Actors, producers headed for showdown

By PAT NASON, UPI Hollywood Reporter  |  April 25, 2002 at 1:06 PM
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LOS ANGELES, April 25 (UPI) -- The Screen Actors Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) are headed for a showdown next week over the union's latest salvo in the war on runaway production -- global enforcement of a longstanding SAG rule barring union members from working in productions that are not covered by guild contracts.

Rule One, as it is known within the entertainment industry, has been enforced domestically since the earliest days of SAG. Union members face fines, suspension and expulsion for violations.

The union has been conducting a public relations campaign trumpeting its plan to enforce Global Rule One beginning May 1.

According to SAG -- which represents 98,000 actors -- overseas movie and TV production using union actors working without union agreements has resulted in a loss of $23 million to the guild's pension and health fund since 1996. The union projects another $35.8 million in lost pension and health fund revenues over the next five years without Global Rule One.

SAG's plan to enforce the rule outside the United States has touched off a testy exchange between the union and the AMPTP, with agents finding themselves in a familiar position -- in the middle.

AMPTP president Nick Counter sent a letter Tuesday to Karen Stuart, executive director of the Association of Talent Agents (ATA), arguing that the union's attempt to enforce the rule outside the United States "violates the AMPTP/SAG agreement and is unenforceable."

Counter repeated a demand he had made last week that the union "must cease and desist from implementing its plan." He also asked Stuart to see that ATA "not engage in any activity with the Screen Actors Guild ... that violates the AMPTP/SAG agreement."

SAG executive director Robert Pisano fired off a letter Wednesday to Counter challenging the AMPTP chief's contention.

"You are threatening legal action against the agents who represent our members if they assist in the enforcement of Global Rule One," Pisano said. "In essence, you are using the threat of litigation to persuade them to breach their fiduciary obligations to the actors they represent. I will not bother to recite the litany of legal and administrative remedies that are available to us and to our members for redress of such egregious conduct."

Pisano said Global Rule One is "completely consistent" with the AMPTP/SAG agreement, and accused the AMPTP of violating the collective bargaining agreement between actors and producers.

"We also believe that your attempted interference in the actor-agent contractual relationship is independently actionable," he said.

The union's public relations campaign on behalf of Global Rule One has featured ads in the entertainment trade papers listing hundreds of high-profile actors who have endorsed the rule -- including Richard Dreyfuss, Clint Eastwood, Laurence Fishburne, Harrison Ford, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Holly Hunter, Anjelica Huston, Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Robbins, Martin Sheen, Kevin Spacey and Patrick Stewart.

Other "A-list" actors lending their support include Jason Alexander, Lorraine Bracco, Ellen Burstyn, Jamie Lee Curtis, James Gandolfini, Marcia Gay Harden, Ice-T, Tommy Lee Jones and Kathleen Turner.

Wendie Malick, one of the stars of the NBC comedy "Just Shoot Me," has worked extensively in Canada. She told Daily Variety the issue is fairness for actors with lower profiles than she and other well-known actors have.

"I'm treated well when I work, but without SAG contracts in place, actors can wind up being abused," she said.

The battle over Global Rule One comes at the same time that SAG and talent agents are looking for a solution to a contractual problem of their own.

Union members voted last week to reject a proposed replacement for the "master franchise agreement" that had regulated the professional relationship between actors and agents for more than 60 years. The vote left the actors and agents in uncharted territory -- still searching for a deal to replace the old master agreement, which expired earlier this year.

The ATA -- which represents approximately 140 Hollywood talent agencies -- issued a statement suggesting that the group needs more time to evaluate the situation.

"The ATA is reviewing the assertion set forth in Mr. Counter's letter," said the statement," and in the context of no longer having a franchise agreement, it adds another area of concern and uncertainty that we need to review with our Board and counsel. In any event, ATA's member agents will always act in the best interest of their clients."

The major incentive for producers to do so much work in Canada, Mexico, Australia and other foreign countries is to save money. Losing the services of first-string actors in movie and TV production outside the United States would fundamentally alter that business model.

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