July 15, 2008 / 10:45 PM / 10 years ago

Hollywood studios, actors plan to meet

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - As Hollywood’s labor stalemate dragged into its third week on Tuesday, major studios said they agreed to meet again with the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) but would not budge from their “final” contract offer.

The studios’ bargaining agent, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, said the session, requested by SAG and set for Wednesday, “will be solely for the purposes of listening to whatever SAG has to say.”

“It is important to note that SAG has declined to specify the purpose of the meeting,” the producers group added, describing the planned get-together as a “sidebar meeting” consisting of a “small group of people from each side.”

SAG, which has pressed the studios to reopen formal contract talks, declined comment except to confirm that the two parties planned to meet at 1 p.m. local time on Wednesday.

The contract at issue covers the work of 120,000 SAG members in prime-time TV and movies, an industry still reeling from a 14-week screenwriters strike that ended in February. A strike by the actors is widely seen as unlikely, for now.

The old SAG contract expired hours after the studios presented the union with their “final” offer as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition on June 30.

SAG nonetheless delivered a counteroffer during a four-hour meeting last Thursday that ended with the studios refusing to give any ground and insisting that SAG submit the industry’s latest proposal to union members for a vote.

SAG leaders have so far been unwilling to do so, saying the studios’ offer — mirroring terms endorsed last Tuesday by the smaller American Federation of Television and Radio Artists in a separate TV-only contract — falls short in several areas.

SAG, for example, has sought higher residual payments for actors from DVD sales and to extend its contract coverage to all made-for-Internet programming, even low-budget productions exempted under the AFTRA deal.

Word of yet another meeting between the parties came a day after Hollywood’s leading trade magazine, Daily Variety, reported that SAG leaders may acquiesce in submitting the studios’ offer to the rank-and-file for ratification.

Such a move, which could be done without SAG leaders recommending approval of the deal, would be up to the union’s national governing board, which is due to meet on July 26.

According to Variety, guild insiders have acknowledged they have few options given the steadfast refusal of the studios to continue bargaining.

So far, SAG leaders have played down the likelihood of calling a strike, a move that would require a 75 percent vote by members. Many industry watchers doubt SAG could muster the support needed in light of lingering fatigue from the recent writers’ work stoppage and growing economic uncertainty.

Much of the entertainment industry already has slipped into a de facto strike mode, as major studios have halted most of their film productions to avoid costly labor disruptions. But according to Variety, studios are now considering moving forward with new film projects before a settlement is reached.

Editing by Bob Tourtellotte

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