Veteran Hollywood labor strategist Brian Walton was hired Friday as the chief negotiator for actors in their upcoming labor talks with film and television studios.
Walton's hiring by the Screen Actors Guild sets the stage for the union, whose contract expires on July 1, to formalize its demands and schedule negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
It also comes nearly three years after Walton was forced out as the top executive of the Writers Guild of America's West Coast operation amid criticism that he had become too soft in negotiating and was too monolithic as an administrator. Walton had been at the Writers Guild for 13 years, serving as chief negotiator during the guild's bitter 22-week strike against the industry in 1988.
Walton's hiring came after veteran SAG negotiator John McGuire failed to get a promise of wide-ranging autonomy in upcoming bargaining talks. Last year, SAG officials and McGuire frequently clashed during SAG's strike against advertisers, leading to internal tensions at the union. Last month, SAG enlisted executive search firm Heidrick & Struggles to find a negotiator.
Other top candidates for the post included former MCA Inc. lawyer Robert Hadl and Joseph Rice, a South Carolina lawyer who is best known for representing plaintiffs in tobacco and asbestos cases.
Separately, the Writers Guild and studios on Friday concluded their fifth week of talks toward a new contract to replace one that expires on May 2. Although sources on both sides believe the lengthy talks are producing some results, they add that both sides remain far apart on key issues. The two sides will meet again on Monday.
Among the major stumbling blocks that remain are the residuals writers get for work that runs on foreign and cable channels.