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ATA/NATR OK SAG Forum

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Never let it be said that Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents in Los Angeles, leaves any doubt about where she stands.

Stuart, in an Aug. 15 letter to the Screen Actors Guild, finally agreed to an open forum to discuss issues which have stalemated a new franchise agreement between the actors and agents. SAG in early June had requested the open forum with a cross section of SAG members in L.A. and New York. ATA's board met soon after getting that request, but had no comment following the meeting.

Now, 2 and half months later, Stuart responded to Zino Macaluso, SAG's agency relations director, saying the talent agents would take part in the forum. But she also indicated she considers the process just a stall tactic by the guild to avoid renewal of negotiations on a new franchise pact.

"As you are no doubt aware, the process will only be 'moved along' when SAG engages in good faith negotiations on each open issue," Stuart said in her letter. "ATA previously participated in what might be considered open discussions with the SAG national board and SAG national executive committee regarding these very same issues. Thereafter, the SAG board approved a 'deal' with ATA, only to have SAG refuse to honor it. Thus, the 'open discussion' approach has not historically been helpful because the SAG leadership did not respect the outcome."

ATA represents talent-agent firms on the West Coast. It is also representing the National Association of Talent Representatives (NATR), made up of East Coast talent agencies, in the stalled talks with SAG.

The agency regulations had been in effect since the late 1930s. The agreement expired Oct. 20; negotiations on a new pact broke off in early November, and have yet to be renewed.

The crux of the two sides' disagreement: SAG says that the agents want the right to produce as well as represent actors, just as actors' personal managers do, and want that right written into the regulations agreement. SAG leaders at first agreed?but relented when a bevy of membership criticism arose, which is what Stuart refers to in her missive when she speaks of "not respecting the outcome."

The ATA and NATR claim they have never proposed that their contract allow them to become producers, nor do they want to be producers. But SAG disagrees. The guild's stance now is that agents who both produce and rep actors would be involved in a conflict of interest.

Stuart's letter said, "In the spirit of cooperation and hope for a continued partnership, ATA/NATR representatives will meet with SAG's open forum committee regarding the format, duration, timing, and availability of participants for an open forum..." But she added that the agents wanted SAG to agree to three points:

--An equal number of ATA/NATR member agents equal to the SAG members would be invited both to participate and sit in the forum's audience.

--The forum would take place after the SAG elections and SAG's appointment of an authorized negotiator for SAG negotiations with the ATA/NATR. Stuart evidently doesn't want the talent agents' contract to become caught up in what has already become an antagonistic election for the guild's national presidency. By calling for an "authorized negotiator," she seems to be basically calling for a changing of the guard?the appointment of a professional negotiator, such as the guild used in recent contract talks with producers on a new feature-film and TV agreement.

--SAG should withdraw any claim that the ATA/NATR financial interest proposal is illegal under state law. Stuart noted that SAG made this claim at one time, but "has repeatedly failed" to respond to ATA's request for the guild to produce support for such claim. William Daniels, SAG's national president, had said earlier this year that he considers the agents' proposal to be opposed to California labor law. The president pro temporare of the California state legislature has scheduled hearings on the issue for this month.

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