Studio concerns delay Canada strike deal


TORONTO -- What looked like a done deal Friday to settle Canada's actors strike now requires further negotiations to ease Hollywood studios concerns over landmark new media residuals for Canadian performers.

Bargainers for ACTRA, representing 21,000 strike performers, and the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA), representing major Canadian producers, on Friday at 2:30 p.m. shook hands on a new collective agreement for domestic actors.

But 30 minutes later, an alarm was raised in Los Angeles when major studio heads were briefed on the terms for a new three-year Independent Production Agreement (IPA) for Canadian actors.

According to sources close to the negotiations, the Hollywood studios are adamant that the new IPA's payment formulas for Internet rights should set no precedent for upcoming talks between the studios and U.S. guilds and unions, starting with the Writers Guild of America.

Despite that setback, no one expects the Americans to take their marbles and go home.

"We're going to work out some solution. The (Canadian) community wants to ensure the studio work keeps coming here," CFTPA chief negotiator John Barrack said Sunday.

Barrack and ACTRA chief negotiator Stephen Waddell will meet Feb. 19 in Toronto to hammer out a face-saving formula to help the major studios ratify a new IPA, and yet not be boxed in when they hold their own union and guild contract talks in Los Angeles later this year and next.

The joint ACTRA/CFTPA proposal will then be submitted to AMPTP president Nick Counter for consideration.

Ways out of the current impasse include enabling the major studios to postpone the ACTRA terms on new media residuals, or ensure they don't apply to AMPTP or affiliate shoots in Canada until the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) talks conclude.

ACTRA might then be offered a "reopener" provision to ensure the to-be-agreed terms on Internet residuals for SAG retroactively apply to ACTRA.

Until the SAG talks conclude, AMPTP producers could negotiate with ACTRA for new media buyout terms on a project-by-project basis. The Canadian union could possibly file grievances with respect to streaming U.S. product with performances by Canadian actors, but they would be held in abeyance pending the end to the SAG talks.

Alternatively, contractual language could be drawn up to ensure studio shoots in Canada are not designated as American or representing studios, but instead could be termed "producer elect" projects, for example.

When the Canadian bargaining talks left off Friday, ACTRA's 21,000 actors had secured a 9% wage increase over three years and a 1% increase in retirement benefits in the first year of the new agreement.

What surprised many, however, were ACTRA members securing Internet residuals.
On made-for-new media product, including Webisodes and mobisodes, the North American producers agreed to pay Canadian actors their full daily rate for an initial six month use of their performances.

After the first six months, producers must pay actors 3.6% of gross distribution revenues for continued streaming of their work.

On old-media converted to new-media use, including TV shows, ACTRA performers will similarly receive a percentage of distribution revenues, this time from the first dollar.

The new IPA contains a "reopener" provision to allow all side to revisit the new media residuals after the Screen Actors' Guild concludes its next agreement. ACTRA intends to use the clause to wrest possibly better Internet terms if SAG achieves a better deal.

What concerns the major studios, however, is that they calculate gross distribution revenues differently than the Canadian labor deal stipulates.

The AMPTP's calculation for DVD residuals is heavily discounted, taking 80% of revenue off the table to cover manufacturing and distribution, for example.

The ACTRA-CFTPA terms are not discounted at all.

The major Hollywood studios are signatorees to ACTRA's Independent Production Agreement, along with the Canadian Film and Television Production Association (CFTPA) and Quebec producers with the Association de Producteurs de Films et de Television du Quebec. All must ratify the new IPA deal.

The CFTPA's Barrack insisted Sunday that there's no deal on a new IPA until all parties ratify the new contract.

For his part, ACTRA's Waddell insisted Sunday he had a deal with the Canadian producers, and now he and Barrack would iron out remaining differences with the U.S. studios.

The irony is ACTRA over the last two months questioned why the Canadians had to resolve the thorny issue of new media residuals before Hollywood had a crack in its own union and guild contract talks.

So the Canadian actors union recommended the Canadian talks sidebar the issue of Internet compensation into separate negotiations for up to one year, or until the WGA and SAG dealt with the issue.

But the North American producers insisted they needed certainty on Internet residuals, and so pressed for a Canadian deal.

To the frustration of ACTRA bargainers, precisely when a deal was struck on new media residuals, the Hollywood studio CEOs balked.

The ACTRA leadership will also now poll its rank and file on a new contract containing a wage increase far exceeding that given to members of the Writers Guild of Canada and the Director Guild of Canada during their own successful contract talks with the CFTPA in 2006.

At the same time, the Canadian performers union only slightly closed a 32% wage gap between its members and those aligned with the Screen Actors Guild -- a priority for ACTRA during every IPA round.

Canada's first-ever actors strike will also see no return to work for ACTRA members, as production never ceased during its labor dispute. Instead, around 200 Canadian producers defied the CFTPA leadership and signed individual deals with ACTRA to spare their film or TV shoots picketing or other labor action.

The producers declared the ACTRA strike illegal and petitioned the courts to help shut it down.

But despite most Canadian producers working through the strike, the ACTRA dispute placed a roadblock in front of Hollywood studios, who shifted their projects to Vancouver or elsewhere rather than risk picket lines or legal wrangling.

Canadian studio operators and equipment suppliers servicing U.S. shoots in recent weeks grew increasingly alarmed at the loss of work from south of the border.

That put ACTRA and CFTPA bargainers under intense pressure this week to reach a settlement or see their respective members actually suffer for lack of work as the Americans continued to shift production elsewhere.

On Friday, as ACTRA and CFTPA got down to the short strokes on a new IPA talks during marathon talks in Toronto, a newly-launched industry group, The Alliance of Film Services and Labour, representing rival labour unions, studio owners, post production houses and equipment suppliers, publicized a rally called for Tuesday in front of Toronto City Hall to urge a quick end to the actors strike.

Studio operators that have seen local U.S. film and TV shoots dry up since ACTRA began its strike similarly urged a quick end to the labor dispute.

"To lose business because one sector of our industry is at an impasse with another is simply self-destructive. We're now giving our business away," Ken Ferguson, president of Toronto Film Studios, now building a studio for effects-heavy Hollywood shoots on the city's waterfront, said Friday.

Domestic film and TV producers, writers, directors and technicians will now wait to see if a new IPA deal for ACTRA members clears the way for a rebound in U.S. location shooting here.