LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Screen Actors Guild President Alan Rosenberg was elected as head of the nation's largest performers' union in 2005 on a pledge to take a tougher stance in labor talks than his immediate predecessor.
He played a crucial role in rallying actors to support writers who went on strike for 14 weeks until February, bringing much of television production to a standstill and derailing numerous films.
Now he is presiding over SAG's first film and prime-time television contract talks since taking over the powerful labor group that represents about 120,000 actors.
Rosenberg, who plays lawyers on television shows like "L.A. Law" and is married to "CSI" star Marg Helgenberger, spoke to Reuters on Tuesday night just after the studios broke off those negotiations and accused the union of unreasonable demands, stoking fears of further labor unrest.
Q: How would you characterize what happened at the bargaining table?
A: "It was ... our intention to carry these negotiations through to their conclusion, and I felt we were making progress, and I believe this interruption will make it more difficult to reach an agreement, although I'm still optimistic."
Q: You say there are one or two issues in the recent contract deals with writers and directors that are particular sticking points for your members. What are those?
A: "The unfettered use of clips from motion pictures and television shows is a real problem ... . They (studios) want to be able to take clips from raw product and use it whenever they want on the Internet without getting our consent and without compensating us very much. ... Writers and directors don't have those concerns.
"We have rules in our existing agreements that protect the images of our members. (The studios) have to get consent on everything, to use our images, to use clips, and we get compensated. ... So what they're asking us to do is erase 50 years of our custom and practice. ... They contend that new media is a whole new ballgame, and they have to make a whole new paradigm. I believe new media makes it all that much more important to protect our members."
Q: Explain the problem actors have with provisions in the writers' and directors' deals that exempt studios from paying residuals on original made-for-Internet shows that fall below certain production costs -- $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series, whichever is lowest:
A: "We already have over 400 (independent) deals in new media, and almost all of those deals fall below those thresholds. Our members want to work in that arena. The way writers and directors have set it up, by virtue of their deals, is that we would have union actors potentially working on the same set with nonunion actors, which violates our most important rule, Rule One."
Q: The increasing use of product placement in traditional media also has surfaced as a stumbling block for actors in these talks, is that right?
A: "They say I can walk onto a TV set or a movie set without being informed, I could be handed a line of dialogue or an entire scene extolling the virtues of a product that may or may not be offensive to me, and I have no choice in the matter. That's another issue I have a big problem with."
Q: Does the break-off in negotiations make the potential for a strike a greater possibility than it was before?
A: "I really don't want to go there. I don't even want to entertain the thought of a strike at this moment. It's something I've always said was on the table. It's the one weapon a labor union has when they reach impasse. ... But I don't even want to think about, or talk about a strike until I'm convinced that we can't make progress in negotiations. I'm not at that point yet."
Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Xavier Briand