By Steve Gorman
The Screen Actors Guild and major Hollywood studios agreed to return to the bargaining table by May 28 to resume contract talks that broke off more than a week ago, sources close to the talks said on Thursday.
Renewing talks by then will give the parties a little more than four weeks to reach a deal before the existing contract covering some 120,000 television and film actors expires June 30, a date many studios are treating as a de facto strike deadline.
The two sides launched formal talks on April 15 and twice agreed to extend their sessions in hopes of preserving labor peace in an entertainment industry still recovering from a 100-day walkout by screenwriters that ended in February.
But the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, cut off negotiations on May 6, saying momentum had been "thrust into reverse" by "unreasonable demands" from the union.
Stumbling blocks cited by both sides included union proposals for more generous "residual" payments earned by actors from sales of DVDs and for online streaming of entertainment content.
The studios in turn rankled SAG by seeking new rules allowing them to use TV and movie clips on the Internet without first getting the consent of actors who appear in them.
The next day, studios opened separate talks on a prime-time TV contract with SAG's smaller sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, widely seen as more likely to get a labor deal quickly.
The exact timing for renewed SAG negotiations hinges on how long it takes AFTRA and the studios to reach a settlement, but SAG and the studios have agreed to restart their bargaining by May 28 at the latest, the sources said.
Their stalemate last week stoked labor jitters lingering from the 14-week writers strike that shut down much of the TV industry, derailed several films and idled thousands of production workers, costing the local economy an estimated $3 billion.
So far, SAG leaders have downplayed the possibility of a strike and have yet to even seek authorization from rank-and-file members to call a strike.
But prime-time television is still getting back on its feet from the last work stoppage, and film studios have mostly postponed the start of new productions they are unable to finish by June 30.
The screenwriters strike, Hollywood's worst labor clash in 20 years, was settled in a deal giving them more money for film and TV work distributed over the Internet.
SAG leaders said going into their talks they wanted to improve on the writers' new-media deal while seeking higher DVD residuals -- a demand the writers were forced to drop.
Some Hollywood experts have suggested a deal with AFTRA, which represents 70,000 performers, could help form the basis of a settlement with SAG, much as the studios' contract with directors served as a framework for the writers' pact earlier this year.
(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Walsh)
COPYRIGHT: (c) Reuters 2008. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.