AMPTP Walks From SAG Talks

NOBODY LIKES REPEATS. But Tuesday there was a virtual repeat of how the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, the group representing the Big Media companies, acted during bargaining with the WGA, including how the moguls pitted the directors guild against the writers guild. Only this time, the AMPTP is manipulating actors versus actors.

Representatives for the clique of Hollywood CEOs announced it will meet with AFTRA starting Wednesday and therefore is walking away from negotiations with SAG — even though the leadership of the big actors union made clear they wanted to continue talking.

“They are doing what we all thought they would do, walking away from table,” a SAG board member told me Tuesday afternoon. “They said, ‘We have to honor this obligation that was made to AFTRA.’ So they’ve walked out on us without ever getting back to us after we have made major concessions to a number of things they came in asking for. What’s worse is, they have not come up with one counterproposal to our proposals.”

Later that evening, the AMPTP and SAG issued separate and, as expected, wildly conflicting, statements. SAG confirmed my reporting: that “the AMPTP suspended negotiations with SAG today over the objections of SAG’s negotiating committee. The committee had urged that the AMPTP continue discussion and had offered to negotiate around the clock if necessary in order to secure an agreement.” The AMPTP in turn blamed SAG’s “unreasonable demands.”

I’d heard throughout these negotiations that AMPTP president Nick Counter has been virtually daring SAG to strike.

Now I’ve learned that he did actually dare SAG to strike. According to my sources, “the first thing that came out of Nick Counter’s mouth was, ‘These proposals are unreasonable. Well, I guess you’d better prepare for a strike.’ ”

I’ve also learned that the AMPTP is trying to push through a contract provision strenuously opposed by SAG leaders, which would give the media moguls free and unlimited use of short clips of actors’ work in TV and movies. Specifically, the studios and networks want to do away with what they see as the tedious and expensive process whereby they have to obtain consent to use, and then pay for, a SAG member’s clip.

The AMPTP is demanding unfettered use of roughly a five-minute clip of an actor appearing on TV, and roughly a 10-minute clip from film. “They also want to use it as much as they want,” a SAG insider tells me. “So actors leave themselves open to the absolute overexposure of their images, which also can be associated with god knows what. And the studios and networks can make a special of the clips and never pay an actor extra. It’s not only unacceptable, it’s outrageous. There is not a member in this union who would agree to that. We don’t work for free.”

Another demand concerns so-called “French hours.” I’m told the moguls want to do away with an actor’s break for lunch. “I don’t know why it’s called French hours, since the French spend two hours for lunch,” a SAG source tells me. “If the AMPTP has its way, then actors would be working while holding a plate of food.”

I’ve learned that SAG president Alan Rosenberg and chief negotiator/national executive director Doug Allen felt Tuesday that a breakthrough was as far away as it’s ever been. My source says, “These three weeks have just been a colossal waste of the union’s time. Doug and Alan are really disappointed in these people who make up the AMPTP, because they’re not willing to make a deal and they’re so completely predictable. And there’s not even one person in that room for them authorized to agree to anything.”

That’s certainly true: The only way that the DGA and WGA obtained deals was by negotiating via back channels with moguls Peter Chernin and Bob Iger, and by cutting out the pro forma nonsense with Counter, the studio and network labor lawyers and everyone else.

During the writers’ strike, WGA board member Tom Schulman issued what he called the Playbook of the AMPTP. On the basis of what I hear went on during these AMPTP-SAG negotiations, nothing has changed. It doesn’t matter if the leadership of the big actors union hopes a deal will be done soon. Because the AMPTP is slowing down the process, and doing it right in the midst of a de facto strike in green-lighting Hollywood movies.

A favorite negotiating tactic of Counter’s is to repeatedly offer nothing new [in order] to wear down the other side. And in just three weeks’ time, SAG has softened its proposals. It has softened on residuals from DVD sales, instead asking for what would effectively be a 15 percent hike in DVD pay, and has scaled back its 50 percent pay increase for guest stars on TV shows.

The AMPTP failed to respond. “They have not tried to negotiate at all,” a SAG insider said. “These extensions on the talks were merely a ploy to situate themselves so they could be able to say, ‘We tried so hard with SAG.’ When just the opposite is true. They did nothing. When we spoke to them about this, they insisted they’d ‘not had time to review it.’ So, obviously, their only job description is, ‘Don’t make a deal.’

“We walked in to make a deal. But they walked in to not make a deal.”

One of the reasons that the SAG positions have not been made clearer is that the union leadership, rightly or wrongly, refused to make their demands public while negotiating with the AMPTP. But the moguls, as before against the WGA, used the mainstream media and the trades as mouthpieces. “Alan and Doug have remained mature and sober through this process by not trying to duke it out in the press,” a talks insider tells me.

Of course, the AMPTP is trying to pressure SAG to accept the DGA deal as is, just as it tried with the WGA. And just as before, the AMPTP will try to use a fast pact with AFTRA (and it will be a lousy pact, trust me, because that union’s always are) to induce SAG to accept less.

On new media, I’m told that the AMPTP uses that old saw, “We really need three years to look at this.” But SAG isn’t falling for that line: “We say back, ‘But there’s nothing about what you’ve done over the last three years that suggests you want to be our partners.”

The AMPTP keeps talking about how business practices are really changing and therefore challenging. SAG retorted in the negotiations, “You’re telling the world you’re making a lot of money, and you walk into this room and cry, ‘We’re poor boys’?” At one point, “they made a comparison between what an actor made in 1997 compared to 2007. Are they now going to announce how much their corporations made in 1997 versus what they made in 2007?”


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