While talks between the unions representing actors and film and television producers were suspended indefinitely on Jan. 9, there is no sign that production might be impacted by the possibility of a work stoppage.

The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists have been operating under a one-year extension to a three-year deal that expired June 30, 2004. They have been working on a new three-year deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

As of late last week, no new talks had been officially scheduled.
In previous years, Hollywood studios and networks would often ramp up production in the months leading up to contract talks in order to stockpile movies and television shows should a walkout occur.

Such a ramp-up took place in 2001, in advance of expiration of SAG and Writers Guild of America contracts, and led to a "shadow strike" that caused a lull in production as producers worked through their inventory. Contracts were reached without a walkout.

This time, Steve MacDonald, president of the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., said there are no signs such a stockpiling effort has begun.

The latest round of talks broke down in part over "promotional launches" in which producers proposed airing the first few episodes of new shows without paying actors residuals, according to a source on the actors' side familiar with the talks.

The holdback was something producers had secured in contract negotiations with writers and directors last year.

"Directors and writers, and even the series regulars, have much more vested interest in the show staying on the air because they get paid through the whole season," said the source. "But for the day-actors, they may appear on a single show, so if there's no residuals for a couple of episodes, they lose that."

Representatives of both the unions and the AMPTP declined comment, citing an agreement to operate under a media blackout. "We're not going to negotiate in the press," said Rebecca Rhine, assistant national executive director and public policy and strategic planning for AFTRA.

While the joint SAG/AFTRA contract covers actors in theatrical motion pictures and scripted network primetime dramas, a separate AFTRA contract, the so-called Network Code, was agreed upon Dec. 28 covering daytime dramas, sit-coms, and news and talk programs.

"There are different issues in these joint AFTRA/SAG negotiations in production of theatrical motion pictures and network primetime programs, neither of which are covered by the Network Code," said David Besbris, a spokesman for AFTRA Television. "There's a different residual structure."

AFTRA represents 80,000 people in news and entertainment for television, radio, sound recording, commercials and industrial work, interactive games, Internet production and CD ROMs. SAG represents 120,000 actors in film, television, industrials, commercials and music videos nationwide. Both unions are AFL/CIO affiliates.

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