Even with the recent contract settlement by the Writers Guild of America on a new contract after a strike that lasted over three months, there’s still no labor peace in Hollywood. Now the Screen Actors Guild has a contract expiring June 30.
Despite public pressure from high-profile actors like George Clooney and Tom Hanks to get talks started as quickly as possible, the leadership of SAG has declared it won’t start negotiations with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers until April “at the earliest,” raising the possibility of at least a de facto strike.
We may already be there. Another series of stop-and-go decisions is already being made by studio moguls. That is creating the likelihood of new work disruptions just when many suspended television series are going back into production, now that they once again have writers.
Just in case the talks between SAG and AMPTP go to the wire or no settlement is reached in time and the actors wind up striking, there’s been a hurry-up by the studios to get big projects—mainly feature films—finished before the looming deadline. Other projects are being put off. Director Steven Spielberg has postponed an April 7 start date on a new film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, pushing it off until fall.
By contrast, the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, following its usual pattern of negotiating early, is embarking on a set of talks with AMPTP at the beginning of April on its West Coast contract, which doesn’t expire until August 2009. One reason behind the super early start is to get a foot up on improving the IA’s own residual arrangement with the studios in light of gains recently achieved by the Directors Guild of America and the WGA.
SAG president Alan Rosenberg and national executive director Doug Allen say that their guild must maintain the threat of a strike to have any leverage in the talks. The union is focusing on getting residuals for new media like the internet and cell phones, a linchpin in the contracts reached by the DGA with AMPTP and subsequently by the WGA. But the two SAG leaders have indicated they’d like to get more than the directors and writers were able to get from the studios on these issues.
The “impact of some of the new media provisions of the DGA or WGA contracts would fall more harshly on actors than on writers and directors,” Rosenberg and Allen stated in a letter to the SAG membership, indicating they want even more.
Nevertheless, the pressure is coming from all sides for SAG to strike a deal with AMPTP as soon as possible. A rift has even developed between SAG and the American Federation of Television Radio and Television Artists, whose memberships overlap, over the guild’s foot dragging. And even some of the heads of the entertainment conglomerates are indicating they have no stomach for more brinksmanship that could lead to another strike.
CBS chief Leslie Moonves recently remonstrated that SAG “would be suicidal” to go on strike. “The movie and television business is not exactly at the top of its game,” he said. “It’s the wrong time to say, ‘Let’s stop for our future, our supposed future.’”