Hollywood actors reach deal with studios

America's Screen Actors Guild and Hollywood studios have reached a tentative deal on movie and prime-time TV show productions, after a year-long battle for better internet compensation.

The guild said its leaders would recommend approval by the board and ratification by its members, which could be completed next month. The contract would replace one that had expired last June.

The new deal follows the internet provisions earlier agreed to by writers, directors and another actors union and will expire on June 30 2011, according to two people who were briefed on the contract.

The date means SAG’s contract will expire around the same time as other unions, maintaining the future threat of a joint strike. That expiry date had been one of the final points of contention.

But in allowing the contract to lapse for nearly a year, SAG actors lost wage increases that the studios said amounted to over €50m so far.

Before the stalemate, the studios had offered a 3.5% increase on minimum pay in the first year. That will now be scrapped, and actors will only get pay rises from the date of ratification moving forward – 3% over the next year and 3.5% for the final year plus the extra time through June 30, 2011, one of the people said.

Fierce infighting and a stalemate with the studios pushed talks past the June 30, 2008, expiry date, and since then, the US economy went into a nosedive, weakening actors’ resolve for a strike and hardening the studios’ unwillingness to bargain as DVD sales also fell apart.

Work for actors stagnated as movie production slowed, reality TV show production grew and network programmers made moves to replace scripted dramas with talk shows.

On top of that, more than 90% of pilots for scripted shows in the coming autumn TV season have gone to SAG’s more acquiescent cousin, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, a reversal of past trends.

AFTRA, with 70,000 members compared with SAG’s 120,000, ratified its own prime-time TV deal with the studios last July after it broke off joint talks with SAG for the first time in nearly 30 years.

SAG maintains a monopoly on union work for major motion pictures in the US.

SAG had sought improvements on provisions covering shows that rerun online. Seeking such improvements were a key part of the writers’ strike that shut down production for 100 days early last year.

But the guild eventually gave up trying to improve on a deal other unions had already accepted, especially after internal elections last autumn shifted control to a moderate group.

Observers say it is unlikely the deal will unleash a barrage of new production bottled up because of labour uncertainty.

Film production had already been curtailed because of the credit crunch and falling sales of DVDs, a major driver of studio earnings, despite a slight increase in North American box office revenue last year.

Last month, the Motion Picture Association of America said the number of films produced in 2008 plunged 21% to 520, compared with 656 in 2007.


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