Hot dates for SAG and studios

Window for progress will be tight when talks resume next week

It's not quite a clean slate, but someone new is holding the chalk. As expected, SAG and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers have agreed to meet Tuesday and Feb. 18 to re-engage in talks for a new TV/theatrical contract. Reps will gather at AMPTP offices in Sherman Oaks.

Next week's sessions won't involve SAG's former chief negotiator and national executive director Doug Allen, who had been at the helm of guild contract activity until he was forcibly removed from his posts last month by a majority of the national board. New chief negotiator John McGuire and interim NED David White will be in charge of the guild's negotiations, along with a task force that replaced the negotiating committee that had been representing the guild.

Speed is a priority in the new talks, not only because film production has slowed drastically as the contract dispute has dragged on but also because SAG and its sister union, AFTRA, are scheduled to begin joint negotiations for a new commercials contract with advertising industry reps Feb. 23.

If the sides cannot come to an agreement for a tentative TV/theatrical contract by then, something will have to budge. Even under the best of circumstances, it would take a minimum of four weeks to get a tentative agreement ratified by the SAG national board and then its paid-up members.

And that is no sure thing because Rosenberg and his MembershipFirst partisans continue to agitate against ratifying anything that looks like the current contract offer. Issues pertaining to new-media jurisdiction and residuals, force majeure protections, DVD residuals, product integration and the window the new contract would cover remain in dispute.

On Tuesday, 1st national vp Anne-Marie Johnson, spokeswoman for MembershipFirst and a member of the new negotiating task force, expressed doubts about the task force's ability "to bring back a deal that can be endorsed by an overwhelming majority of the national board and, most importantly, by over 50% of the membership." (partialdiff)