Canadian deal might serve as U.S. blueprint

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Groundbreaking terms for new-media compensation penciled in to Canadian actors' Independent Production Agreement have industryites hoping the recently struck deal portends good things for impending contract talks with Hollywood labor unions.

Of course, hope in this case doesn't so much spring eternal as trickle cautiously.

"Well, it doesn't suck, anyway," one labor community wag quipped when asked whether the Canadian agreement would serve as a positive template for U.S.-based talks.

The WGA is expected to begin talks in July for a new film and TV contract, which expires Oct. 31. Similar producer contracts with the DGA and SAG expire in June 2008.

The tentative agreement between ACTRA and the Canadian Film and Television Producers Assn., if approved by membership, would give Canadian actors a 10% wage increase over three years and landmark compensation terms for performances used in content distributed over the Internet, mobile or other new-media platforms (HR 2/21).

"We're not going to characterize whether it's a good deal right now because we're still evaluating the ACTRA deal," said Pamm Fair, SAG's deputy national executive director of policy and strategic planning. "We're not going to negotiate in the press what a good deal looks like or doesn't."

Fern Wakneen, a SAG exec based in New York, served as an observer for the guild during the Canadian negotiations.

"We're really happy that ACTRA made an agreement and that their members are going to be going back to work," said Karen Borell, SAG's national director of entertainment contracts. "We supported their journey to get to this agreement, and it was a hard-fought one that had to include a strike."

Beyond such general statements, Hollywood guild officials are hesitant to comment on the specific terms reached by ACTRA, such as a new-media residual amounting 3.6% of gross distribution revenue. For one thing, U.S.-based producers can opt out of the provision and negotiate terms on individual projects.

Some contend that Hollywood studios pressed for such language to avoid appearing to cave too readily to an arguably generous new-media formula. They say the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers can now wait a bit before eventually giving in to such terms at the bargaining table with Hollywood guilds, lending a greater impression that the guilds have actually achieved something.

But another school of thought argues that the Canadian terms represent less than meets the eye and may prove tough to duplicate in Hollywood talks.

"The producers who made these deals aren't the ones who have the big film libraries that they want to put on the Internet to make money," an industry insider suggested. "The Canadian producers who made these deals just want (to) get back to work and make movies up there."

Back in the U.S., actors and others seeking additional compensation for performances showing up on the Internet, cell phones or elsewhere continue to face a frustratingly mixed patchwork quilt of compensation scenarios.

In some cases, where TV programming or other filmed work is reused as streamed content over the Internet, they generally are paid nothing as long as networks characterize the usage as promotional or even "experimental." If the programming is offered to consumers for a fee as Internet downloads, talent is generally compensated under a home video formula widely viewed by Hollywood guilds as outdated and inadequate.

By contrast, the new ACTRA terms roughly equate to SAG's formula for TV residuals and would apply both to downloads and streamed content. SAG managed to get the Walt Disney Co. to pay for work on some "Lost" mobisodes under that formula, but it was considered a major coup and remains something of an exception to the general rule.

The subject of new-media compensation has become so fractious that the WGA last year urged writers on some NBC webisodes to refuse to cooperate with the projects unless granted fair compensation. The network responded with an unfair labor charge, but an administrative judge has recommended that the complaint be dismissed (HR 2/22).

Against the backdrop of such tensions and lingering questions over how Hollywood studio execs actually view terms of the Canadian actors' deal, industryites collectively seem to be keeping a good thought but bracing for potential disappointment in stateside negotiations.

Said one labor community exec: "It's encouraging for everyone that they wanted to make a deal. But what the new-media formula will be for the WGA, SAG or the Directors Guild — that's still yet to be determined."
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