment dollars generated on the Internet, SAG leaders say they want to increase the residual fees actors earn for films and TV shows sold on DVDs — a demand writers were forced to abandon.

The actors union also wants its members to earn a cut of advertising revenues from commercial endorsements they are forced to make through the growing use of product placement in TV shows and movies.

The last SAG film and TV contract took just two weeks to negotiate. But the union is now controlled by a more militant wing that opposed the terms of the previous deal and has pledged to take a tougher stance at the bargaining table.

SAG’s leaders, staunch allies of the Writers Guild during its strike, have sought to downplay the potential for further work stoppages.

Prospects for an expeditious round of talks seemed to be bolstered when SAG’s smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), decided recently to open contract talks on its own on April 28, rather than negotiate jointly with SAG as it has in the past.

Handel said that arrangement undermines SAG’s leverage.

AFTRA, which represents about 70,000 performers, more than half of whom also hold SAG cards, declined comment on the studio letter.

With labor jitters still running high in Hollywood, the studios are for the most part refusing to launch any new film production they cannot be sure to finish before the actors’ contract expires June 30. That date is being treated as a de facto strike deadline.

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