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Talks Between SAG, Agents Break Down Again


After six days of continuous talks, the Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood talent agents failed to negotiate a new agreement governing the relationship between actors and their agents.

The latest breakdown in talks leaves the two groups uncertain what happens next. The Assn. of Talent Agents trade group said in a statement that its members "will continue to operate their agencies as usual" even though a previous agreement with SAG expired last month. No new talks are scheduled.

If agencies continue to operate as usual, no immediate fallout would result. Long term, however, the continued stalemate does not bode well for the increasingly tense relationship between Hollywood's agencies and SAG. Ultimately, agents could opt to become unregulated managers.

In a statement, SAG would say only that a union committee handling the talks will make a report to the guild's directors as soon as possible.

Agents have been frustrated by their inability to persuade SAG to revamp a decades-old "franchise" agreement governing the relationship between agencies and actors.

Agencies are eager to expand into new businesses, sell chunks of their companies and receive commissions on such things as video and DVD sales.

Agents argue that such changes are urgently needed so agencies can survive financially and compete with managers, who increasingly act as de facto agents. Because they are unregulated, managers can take higher commissions than the 10% allowed for agents and also can serve as film and TV producers on client shows.

Actors are reluctant to change the agreement, fearing potential conflicts of interest, especially if agencies link up in ventures with advertising firms, media conglomerates and production companies. Under the agreement, SAG "franchises" agents to represent its actors as long as their agencies abide by rules aimed at protecting actors from being exploited.

Actors also are pressing agents to help them fight runaway production to Canada, help actors in organizing efforts and post a $1-million security bond as a safety net for actors whose agents go out of business.

The two sides were on the verge of a new agreement in March before the deal unraveled under pressure from SAG members. Agents also are frustrated that they can't strike a deal because they were strong supporters during the union's six-month strike against the advertising industry that ended last month.

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