The Screen Actors Guild has shifted gears and is backpedaling on a deal with the Association of Talent Agents that would give broad new privileges to talent agents. The ATA had accepted all of SAG's counterproposals for a waiver of SAG's agency regulations on Feb. 16, but two days later-after a storm of opposition had arisen within SAG's ranks-the guild changed its mind and is now telling the ATA that "SAG cannot, at this time, accept your proposal of Feb. 16."
ATA executive director Karen Stuart said she is "amazed" by this new tactic, charging that SAG is "misrepresenting" the terms of the agreement. Stuart maintains that SAG's claim that it cannot accept the ATA's proposals is "simply not accurate" and a "misstatement of the facts" because the ATA has not made any new proposals for SAG to reject. She says that the proposals that SAG is now rejecting are SAG's own counterproposals.
"There are no new items that have been proposed by the ATA to SAG," she said. "We simply agreed to their proposal. We have accepted their offer and they are now misrepresenting that it is our offer."
This isn't the first time that confusion has arisen over whose proposals and counterproposals are being considered. At a Feb. 7 board meeting, board members were given a four-page, 25-point document titled "ATA Proposals to SAG." In fact, those proposals were SAG's counterproposals to the ATA. Those counterproposals were developed after intense negotiations between the parties. The waiver, as outlined in the ATA's proposal, would allow agents to own noncontrolling interests in production companies and would permit companies engaged in the production of motion pictures-other than studios and networks-to own an interest in a talent agency.
SAG's counterproposals-all of which have been accepted by the ATA-were designed to minimize any potential conflicts of interest in such an arrangement, and to make SAG and the ATA "partners" in SAG's efforts to curb runaway production, increase diversity, and organize nonunion productions.
Although there is considerable debate about the benefits of the waiver-and about whether or not SAG and the ATA have a deal-the sequence of events leading up to the present state of confusion is as follows:
€ In February, 1999, SAG and ATA representatives first met to discuss problems facing talent agents. Included in those talks was a discussion of Section 16 of the SAG Agency Regulations, which prohibits agencies from having a financial interest in production and distribution entities.
€ In July, 1999, the ATA presented SAG representatives with its proposal to amend the financial interest provision of the SAG Agency Regulations.
€ On Dec. 12, the ATA presented its two-page proposal to the SAG national board of directors. The ATA also offered to set up an ATA-funded performance bond to protect performers' monies from agent default, and to provide code-of-conduct language to ensure against conflicts of interest. The SAG board then approved a "fast track" negotiation to deal with the ATA's request.
€ On Jan. 19 and 20, ATA and SAG representatives met to hammer out an agreement. At those meetings, SAG gave the ATA a 21-point counterproposal.
€ On Feb. 4, SAG gave the ATA an amended 25-point proposal.
€ On Feb. 7, the Western section of SAG's national board split in a tie vote on whether or not to accept the ATA's proposal. SAG president William Daniels did not vote on the waiver because he had to leave the board meeting before the vote was taken. Daniels had an early morning work call.
€ On Feb. 14, the Eastern section of SAG's board broke the tie, narrowly approving the deal, but only on the condition that further negotiations be held to resolve two of SAG's 25 counterproposals that the ATA had balked at accepting.
€ On Feb. 16, the ATA told SAG that it would accept all of SAG's counterproposals, which the ATA felt obviated the need for any further negotiations.
"I am pleased to advise you that the ATA accepts and agrees to SAG's offer as reflected in the 25-point amended proposal communicated to the ATA by SAG," Stuart said in the Feb. 16 letter to SAG national executive director Ken Orsatti. "As this obviates the need for further negotiations, our lawyers look forward to meeting with [SAG attorney] Bob Bush at his earliest convenience to finalize the formal language of our agreement."
Meanwhile, all hell had broken loose at SAG, with many members vowing to challenge the agreement and demanding that they be given the opportunity to vote on the waiver.
Daniels weighed into the debate last week when he insisted that the agreement that had been approved by SAG's board and accepted by the ATA was "not a done deal" and would have to be approved by SAG's National Executive Committee on Mar. 7.
SAG's board, however, had only empowered its National Executive Committee to negotiate "the best possible" terms for the two items that had not been resolved with the ATA as of Feb. 14. When the ATA accepted all of SAG's terms on Feb. 16-including the two outstanding items-SAG got what it asked for and the ATA thought it had a deal.
Daniels does not have the authority to overturn a board decision, but the SAG constitution does allow the president to call a special board meeting, where a motion for reconsideration of a previous motion can be heard. SAG's membership can also petition the guild for a referendum that would allow SAG's 100,000 members to vote on the waiver.
On Feb. 18, Orsatti sent Stuart a letter that said: "As you know, the ATA offer, presented to the SAG national board at its meeting of Feb. 7 in Los Angeles and Feb. 14 in New York, did not include several items which have now been proposed by ATA to SAG. While the national board did consider the previous offer made by ATA, and directed further consideration of that offer by the (SAG) National Executive Committee, the NEC has not yet had an opportunity to act on the ATA proposals. As you know, the negotiating committee does not have the authority to approve any proposal from ATA, and therefore SAG cannot, at this time, accept your proposal of Feb. 16, which will be presented to the NEC for further deliberation."
SAG released a statement Friday saying that "the guild will not comment officially on this process until the NEC has completed its deliberations at the upcoming Mar. 7 meeting."
David Robb writes for The Hollywood Reporter.