EXCLUSIVE (keep refreshing for latest news): This is a virtual repeat of how the group representing the Big Media companies acted during bargaining with the WGA, including how the AMPTP and moguls pitted the directors guild against the writers guild. Only this time the AMPTP is manipulating actors versus actors. I’m told that today the representatives for the clique of Hollywood CEOs announced it was going to meet with AFTRA starting tomorrow and therefore was walking away from the table during negotiations with SAG — even though the leadership of the big actors union made clear it wanted to continue talking. I’m told that SAG asked for a third extension of the talks, but the AMPTP refused, instead offering to resume talks only as late as May 28, only a month before SAG’s contract expires the end of June. “They are doing what we all thought they would do, walking away from table,” a SAG board member just told me this afternoon. “They said, ‘We have to honor this obligation that was made to AFTRA.’ So they’ve walked out on us without ever getting back to us after we have made major concessions to a number of things they came in asking for. What’s worse is they have not come up with one counter-proposal to our proposals.”

6:30 PM UPDATE: The AMPTP and SAG issued separate and, as expected, wildly conflicting, statements as to the cause of the breakdown of the talks. (See both statements below.) But SAG confirmed my reporting: that “the AMPTP suspended negotiations with SAG today over the objections of SAG’s negotiating committee. The committee had urged that the AMPTP continue discussion and had offered to negotiate around the clock if necessary in order to secure an agreement.” The AMPTP blamed SAG’s “unreasonable demands” but did not provide even one example of a compromise or concession made by the media moguls side..

4:30 PM UPDATE: I’d heard throughout these negotiations that AMPTP president Nick Counter has been virtually daring SAG to strike. Now I’ve learned that he did actually dare SAG to strike. According to my sources, during the starting day of the AMPTP-SAG official negotiations, “The first thing that came out of Nick Counter’s mouth was, ‘These proposals are unreasonable. Well, I guess you’d better prepare for a strike.’ “

I’ve also learned that the AMPTP is trying to push through a contract provision strenuously objected to by the SAG leadership that would give the media moguls free and unlimited use of short clips of actors’ work in TV and movies. Specifically, the studios and networks want to do away with what they see as the tedious and expensive process where they have to obtain consent and then pay for using a SAG member’s clip. So the AMPTP is demanding to be able to use roughly a 5-minute clip of an actor appearing on TV, and a roughly 10-minute clip of an actor appearing on film, without having to ask for consent or to pay. “They also want to use it as much they want,” a SAG insider tells me. “So actors leave themselves open to the absolute overexposure of their images which also can be associated with god-knows-what. And the studios and networks can make a special of the clips and never pay an actor extra. It’s not only unacceptable, it’s outrageous. There is not a member in this union who would agree to that. We don’t work for free.”

Another demand made by the AMPTP concerns so-called “French hours”: I’m told the moguls want to do away with an actor’s break for lunch. “I don’t know why it’s called French hours since the French spend two hours for lunch,” a SAG source explains to me., “If the AMPTP has its way, then actors would be working while holding a plate of food.”

I’ve learned that SAG President Alan Rosenberg, and chief negotiator/national executive director Doug Allen, sat in today’s meeting feeling a breakthrough in the negotiations was as far away as it’s ever been. “These three weeks have just been a colossal waste of the union’s time. Doug and Alan are really disappointed in these people who make up the AMPTP because they’re not willing to make a deal and they’re so completely predictable. And there’s not even one person in that room for them authorized to agree to anything.” (For background, see my previous: Media Moguls Nix SAG Demands and First News About SAG-AMPTP Talks.)

That’s certainly true: the only way that the DGA and WGA obtained deals was by negotiating directly via backchannels with moguls Peter Chernin and Bob Iger, and by cutting out the pro forma nonsense with Nick Counter, the studio and network labor lawyers, and everyone else at the AMPTP altogether.

During the writers strike, WGA board member Tom Schulman issued what he called  The Playbook Of The AMPTP. I can attest to the fact that, based on what I’ve heard went on during these AMPTP-SAG negotiations, nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter how much the big actors union leadrship hopes a deal will be done sooner rather than later. Because the AMPTP is slowing down the process when, if anything, it should be speeded up on account of the de facto strike that exists right now in greenlighting Hollywood movies.

A favorite negotiating tactic of Nick Counter’s is to repeatedly offer nothing new until each guild is forced to negotiate against itself by continually reducing its demands. This is exactly what was done here. Already, just in three weeks’ time, SAG has softened its proposals: for instance, it’s agreed not to double residuals from DVD sales, instead asking for what would effectively be a 15% hike in DVD pay, as well as scaled back its 50% pay increase for guest stars on TV shows.

hollywoodmoguls.jpgBut, after much hemming and hawing in the form of so-called caucuses, the AMPTP failed to come back with a single response to any of these revised SAG positions. “They have not tried to negotiate at all,” a SAG insider said about the AMPTP. “These extensions on the talks were merely a ploy to situate themselves so they could be able to say, ‘We tried so hard with SAG’. When just the opposite is true. They did nothing. When we spoke to them about this, they insisted they’d ‘not had time to review it’. So, obviously, their only job description is, ‘Don’t make a deal.’

“We walked in to make a deal. But they walked in to not make a deal.”

One of the reasons that the SAG positions have not been made clearer is because the union leadership, rightly or wrongly, refused to go public while negotiating with the AMPTP. While the moguls side, as before with the WGA, used the mainstrean media and the trades as its mouthpieces. “Alan and Doug have remained mature and sober through this process by not trying to duke it out in press,” a talks insider tells me.

Of course, the AMPTP is trying to pressure SAG to accept the DGA deal as is, just like it tried to pressure the WGA deal to do that, too. (The Screen Actors Guild has 120,000 members, while AFTRA represents about 70,000 people. The two unions share 44,000 dual members.) And, just as before, the AMPTP will try to use a fast pact with AFTRA (and it will be a lousy pact, trust me, because that union’s always are) to induce SAG to accept less and not more.

For instance, I’m told that AFTRA has already agreed to the AMPTP’s demands to remove consent for clip use in the Network Code Contract its leadership recently negotiated. “It was in the fine print so, when it went out to members for ratification, they probably didn’t notice this,” a source tells me.

Regarding New Media, SAG is seeking that the Hollywood CEOs mandate exclusive guild coverage for original low-budget, made-for-Internet-only shows. The moguls agreed in previous deals that union contracts were optional for writers or directors for productions that cost less than $15,000 a minute.  Now the AMPTP is refusing to consider any change.

On New Media just like DVD residuals, which SAG leaders Rosenberg and Allen have pledged to both better, I’m told that the AMPTP keeps using that old saw of, “We really need three years to look at this.” But SAG isn’t falling for that line anymore. “Nobody on the planet believes it will be revisited. The AMPTP goes on and on about how we’re ‘partners’. And we say back, ‘But there’s nothing about what you’ve done over the last three years that suggests you want to be our partners.”

Also the AMPTP keeps talking about how business practices are really changing and therefore challenging. SAG had a retort in the negotiations. “We said, ‘Don’t you think its confusing that you’re telling the world you’re making a lot of money, and you walk into this room and cry ‘We’re poor boys’. One of the times they made a comparison between what an actor made in 1997 compared to 2007. Are they now going to announce how much their corporations made in 1997 versus what they made in 2007? When they’re clearly making incredible amounts of money especially in digital distribution.” (See my news today, Disney Latest Big Media Behemoth To Profit During Recession & Writers Strike.)

Earlier in the day, Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a conference call with financial analysts that the moguls had made their position clear to SAG. “The fact that we did deals with the writers and the directors should certainly signal our position on the critical issues. I think SAG is well aware of that.”

Causing further consternation is the fact that the AMPTP isn’t honoring even the existing contract with SAG: the actors union has filed arbitrations for the millions of dollars in force majeure payments that remain unpaid and still due.

Here is the Screen Actors Guild statement issued tonight:

Los Angeles, May 6, 2008 — The AMPTP suspended negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild today over the objections of SAG’s negotiating committee.The committee had urged that the AMPTP continue discussion and had offered to negotiate around the clock if necessary in order to secure an agreement.

The AMPTP declined to continue negotiations with SAG claiming that it was necessary to turn their attention to negotiating with American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

Screen Actors Guild National President Alan Rosenberg said, “It is unfortunate and deeply troubling that the AMPTP would suspend our negotiations at this critical juncture. We have modified our proposals over the last three weeks in effort to bargain a fair contract for our members. We are committed to preserving rights that have been in place for decades and not giving the studios the right to use excerpts of our work in new media without our consent and negotiation. Our negotiating team is prepared to work around the clock for as long as it takes to get a fair deal. We want to keep the town working.”

Over the last four weeks Screen Actors Guild negotiated in good faith and modified many of its proposals to the AMPTP. To date, the AMPTP has offered only a few modifications to its new media proposal which was submitted to SAG in three documents containing 36 provisions that differed from the deals agreed to with the WGA and DGA.

SAG’s National Executive Director and Chief Negotiator Doug Allen stated, “We were hopeful that we could continue negotiations with the AMPTP and reach a tentative agreement. We modified our proposals in effort to narrow the gap between us and now we need the AMPTP do the same. SAG’s objective is to keep the town working and get a fair contract, so we are gravely disappointed that we will now have to delay to a process that we started over three weeks ago. We are willing to work for as long as it takes to negotiate a good agreement for our members.”

The AMPTP put forward a proposal that differed substantially from the deals signed with the DGA and WGA. Management’s clip demand would gut existing provisions regarding actors’ consent to use of their clips and would allow studios and networks to use or sell clips – going forward and from their libraries – in any way they choose and without consent.

Here is the AMPTP’s official statement tonight:

May 6, 2008: On Friday, May 2nd, the AMPTP agreed to extend our talks with SAG on a day-to-day basis through today, as long as the parties were making progress. We therefore regret to report that insufficient progress has been made to extend negotiations for a third time. Indeed, the negotiations were thrust into reverse by SAG’s persistent refusal to acknowledge that the three deals already struck with the writers, directors and AFTRA reflect the economic realities faced by everyone in our industry, including actors.

In particular, significant differences remain on DVD residuals, streaming, made for new media, and new media use of clips and library material. Under these circumstances, with SAG’s continued adherence to unreasonable demands in both new and traditional media, continuing negotiations at this time does not make sense.

We will begin scheduled negotiations with AFTRA on Wednesday, May 7th and have offered to resume negotiations with SAG at a future date.

Over the course of 18 days of negotiations, both parties made compromises and concessions. Unfortunately, SAG’s negotiators continued to insist on some of the Guild’s most unreasonable demands in both traditional and new media areas. As a result, it was not possible to reach the same kind of agreement that the Producers have already reached with the WGA, the DGA and the AFTRA Network Code.

Even though this round of negotiations has ended without an agreement, we hope that these three weeks of work have helped lay the groundwork for an agreement that can eventually be reached prior to the June 30, 2008 expiration of the current SAG-AMPTP contract.

Of course, in the aftermath of such an intense negotiating period, statements of disappointment are to be expected.  As you consider these statements, it is worth keeping in mind the following key points:

· Our industry was not starting from scratch with this round of SAG negotiations. On the contrary, over the last three months three separate labor agreements have been reached with our industry’s writers and directors, and in the AFTRA Network Code negotiations.  During these negotiations, AMPTP made many compromises from our initial demands to reach these three new labor agreements.

· SAG actively participated in the WGA strike, witnessing first hand the difficulties all parties had in reaching a deal on complex new media issues. In addition to observing the WGA talks, SAG also had observers in the AFTRA Network Code negotiations.

· Despite the existence of these recent three agreements, and despite SAG’s direct experience with the WGA strike and the AFTRA Network Code negotiations, SAG negotiators came to this newest round of negotiations with more than 36 major new proposals – and more than a few of those were deal-breakers.

· The AMPTP negotiators took the opposite approach, introducing a modest package of just eight narrowly-tailored proposals.

· From the very start of these negotiations, then, SAG refused to respect the sound basis for the writer, director and AFTRA Network Code labor agreements, while the AMPTP consistently urged SAG to recognize and build upon the framework of those agreements.

· In the end, this round of SAG negotiations ended without an agreement because SAG simply refused to recognize the fundamental business and labor principles that have already been accepted by directors, writers and producers.