Hollywood studios, AFTRA agree on three-year contract


Hollywood producers and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists announced a tentative three-year contract deal Wednesday that puts more pressure on a larger actors union to do the same and avoid a crippling strike.

AFTRA said its deal establishes higher fees for downloaded content and residual payments for ad-supported streams and clips.

It also sets a deadline for developing a system for actors to consent to the online use of clips containing their images or voice.

"It's a terrific deal. It's a victory for actors," Roberta Reardon, president of the 70,000-member union, told The Associated Press.

She said she hoped the agreement will serve as a model for the larger Screen Actors Guild, which resumed contract talks Wednesday with studios.

"I hope SAG can use this as a template," Reardon said. "Actors want to work. This town wants to work."

The current contracts of both actors unions are set to expire June 30.

SAG represents 120,000 actors in movies, TV and other media. The TV and radio federation represents, among others, actors, singers, announcers and journalists. SAG and AFTRA share 44,000 dual members.

Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer who formerly represented the writers' guild, said he expected SAG to resist pressure to sign a deal similar to the one cut by its smaller counterpart.

"This is not going to be another two days of negotiations and we're done," he said. "This is still a long process."

The AFTRA deal, involving a handful of prime-time TV shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Rules of Engagement," came after — a.m. Wednesday, the second-straight, late-night session since bargaining began May 7.

The agreement boosts minimum wages by 3.5 percent in the first year of the contract, — percent in the second and 3.5 percent in the third.

It also sets a 90-day deadline after ratification to develop rules that would have actors consent to use of clips in a commercial market similar to iTunes, Reardon said.

The formula would likely involve umbrella consent for an entire TV series. "It won't be clip by clip," she said.

The deal also left in place the current formula for residual payments for appearances in DVDs &

an area that SAG is trying to improve.

"It was very clear from the outset that they were not going to change the formula in any profound way," Reardon said of the studios.

She thought it was more important to obtain concessions for actors in the fast-growing Internet space.

"In five or 10 years, more people will be downloading movies and TV shows than buying DVDs," she said.

The union also fell short of gaining concessions on the thorny issue of actors' dialogue and action involved in product placement in scripted shows, which is seen by the industry as an increasingly important revenue stream as more people skip ads with digital video recorders.

The agreement will last through June 2011 if it is approved by AFTRA's board at a meeting June 6-7 and then ratified by members.

SAG is negotiating on many of the same issues.

The producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, hailed the AFTRA deal and said they looked forward to negotiating with SAG, "and to reaching an agreement that will prevent another harmful and unnecessary strike."

The possibility of a walkout by actors had sent some film producers rushing to finish shooting or to delay projects for fear they would be shut down before filming was complete.

The alliance has said it was burdensome to gain consent from each actor for every online clip. It said it worked with AFTRA to "fairly and sensibly" create a new way to handle online content.

"As a result of compromise and creativity by both parties, we reached an agreement that makes the new media framework work for all actors," the alliance said.

With the entertainment industry still recovering from the 100-day strike by the Writers Guild of America that ended in February, actors largely wanted to avoid another work stoppage.

The new media issues reflected in the tentative deal by AFTRA were also priorities for the writers union and the Directors Guild of America, which approved a new contract in January.

In a message to its members Tuesday night, SAG said it would continue to seek an increase in residual payments for appearances in DVDs, something neither AFTRA, directors nor writers were able to secure.

It also raised concerns about actors being asked to pitch products within scripted TV shows and movies.

"We remain committed to negotiating the best possible terms for actors for all motion pictures and the vast majority of television programs, pay TV and new media formats," SAG said in response to the AFTRA agreement.

A dispute over recruitment of members led AFTRA and SAG to negotiate separately with the studios for the first time in 27 years. The split resulted in the separate, leapfrog schedule of talks.

SAG began talks April 15 and temporally ended the sessions while AFTRA negotiated its agreement.

Actor Christian Meoli, 35, who recently had a small role on "Everybody Hates Chris," said he felt the dispute between the unions weakened their bargaining power.

"It puts SAG in a very strange predicament," said Meoli, a member of the union.

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