EVERY TIME I THINK of the way that Hollywood handles its talent guild negotiations, I’m reminded of that scene in Jurassic Park 2 where Jeff Goldblum warns everybody: “Oooh, ahhh — that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and screaming.” That happened even before the writers went out on strike for 100 days. And it’s happening now to the actors.
At first everyone was very polite and well-behaved when the secret confabs started many months ago between the Hollywood moguls and the Screen Actors Guild, soon after the striking Writers Guild went back to work. In late February, SAG national president Alan Rosenberg and national executive director Doug Allen had a meet-and-greet with Disney CEO Bob Iger. Then the guild duo agreed to confer again with Iger plus News Corp. No. 2 Peter Chernin (the pair credited with back-channelling their way to a WGA strike settlement).
This was exactly what SAG leadership had told members they would do: hold informal get-togethers with the moguls to lay groundwork for formal bargaining. But the March 3 sit-down didn’t go well. As a source told me, “When the SAG guys said they’re not going to accept the DGA or WGA deal and wanted to renegotiate DVDs and new media, Peter said, ‘Then I guess we have nothing to talk about.’”
Rumors immediately spread that the “two Allens” had blown it by being hotheads. SAG tried to set the record straight. “The tone and tenor is completely false. There was no hyperbolic rhetoric. Conversations were cordial and constructive.”
It was then that the Hollywood CEOs came to a collective decision about how to proceed with the SAG negotiations. Had the Big Media managers been interested in a quick settlement, they would have agreed that Chernin and Iger return to back-channel bargaining. Instead, the moguls decided to change up the way they would conduct the contract talks for Hollywood’s biggest union: They decided to hand the negotiations back over to their association, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
In other words, back to Nick Counter for his last hurrah as the cartel’s negotiator, and back to the studios’ and networks’ labor lawyers, who had grown increasingly restless for more control over the process. In fact, several moguls have admitted to me that, since then, they haven’t even bothered to read the memos that their labor lawyers file each week. “I told my people, ‘Don’t bother me unless there’s a breakthrough,’” one studio bigwig informed me.
The result is that Counter and this crew have been running every facet of the SAG-AMPTP negotiations, now stalemated. On Monday, the Big Media cartel made an 11th-hour “Last Best Offer” before SAG’s contract expired at 12:01 a.m. on July 1. But WGA exec director Dave Young had already informed his SAG counterpart Doug Allen that the AMPTP had done the same with the WGA, proposing “at least 10 last best offers” before a strike settlement was finally reached. SAG officials complained that the AMPTP offer looked like the AFTRA contract, but the screen actors agreed to examine it before the next negotiating session on July 2.
Expect more of the same tactics. One late April memo from a labor negotiator to his mogul boss warned, “We believe that if a deal can be made with SAG without a strike, the earliest we’ll conclude it will be July 15th.”
FRUSTRATED, DOUG ALLEN MET four weeks ago with Iger and CBS boss Les Moonves in the Disney honcho’s NYC office. They discussed issues like new media, product placement, clips consent for new media, and DVD residuals. But the moguls gave them a deliberate brushoff, according to both sides, along the lines of: “Guys, let the process continue. The CEOs are not going to get involved unless it's June 24 and everyone is close to a deal. Then they’ll roll up their sleeves. But they need to hear that or else they don’t plan on getting involved.”
Then AFTRA breezed through its talks with the AMPTP and reached a deal in a scant 17 days. It was déjà vu all over again, only this time AFTRA was playing the DGA’s doormat role and SAG the WGA’s leading man.
So the Two Allens went to visit the different moguls in their corporate enclaves. Once again, the SAG leaders’ requests for the Hollywood CEOs to get involved went nowhere. As one mogul condescendingly explained to SAG, Nick Counter’s crew is “the preferable way” of conducting negotiations. “That’s what their job is. This is not supposed to be done by us per se.”