Actors to Begin Contract Talks

Hollywood's main actors' union said on Tuesday it would begin talks on a new labor contract with the studios on April 15, setting the scene for a cliffhanger that could once again paralyze the movie and television industries.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which represents about 120,000 members, will negotiate a new three-year pact with the bargaining arm of the studios, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Seven weeks after screenwriters ended a 100-day walkout that crippled film and television production, the industry remains in the throes of a "de facto strike" because nervous filmmakers have postponed or ditched projects that could be affected if actors do not reach a deal by the contract's June 30 expiration date.

The last SAG film and TV contract took just over two weeks to negotiate, with talks ending in January 2005.

The timetable is much tighter now, and SAG is run by a militant wing that opposed the terms of the last deal and subsequently won key leadership roles.

The union's seeming reticence to begin negotiations prompted Hollywood stars George Clooney, Robert De Niro, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep to take out newspaper ads in February urging leaders to commit to negotiating a deal quickly.

SAG, which strongly supported the writers' strike, defended its strategy, saying it needed time to canvass members to determine its proposals. These have not been publicized.

In a statement, SAG said it looked forward to "productive negotiations." The AMPTP said it had no immediate comment.

Also declining to comment was the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), a smaller union that also represents about 40,000 SAG members. Despite a rocky relationship, the two unions have traditionally negotiated their contracts together. But open warfare broke out on Saturday when AFTRA said it would go it alone, claiming -- among other things -- that SAG was trying to take over jurisdiction on the soap opera "The Bold and the Beautiful."

The two unions quickly raced each other to get to the negotiating table first, with SAG appearing to have won the contest. An AFTRA spokeswoman said the union would release its negotiation timetable on Wednesday.


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