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Actors guild, studios to extend talks

LABOR

Both sides agree to continue negotiations for the second time after SAG's shift on DVD residuals.

May 03, 2008|Richard Verrier and Claudia Eller | Times Staff Writers

The Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood studios for the second time extended their talks on a new three-year contract, in a sign the parties are finding some common ground.

For the last three weeks, SAG and the studios have been locked in negotiations on a contract that would earn actors a larger slice of revenue for their work in the digital age. Although the talks have been amicable, both sides complained that no substantial progress had been made and were expected to break off Friday.

But a last-minute agreement to stay at the table until Tuesday came after SAG dropped its demand to double residuals paid to actors from DVD sales, a stumbling block. SAG has modified its position and is now seeking a roughly 15% hike in DVD pay. The studios have so far refused to change the decades-old DVD formula.

SAG also scaled back other demands, including an 80% jump in pay for so-called stand-in actors and a 50% increase for guest stars.

Such concessions have created enough goodwill between negotiators to keep the talks alive, said people close to the situation. However, there is no guarantee they will reach an accord in short order because a number of significant issues still divide them.

Among other things, the sides are still arguing over how much actors should be paid when their shows are streamed over the Internet, and what kind of programs created for the Web should be covered under the union's contract.

Talks reached a stalemate this week, prompting both sides to issue statements acknowledging the major gaps between them.

The studios had been poised to begin negotiations Monday with Hollywood's smaller actors union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. That guild said it would postpone its discussions with the studios on a prime-time TV contract until Wednesday so that SAG's talks could continue.

AFTRA, which shares 44,000 members with SAG, recently broke off its longtime joint bargaining agreement with the more powerful union after a year-long feud.

SAG, which represents 120,000 movie, TV and commercial actors, accounts for the majority of earnings among performers. Most AFTRA actors work in daytime television, cable TV and reality shows; the union also represents a handful of prime-time shows.

Still, SAG leaders, who requested the extension, worried that AFTRA could undercut their leverage by negotiating a weaker contract. SAG also faces pressure from within its own ranks -- and the larger Hollywood community -- to secure an early pact with studios.

Indeed, both sides have plenty of incentive to avert another strike after the 100-day walkout by writers that ended in February. Another work stoppage would not only displace thousands of actors and production workers squeezed during the writers strike, it would add to losses already suffered by the studios.

Whether or not a strike occurs, the studios have not taken any chances. They have stopped greenlighting productions for this year and shuffled schedules to ensure most films wrap by June 30, when SAG's contract expires.

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richard.verrier@latimes.com

claudia.eller@latimes.com

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