Studios: You talk, we'll listen

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The stalemate between SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers may all come down to a sidebar.

Negotiators for SAG and the studios are set to meet this afternoon at the AMPTP's Sherman Oaks headquarters for an off-the-record sidebar. It will mark the first meeting between the sides since SAG made a counterproposal to the AMPTP's June 30 final offer.

The AMPTP said SAG requested the meeting and that it will involve a "small group of people from each side." SAG declined comment on the meeting.

"Out of respect for SAG membership, the AMPTP has agreed to the meeting but has made it clear that the meeting will be solely for the purpose of listening to whatever SAG has to say," the AMPTP said. "It is important to note that SAG has declined to specify the purpose of the meeting and that the AMPTP continues to call on SAG's Hollywood leaders to accept AMPTP's final offer."

The AMPTP has stood firm that its offer is final and that it will not negotiate any further. The final offer includes an Aug. 15 deadline in which the terms would be retroactive to July 1 if members ratify it by then.

With the current state of negotiations at a de facto impasse, SAG appears to have just three options entering the off-the-record meeting:

> It can accept the studios' offer as the best it will get this time around. With the DGA, WGA and AFTRA inking similar deals with the studios this year, many industry watchers believe it's impossible for SAG to make major gains for its new contract, especially in its quest to increase DVD residuals.

> The negotiating committee can take the offer to the national board and recommend putting the offer to the members for a vote. That action could include either a recommendation in favor of the offer, no recommendation or a recommendation to reject the offer.

> SAG could lie in wait, forgoing the Aug. 15 deadline and continuing its firm stance to keep bargaining with the AMPTP rather than give up.

SAG has declined comment on its strategy.

"You can only stand firm for so long," said SAG member Arlin Miller, who runs the Web site sagwatchdog.com. "I think the longer (SAG) stands firm, the longer the other side sweats it out to another degree.

"We've always heard this is going to be costly to SAG members, but we never hear that it's going to be devastating to producers as well," he added. "We are as much in the driver's seat because they also face losses."

SAG and the AMPTP met Thursday for five hours. At that meeting, SAG responded to the studios' final offer by making a counterproposal, which it said accepted some of the AMPTP's final offer and introduced other proposals. While SAG says the bargaining continues, the AMPTP has said the union rejected its offer and that negotiations have ended. (partialdiff)
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