May 1, 2008 / 2:31 AM / in 9 years

Studios and actors remain at odds

<p>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.Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - With two days left before a self-imposed deadline in contract talks with actors, major Hollywood studios said on Wednesday the two sides remained far from a deal and that excessive union demands were to blame.

The statement from the studios' bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, or AMPTP, stoked concerns about renewed labor strife in the aftermath of a 100-day strike by screenwriters that ended in February.

The current three-year contract covering 120,000 film and TV actors expires on June 30.

The AMPTP statement also marks the most extensive public comment by either side since the Screen Actors Guild and studios opened negotiations on April 15 under what had been a strict media blackout.

Among stumbling blocks cited were SAG's demand for a doubling of residual fees actors earn from DVDs and changes it sought in a new-media pay structure already embraced by writers and directors. The studios said those demands "would result in enormous cost increases that we are not willing to accept."

Last week, the parties agreed to extend a two-week window for negotiations by a third week, until May 2, hoping to close what the studios then called "significant gaps" between them.

The extension was seen as a hopeful sign that a settlement was within reach. But in Wednesday's updated notice to member companies posted online, the AMPTP said little additional progress had been made.

"Although both parties have spent considerable time in the negotiating room, we are not yet close to an agreement," the studios said. "We still have two days of negotiations remaining with SAG, and we are going to continue to work as hard as we can to find a mutually acceptable resolution."

LINGERING UNCERTAINTY

Failing that, the studios said they would begin separate contract talks on May 5, as planned, with the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, or AFTRA, union.

A SAG spokeswoman declined to comment. But the union posted a brief message to members on its Web site saying it remains "committed to reaching a fair agreement ... (and) we are prepared to bargain continuously, for as long as it takes."

SAG also disputed an AMPTP assertion that the union had insisted the studios accept all its non-new media proposals.

Hollywood is treating the union's June 30 contract expiration as a de facto strike deadline, already disrupting the industry. Movie studios have been unwilling to launch some productions, creating more uncertainty after the writers strike shut down much of television and idled thousands of workers.

That walkout, Hollywood's worst labor clash in 20 years, was settled after a deal giving writers more money for film and TV work distributed over the Internet.

SAG leaders said going into their talks they wanted to improve on the writers' new-media deal while seeking higher DVD residuals -- a demand the writers were forced to drop.

The union has not asked members for strike authorization; SAG leaders have said they want to avoid a walkout.

AFTRA, whose 70,000 members include about 44,000 who also hold SAG cards, is widely seen as more inclined to reach a deal quickly, putting more pressure on the more militant SAG leaders to come to terms.

Editing by Patricia Zengerle

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