Two-sided pressure mounts on SAG leaders

Members, studios seeking ratification vote

SAG's leaders are coming under increasing two-sided pressure -- from an impatient membership and from the studios that are gingerly ramping up film production -- to put the AMPTP's "final offer" up for ratification.

Sony's Roland Emmerich tentpole "2012" and Disney's "Prince of Persia" are two big-ticket studio productions that have begun shooting.

There is a growing sense that the stalemate between the sides will extend through September, when the guild's leadership will be up for re-election. While it's possible there are behind-the-scenes outreach efforts under way, there has been virtually no formal contact between SAG and the studios for nearly two weeks. The AMPTP has not received any phone calls, e-mails or other forms of communication from SAG. But as one Los Angeles SAG board member put it, "It's a two-way street. The AMPTP knows where to find us."

The most likely scenario now, according to a source close to the AMPTP, is that there will be no movement until SAG's national elections are held.

"Everyone is working under the assumption that nothing will happen until there is an election and the results are known," the source said. "I think SAG thought, 'Let's drag this into July and August; let's force the studios to make a mistake. Maybe they'll impose, maybe they'll lock us out, and that will galvanize the members and then we'll get a strike vote.' That didn't happen."

Now, the national election is likely to become a referendum on the bargaining committee's efforts and potential to achieve a contract. The actors have been working without a contract since June 30, when the pact expired and the studios delivered their final offer.

"The only hope the Hollywood board has is, they win their election by a comfortable margin, then they go to the studios and they say, 'This shows we have strong backing for what we're doing,'" the source said.

That wouldn't necessarily bring the studios, which refused to consider a counter offer from SAG after breaking off talks, back to the table. The studios, according to the source, would essentially say to SAG, "Go ahead. You won your election. Go take your strike vote and see what you get."

SAG's leadership would likely not be able to muster the 75% vote necessary to authorize a strike barring any inflammatory actions -- such as a lockout -- by the studios.

And despite last week's show of unity by SAG's board, which unanimously passed a resolution reaffirming the guild's determination to bring all new-media work under its jurisdiction, there are clear signs that many within the union would like to see the contract offer brought to a vote.

Several Emmy nominees recently used that platform to urge a vote on the offer, and several New York board members say off the record that their patience is wearing thin. The regional boards that opposed SAG's efforts to undercut AFTRA's agreement can be expected to be in the forefront of those pushing for a vote.

"If we're not seeing any movement or signs of life, you can expect to hear considerable pressure coming from all parts of the country, including Hollywood and the Unite for Strength faction," one New York board member said.

A SAG spokeswoman Thursday declined to comment on potential pressure to call for a vote on its leadership.

Meanwhile, film production is beginning again. Columbia's "2012" began filming this week in Vancouver. The production, which will feature heavy special effects, comes with a contingency plan in case of an actors walkout or strike.

On Wednesday, Disney CEO Robert Iger told investors, "We have decided to move forward with a number of our productions and address any issues later as they arise." Disney's "Persia," which has begun filming, also has some wiggle room since the studio has shifted the film's planned release date from June 19 of next year to May 28 in 2010.

A Uni exec agreed that film production would begin to kick in again soon. The studio has the Judd Apatow project "Funny People" and "Lost for Words" scheduled to shoot in September.

Andrew Salomon of Back Stage East and Borys Kit contributed to this report.