TOLDJA! Media Moguls Nix SAG Demands; Hollywood In De Facto Features Strike

I told you this would happen, and now it has: the Alliance for Motion Picture and Television Producers representing the Big Media moguls finally acknowledged today that after 13 days the negotiations with SAG are at a stalemate with only 2 days left go. And, as I predicted, the AMPTP is blaming everything on the Screen Actors Guild. I can’t help but admire how faithfully the Hollywood CEOs follow the scripts they write. Especially at a time when the movie studios have put into effect a de facto feature strike. (See my previous, FIRST NEWS ABOUT SAG-AMPTP TALKS)

The organization that speaks for the CEO clique running Hollywood issued a “Negotiations Update” that breaks its silence over the progress, or lack of it, in the talks with SAG:

“The AMPTP has been negotiating with SAG now for 13 days. Last week, we asked AFTRA to delay the start of its negotiations until May 5th so that we could give the SAG talks every opportunity to produce an agreement. Since the SAG negotiations are due to wrap up on Friday, May 2nd, today is a good time to let you know where things stand.

When we requested an extra week for the SAG negotiations, we told you that there were “significant gaps” between the parties. Candidly, we must offer the same assessment of the negotiations today, with just over two days to go. Although both parties have spent considerable time in the negotiating room, we are not yet close to an agreement. This is the case for two fundamental reasons:

First, SAG initially rejected the framework for new media that was established through the DGA, WGA and AFTRA Network Code negotiations. The Producers’ position has been that there is no valid reason to upend the new media framework that has already been accepted by writers, directors, and AFTRA Network Code. Last week, SAG indicated that it would be willing to live within the existing new media framework – but only with more than 70 changes to the framework, some of which would go a long way toward making the framework itself unworkable.

The second reason is this: SAG’s willingness to work with the existing new media framework (albeit with more than 70 changes) was conditioned on AMPTP addressing SAG’s demands in traditional media areas. Unfortunately, these demands – including a doubling of the existing DVD formula and huge increases in compensation and benefits – would result in enormous cost increases that we are not willing to accept. The SAG Basic and TV Agreements are mature labor pacts for mature businesses. In such circumstances employers in other industries typically negotiate reductions and efficiencies to reduce costs. We are not seeking to do this. But we cannot responsibly accept the unprecedented, double-digit increases in DVD residuals and conditions being sought by SAG, or wage hikes that in some cases reach 200%. As a result, we have made little progress in narrowing the significant differences with SAG on these critical traditional media issues.

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. Failing that, we are prepared to begin negotiations with AFTRA on Monday, May 5th. “

See here for the AMPTP’s entire negotiations update as well for as the AMPTP’s “Setting the Record Straight” document that purports to counter SAG’s recent series of 2008 Contract Reports — #1 discussing middle-income actors, #2 talking about New Media (at end of post), and #3 exploring residuals.)

Within hours, SAG leadership issued this response to its members:

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) posted a message to their member companies today on the AMPTP website. We felt it was important that we directly communicate our continued dedication to the negotiations process.

Screen Actors Guild remains committed to reaching a fair agreement with the AMPTP. To that end, we are prepared to bargain continuously, for as long as it takes.

The AMPTP knows we did not state that they had to agree to all of our non-new media proposals. We expect the AMPTP to negotiate in good faith and we will do the same.

We stand by our research and the information we provided you in our Contract 2008 Reports. We are not surprised that the employers dispute the economic hardships actors are facing. You know better.

We will not negotiate this contract in the press. Instead, we are focused on reaching a fair contract that addresses your needs as professional actors. We will continue to update you regularly.

C’mon, who does the AMPTP think it’s fooling? The script all along was to stonewall SAG, make a quick (and terrible for the actors) deal with the AFTRA pushovers, villify SAG leadership to the members, and then try to break whatever is left of SAG’s solidarity. I still think that using AFTRA as a wedge to soften up SAG is a non-starter. It doesn’t matter what AFTRA does because that union doesn’t even deal with motion pictures. But today AFTRA tried its best to look like the most “reasonable” of guilds — announcing its members had ratified the Network Television Code by an overwhelming 93.35% approval, and that its leadership had pacted with producers of non-broadcast, educational, and industrial material for an 18-month extension to the contract that covers performers doing on-camera and voiceover services.

So what does Hollywood have to look forward to film-wise? More of the same: no greenlighting because of fears of a SAG strike. Major players in this town are telling me they haven’t seen the movie industry this dead since, well, they can’t remember. It’s also a major reason that there’s so much turmoil at the agencies; big-name clients are panicking and jumping ship if they’re idle, and there’s a cutthroat competition to keep them or sign them.

I’ve told you before and I’ll repeat it again: The AMPTP is staying on message that it’s now prepared to wait out SAG for a deal until as late as mid-July. That means months of more motion picture inactivity, all of which the AMPTP intends to blame on SAG. As today’s statement shows, the AMPTP is furious that SAG negotiators are intent on getting a better deal for its actor members than the WGA or the DGA did on formulas for both New Media and also DVD residuals. Both Peter Chernin and Bob Iger in backchannel talks with SAG leadership, including a session as recently as the 2nd week in April, have been repeatedly saying that the studios and networks won’t budge on the numbers previously agreed to with the writers and directors — even if the actors have different needs.

But it’s the moguls own fault: if only they’d kept their word and agreed in the past to visit the residual formulas for home video, and then DVDs, maybe leadership inside SAG would believe the moguls’ pledge to revisit those for New Media three years from now. But truth and transparency have never been the strong suit of Big Media (i..e. studio accounting).

After the AMPTP pacts with AFTRA, I fully expect the mogul group to stay away from the bargaining table with SAG —  just like it did with the WGA — or conduct what can only be described as disingenuous negotiating. The Hollywood CEOs are virtually daring SAG to strike when its contract expires the end of June. I do hope that SAG can restrain itself and hold off calling a strike after that, instead engaging in brinkmanship for a reasonable period. Because Chernin and Iger will in the end make a deal with SAG that I do believe will contain better numbers than the other contracts. Why? Because timing will be on SAG’s side. And because the power is always in the moguls’ hands, and never forget that, no matter if the AMPTP and its lapdog media choose to blame SAG.

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