Hollywood is once again holding its breath.
With the 100-day writers walkout still fresh in the town’s collective memory, TV networks and studios are trying to come to terms with the fact that the Screen Actors Guild contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers expires June 30—and there’s no sign that a deal is anywhere close to being done.
Most of the town is looking ahead to July 8, when the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists will reveal whether its members have approved the deal AFTRA leadership struck with the AMPTP on May 28. If AFTRA members overwhelmingly OK the pact, that might make it harder for SAG leadership to convince guild members to authorize a strike.
SAG President Alan Rosenberg tried to downplay talk that a strike could be imminent.
“We have taken no steps to initiate a strike authorization vote by the members of Screen Actors Guild,” Mr. Rosenberg said in a statement issued Sunday, following two days of weekend negotiations. “Any talk about a strike or a management lockout at this point is simply a distraction. The Screen Actors Guild national negotiating committee is coming to the bargaining table every day in good faith to negotiate a fair contract for actors.”
Fear of a walkout already has dramatically slowed production on motion picture projects, with studios long ago deciding not to greenlight films that couldn’t be essentially wrapped before the June 30 contract expiration date.
The impact on television is far less severe and limited mostly to cable production. An HBO representative, for example, confirmed that production has been delayed on the second season of “Tell Me You Love Me” and the David Milch/Bill Clark pilot “Last of the Ninth.”
“We have pushed both out of the summer in part due to [a] possible SAG strike,” the rep said.
Most network shows, however, remain in pre-production and are gearing up for their usual production start dates in mid to late July.
What’s more, several network series—including “24,” “Chuck” and “Heroes”—already are back in production. Fallout from the Writers Guild of America strike led several shows to start filming early for next season.
There also had been concern that the threat of a strike could once again torpedo the semi-annual Television Critics Association press tour, the summer edition of which is scheduled to begin July 8. The winter edition of the event was canceled after the writers walked out.
But the current thinking among network TV types is that the tour is probably safe. That’s because SAG hasn’t yet called for a strike authorization vote, and even if it did, the process of organizing and tallying a vote would take about three weeks.
Unless SAG calls for a strike vote within the next few days, the TCA tour likely would be over before a strike could begin.
It’s also possible actors could simply choose not to do any publicity once the SAG contract expires, even if there’s no formal strike. That could negatively affect the press tour as well as Comic-Con, which begins July 24 in San Diego.
One other remote possibility: Studios could choose to lock out actors, immediately shutting down production on most film and TV projects.
“But I don’t see that happening,” said one top network executive familiar with the studios’ current thinking.
Instead, many observers are expecting the AMPTP to issue a last, best and final offer to SAG, perhaps within days—a move first reported by Daily Variety last week.
Progress on any level, however, is considered a long shot until just before or just after the AFTRA ratification results are announced, according to conversations with executives at networks, TV studios and talent agencies.
“Right now, it seems SAG is completely focused on trying to torpedo AFTRA’s ratification vote,” one network executive familiar with the tone of the talks said. “The talks haven’t been progressing.”
SAG leaders have had to deal with a slew of high-profile actors breaking from the party line by urging AFTRA voters to approve their deal.
Among those who’ve lent their support to the AFTRA deal: Tom Hanks, Sally Field, Alec Baldwin and Kevin Spacey. SAG members speaking out against the pact include Jack Nicholson and Martin Sheen.
Even if SAG’s leadership ultimately decides to seek a strike vote—and so far, the guild has indicated it has no plans to do so—getting approval could be tough. That’s because the union needs 75% of its membership onboard to OK a walkout.
“I don’t see a scenario where that could happen,” said one top talent agent. “People are still very much suffering from the writers strike.”
Still, the same agent said it “makes sense to be worried” about a possible strike. The level of distrust between the unions and the AMPTP is so high, all possible scenarios need to be considered, he said.
That includes what one studio executive calls the “dirty tricks” option.
Rather than going on strike, the executive fears SAG will “play dirty and try to do slowdowns and other unlawful things” in order to disrupt production.
“I don’t think the studios would take kindly to them doing that,” the executive said. “It could quickly turn into a legal thing.”
There’s no evidence to suggest SAG leaders have any intention of implementing such a strategy, however.
As for AFTRA’s deal, the organization’s leadership has made it clear to members that rejecting the deal on the table would be the equivalent of going on strike.
“The notion that one can reject a hard-fought contract, which exceeds industry ‘pattern,’ without backing it up with the courage of your convictions, is absurd,” AFTRA National Executive Director Kim Roberts Hedgpeth wrote in a letter to members. “In other words, why would any employer, after hearing such rhetoric, feel compelled to provide more than the above-pattern improvements already extracted from them simply because one ‘asks’?”
SAG, however, has taken just such a tack, lobbying to persuade AFTRA members—many of whom also belong to SAG—that they can reject the deal and still not go on strike.
“A no vote means no and that’s all it means,” SAG said in an ad that appeared in Wednesday’s Daily Variety. “What about going back to the table? Is AFTRA saying they won’t go back and bargain a better deal if AFTRA members vote this deal down? The SAG national negotiating committee knows that a ‘no’ vote makes a strike less likely because it shows that all actors want a better deal.”
Possibility of Actors Strike Casts a Giant Shadow
Jun 29, 2008 • Post A Comment
Hollywood is once again holding its breath.