May 5, 2008 / 6:48 AM / 9 years ago

Hollywood actors and studios extend labor talks again

<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. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Screen Actors Guild and major Hollywood studios said on Friday they had agreed to extend their contract talks again, this time on a day-by-day basis, with the aim of closing a deal by next Tuesday.

The announcement, coming as the parties neared a previous self-imposed deadline, revived hopes they could avoid renewed labor unrest in an entertainment industry still recovering from a 100-day screenwriters strike that ended in February.

The current three-year SAG contract covering 120,000 film and TV actors expires on June 30. But the union is under strong pressure to reach an early settlement in order to dispel strike jitters that continue to disrupt the film industry.

By prior agreement, SAG and the studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, had planned to keep their sessions going through Friday, capping nearly three weeks of talks.

At midday, however, the two sides issued a brief notice saying they would “extend their negotiations on a day-to-day basis” through next Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. PDT (8:00 p.m. EDT), with a day off on Sunday.

There was no further comment from either party. But sources familiar with the course of negotiations said SAG had scaled back a number of demands considered major stumbling blocks.

In one such concession, they said, the union was now seeking what would effectively be a 15 percent increase in residual payments actors earn from DVDs, rather than a doubling of the DVD residual rate.

Striking writers were forced to give up demands for higher DVD residuals altogether in reaching their contract deal with studios more than two months ago.

That agreement ultimately hinged on new payments the writers gained for film and TV work delivered over the Internet, an area that actors were hoping to improve upon in their own labor talks with producers.

<p>The Hollywood Sign is seen between palm trees and snow dusted mountains in Los Angeles January 7, 2008. The Screen Actors Guild and major Hollywood studios said on Friday they had agreed to extend their contract talks again, this time on a day-by-day basis, with the aim of closing a deal by next Tuesday. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok</p>

SAG, for example, is reported to be seeking to shorten the three-week window during which studios can stream certain TV programs online without paying residuals to union talent.

But SAG scaled back its demand for a 50 percent pay increase for guest stars on TV shows, according to the Los Angeles Times.

SAG and the studios opened talks April 15 and initially set out to reach an accord in two weeks. But they decided eight days into the negotiations to stay at the bargaining table for a third week, through Friday, to allow more time to narrow what the studios then called “significant gaps.”

Earlier this week the studios declared little progress had been made and that unreasonable SAG demands were to blame. The latest word from the talks signaled a determination by the two sides to avoid a repetition of the acrimony that erupted over the Writers Guild of America contract.

The WGA’s 14-week strike, Hollywood’s worst labor clash in 20 years, shut down much of the TV industry, derailed several film productions and idled thousands of Hollywood workers, costing the local economy an estimated $3 billion.

Hollywood has been treating SAG’s contract expiration as a de facto strike deadline, with film studios unwilling to launch any production they could not finish before June 30 for fear that an actual walkout by actors might materialize by then.

SAG’s smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), agreed to delay the scheduled start of its own, separate contract talks with studios in order to accommodate the Screen Actors Guild.

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

Reuters/Nielsen

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