Progress seen in Canada talks


North American producers and Canadian actors late last week appeared to make progress at the bargaining table for the first time as they attempt to avert an industry shutdown at year's end.

Also on Friday, negotiations between actors union ACTRA and U.S. producers, Canadian English-language producers represented by the Canadian Film and Television Production Assn. and Quebec producers aligned with the Association de producteurs de films et de television du Quebec were beset by speculation that Hollywood studios could force a settlement so that they can begin stockpiling film and TV product shot in Canada ahead of a possible Hollywood writers' strike next year.

"We're not waiting for the U.S. producers to do that, but we suspect that might happen," Stephen Waddell, ACTRA's national executive director and chief negotiator, said Friday.

Meanwhile, both sides in the negotiations on a new Independent Production Agreement said gains were made on minor issues, including agreement on leaving turnaround times untouched and protecting child actors on film and TV sets.

"I think it's fair to say we are finally making some real progress in negotiating this agreement," Waddell said as two days of talks in Toronto wound down. "Our committee appreciated the better tone in the talks so far this week."

John Barrack, chief negotiator for the Canadian producer association, agreed. "It's encouraging that we're establishing a dialogue and not throwing insults," he said.

The turning point in this week's talks appeared to be the producers' withdrawal of a demand for a 25% pay rollback in return for actors extending the existing low-budget agreement that enables independent filmmakers to hire professional performers for Canadian productions.

But ACTRA and producer negotiators have yet to trade proposals for changes to wages, new-media residuals and other key issues that must be addressed before the IPA agreement expires Dec. 31.

There also was procedural wrangling over how and when ACTRA could place its membership in a legal strike position to leverage their demands at the bargaining table.

U.S. production always has been key to the survival of the Canadian film and TV industry, and anything that would threaten that cash cow — including an industry shutdown — would greatly damage its prospects, industry players agree.

The Canadians also know that, unlike 2002 — the last time Hollywood stockpiled product amid threatened strikes back home — they now face stiff competition from rival studios in the southern U.S. states, Central Europe and Australia.

Bargainers for ACTRA and the North American producers are set to meet Wednesday-Friday and again Dec. 18-20 as the clock runs out on the current IPA agreement.