Actors and producers won't begin negotiations on a new, major theatrical-and-television contract for a month or so. But the two sides began setting the stage for talks last Monday, meeting to discuss contract issues they plan to address during the bargaining.
The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) co-negotiate the pact. Their leaders met with film-studio and TV-network chief executives, as well as the negotiators for the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which represents the film and TV companies during bargaining. The meeting took place at AMPTP's offices in Encino, Cal.
For months, the press has been predicting that 2001 would be the year for strikes against the studios and networks, primarily by the Writers Guild of America, followed by SAG and AFTRA. The WGA feature film-TV pact expires May 1. The SAG-AFTRA contract ends June 30.
Studios and networks appear to have bought that prediction. They've been in the midst of "hurry-up" production, with reports that execs have ordered projects to be completed by April, hopefully building a stockpile as insurance against walkouts.
The production panic seems to have resulted first from whispers through the industry, then from WGA west's telling its members this summer to save their money, in preparation for a strike.
But since then, most public remarks from union officials have revealed a willingness to negotiate. While both the WGA East and WGAw have presented a "pattern of demands" for their 2001 pact talks, which they co-negotiate, a WGAw communications spokesperson told Back Stage last week that the union was willing to go to the table and bargain.
William Daniels, SAG's national president, and Shelby Scott, AFTRA's national chief, issued a joint statement Tuesday which matched the stance they've held all along:
"We've been saying for weeks that we believe there's always a deal to be made, and our members very obviously prefer to be working rather than walking a picket line," the two union execs stated. "Actors and producers unquestionably need each other. Both sides would be well served to keep in mind that we're each part of a team necessary to create quality entertainment."
But SAG and AFTRA also made one thing perfectly clear this past year: while they may prefer work to the picket line, they will walk the line if they have to. And with vigor. Producers are well aware that 135,000 members of the two unions just came off their longest strike in history: a six-month battle with the advertising industry over a new commercials contract.
That walkout included a dedicated effort by the unions to gain Internet jurisdiction over commercials. And studio and network heads can be sure that the unions will be coming after Web jurisdiction in the new feature film-TV pact.