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SAG, Agents Spend a Week Talking Cash

It's proved a tricky year for the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and Association of Talent Agents (ATA), who last week renewed talks on a new franchise agreement. The two sides were still bargaining at press time Tuesday.

The talks have continued to cover a number of sensitive SAG-agency regulation issues, including agents' desire to become producers through a franchise waiver, thereby making them both actors' representatives and employers.

The waiver issue reared its head in February, when SAG's national board, in a close vote, approved changes, instructing its national executive committee (NEC) to finalize the negotiations. The guild also included several conditions to protect actors.

ATA promptly agreed to the guild's conditions, apparently to avoid any delay in the waiver's implementation. But William Daniels, SAG's national president, complained that he had been "sandbagged" by the pact's approval, had received many complaints from members about the waiver, and wanted the NEC to call a referendum on the issue.

Since then, the waiver pact—which would also allow agents to distribute and finance motion pictures—has become a major controversy among SAG members.

Throughout the spring, Karen Stuart, ATA's executive director, had maintained that the association and the guild had an approved agreement, and that her group was sticking by it.

Walking Out in May

But then came May, and the start of SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists' commercials-contract strike against the advertising industry.

That saw an extension of the agents-actors love-hate relationship. Agents agreed to support the actors in the strike, and both sides okayed a delay in action on the franchise agreement until the strike's end.

But the strike lasted six months, and during that pressured time, both sides showed some teeth and began snarling.

At one point, SAG and AFTRA complained that some agents were opposing actors by sending nonunion actors to do struck work. The unions threatened to call such agents on the carpet. But Stuart strongly denied that any ATA agents were involved.

By late August, Daniels and Shelby Scott, AFTRA's national president, had written the franchised agents, praising and thanking them for their support during the longest strike in the unions' histories.

But in times of strife, praise and thanks won't pay rent. So tensions remained. Actors were calculated to be losing $2 million a day due to the strike. Agents were unable to collect their 10% of those dead dollars, causing some bigger agencies to close certain offices, and smaller firms to shut down altogether.

As the strike neared its end, the franchise agreement ran out, with agents agreeing to hold the line and prepare for continuing talks on a new actors-agents pact.

But some agents, grappling with the rope's end, openly criticized the unions' strike effort, particularly the actors' demand for Internet jurisdiction, which the agents couldn't see as a moneymaker.

So both sides went back into negotiations last week with a bitter taste. One source close to the talks said that the agents were feeling so burned by the spot-pact strike, that they swore they wouldn't support the actors should next year's feature film-TV contract talks with the studios and networks lead to a walkout.

Time will tell.

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