Actor Negotiations Near Contract Deadline

As the contract deadline nears for Hollywood

actors, negotiators for performers and studios are trying to

resolve key issues that include residuals and pay for middle-class

actors, the majority of guild membership.

Both sides maintained a news blackout as the 12:01 a.m. Sunday deadline approaches. While the state of the talks isn't publicly known, a breakdown could devastate the Los Angeles-area economy, costing billions in lost revenue.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have not called for a strike authorization vote, but a breakdown in talks could trigger one.

"People in Los Angeles should be very concerned," said Ross DeVol, a chief analyst with The Milken Institute, an economic think tank in Santa Monica. "There appears to be a false sense of complacency, with many people believing a deal is a foregone conclusion. It's not."

Among the guilds' top concerns is increasing residual payments for shows rebroadcast on cable and in foreign markets. They also want higher initial pay for screen work and assurances that studios will limit the number of productions filmed outside the United States.

Middle-Income Actors Looking for Better Pay

SAG negotiator Brian Walton said a new deal also must improve the lives of middle-income actors whose earnings have been reduced by inflated special-effects budgets and salaries for big-name stars.

"This is really a blue-collar union, and stars now won't always be stars tomorrow," Walton said before the news blackout. "These actors need to know they will be able to pay their rent, their mortgage and buy their kids school clothes."

Of the nearly 135,000 performers the two guilds represent, only about 2 percent earn more than $100,000 a year, including multimillion-dollar celebrities such as Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts and Harrison Ford.

About 75,000 actors earn between $30,000 and $70,000 a year, and nearly half of the guilds' members are unemployed.

Talks began May 15 with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios and networks. Actors wanted a pay raise of 5 percent over the last contract, with producers offering 3.5 percent.

The uncertainty prompted studios to accelerate shooting on films in production.

Spielberg Bows Out of Press Tours for ‘A.I.’

Director Steven Spielberg bowed out of press tours for his new film "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" because of the scramble to finish his current project, the futuristic thriller "Minority Report."

If he left the set for even a few days, producer Bonnie Curtis said, there's no guarantee he could finish with star Tom Cruise before a possible walkout.

Hollywood could grind to a halt with a so-called "de facto strike" even if an agreement is reached in the coming weeks.

That's because producers will not start a new movie until an actors' deal is made final, and then it takes nearly eight weeks to complete preproduction work.

Fall TV shows, which begin filming in the summer, also could be delayed for weeks.

Last year, the unions staged a six-month strike by commercial actors that might have driven as much as dlrs 1 billion worth of work overseas. The same thing could happen to the movie industry if theatrical actors strike.

"If a strike gives producers a bigger incentive to go offshore and get this work done, it makes it much easier to keep it there," DeVol said.

A monthlong strike would cost the region more than 21,000 jobs and dlrs 1.3 billion, according to a study by The Milken Institute and Sebago Associates Inc., an economic and public policy consulting firm.

Movies and TV shows account for nearly 185,000 jobs in the Los Angeles area.

An earlier contract agreement by the Writers Guild of America gave analysts hope about the actors union talks. Gains that writers made were expected to be a template for actors, but the performer negotiations have progressed slowly.