SAG offers no-strike indie pacts


Independent producers can breathe a little easier -- but the Hollywood studios may be holding their breath.

SAG said Tuesday that it will offer guaranteed-completion contracts to indie companies that have projects in production past the June 30 actors contract expiration date.

"We are pleased to offer guaranteed completion contracts to independent producers who are such an important source of employment for actors," said Doug Allen, SAG's national executive director and chief negotiator. "These (contracts) will allow independent producers to continue their work and continue to generate job opportunities for our members even as AMPTP employers decide unilaterally whether or when to greenlight new theatrical productions."

The contracts would quash any threat of a work stoppage for those companies that qualify, enabling them to get the financing and completion bonds required to start filming. To qualify, the indie producers must not have any financing or distribution deals with AMPTP-represented studios or companies.

Firms signing on must agree to abide by the terms of any interim agreement SAG might offer should there be a strike and agree to abide by whatever agreement is reached with the AMPTP in negotiations.

Since the end of the WGA strike last month, the industry has slowly ground into a de facto shutdown of film greenlights, driven largely by studio concerns that projects filming would be vulnerable to a strike by SAG members. Some studios have tried to rush some projects into production, cognizant that projects not shooting by early April likely won't begin until SAG-AFTRA and the AMPTP sign a new contract.

The AMPTP declined comment on the contracts. The offer by SAG -- whose spokesmen declined to discuss the strategic import of the ploy -- could ratchet up the angst level for studio execs by signaling that the guild is in for the long haul and prepared to strike.

The completion guarantees offered by SAG contracts are far less broad than the interim agreements offered by the WGA during its 100-day strike, and SAG still could offer to cut the temporary deals should a strike occur.

They are, however, a bright spot for SAG in what is developing into a tense prenegotiation period between it and AFTRA.

The two unions, which have jointly bargained the primetime contract with producers since 1981, have been locking horns over Phase One of the process, in which members hold meetings to formulate wages and working conditions proposals to present to the AMPTP.

In the summer, SAG proposed a referendum that would have changed the voting process in the meetings. AFTRA responded by stating that it could begin talks with producers on their own and successfully lobbied for its own AFL-CIO charter.

SAG agreed in February to start up the joint meetings with AFTRA.

But according to AFTRA, SAG attached certain conditions to the joint meetings, including separating joint committees by union, including all basic cable in the discussions and adding new contracts not previously included.

On Monday, AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon sent Rosenberg an ultimatum, setting a March 10 deadline for SAG to decide whether it wants to continue placing those conditions on AFTRA or revert to the original agreement between the two unions in an effort to expeditiously continue with Phase One so they can start talks as soon as possible with the AMPTP.

"In AFTRA's view, raising these complex legal and practical issues at this time makes it impossible for AFTRA and SAG to focus on what is critically important to our respective members: negotiation of the 2008 television agreements," Reardon wrote. "AFTRA deeply believes, based on the strong feedback from our working members, that our priorities should be placed on being prepared and positioned to expeditiously negotiate a good and fair primetime contract for our members, and importantly, that our resources and energies should be solely dedicated to this effort."

Reardon wants SAG to respond by Monday so that AFTRA can move forward either way.

"We urge SAG to take this opportunity to confirm our longstanding collaboration in bargaining and move the bargaining process forward," Reardon wrote.

A SAG spokeswoman said the union is reviewing Reardon's letter and declined comment.