Canadians look to break the ice

ACTRA talks resume in search for common ground

Canadian actors and North American producers will return to the bargaining table today in an attempt to work out a new labor deal and avert an actors strike early next year.

Talks on a new indie production pact are set to take place in Montreal today and Wednesday between ACTRA, which represents about 21,000 performers and U.S. producers, and Canadian English-language producers represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. as well as Quebec producers aligned with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec.

Both sides appeared intent on narrowing differences on key issues, including wages and residuals, to help kick-start stalled talks on a new Independent Production Agreement.

"The negotiations are approaching a very serious juncture, we're approaching them very seriously, and we're hopeful that there may be some opportunities for a breakthrough on some of the major issues," ACTRA lead negotiator Stephen Waddell said heading into the talks.

"There's a desire to drill down and find common ground," CFTPA head negotiator John Barrack added Monday.

But with the current IPA expiring Dec. 31, there is little time for the sides to bridge existing gaps in bargaining demands.

Should actor and producer representatives fail to make substantive progress this week, two mediators — Reg Pearson in Ontario and Richard Champagne in Quebec — are poised to step in.

Also hanging over this week's talks is the fact that ACTRA has mailed out ballots for a national strike mandate.

Canadian producers also have been active behind the scenes, briefing industry stakeholders — including broadcasters and key government funding agencies — on how they might proceed in the event of an industry shutdown.

In an "update" on Friday to CFTPA members on the IPA talks, the producers' association said it had met with Canadian broadcasters to explore "their willingness to work with us in accommodating modified delivery requirements in the event of a work stoppage."

The CFTPA said it also has asked the Canadian Television Fund and other government-backed funding agencies to consider "the impact of a work stoppage" on current spending and production timelines for indigenous film and TV shoots.

Despite both sides privately voicing cautious optimism about this week's negotiations, the IPA talks to date have been bogged down in procedural wrangling, with little progress made on key issues.

The producers angered actors early on by calling for pay cuts of 10%-25% for minimum daily rates paid on film and TV productions shot here.

Having dug in its heels, ACTRA is seeking a 15% jump in minimum pay rates for its members over three years and parity by 2011 for what Canadian performers and SAG members are paid on big-budget Hollywood shoots in Canada.

In addition to this week's talks, negotiating dates have been scheduled for Dec. 6 and beyond.