The SAG man behind the scenes: Tom Hanks


The Los Angeles Times reports that Tom Hanks, with the assistance of some other A-list actors, is working behind the scenes to break the contract stalemate between the Hollywood studios and the Screen Actors Guild. Meanwhile, law blogger Jonathan Handel notes that the hardliners at SAG, the Membership First faction, who want nothing to do with rival union AFTRA, are primarily to blame for AFTRA getting most of the network TV pilots this year at the expense of SAG.

Hopes for a settlement were raised after the moderate Unite For Strength faction gained control of the SAG National Board and fired the former chief negotiator. But when contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) resumed, the AMPTP negotiators threw a new wrench into the works, insisting on a contract expiration date that would put SAG out of sync with other Hollywood unions. That united the SAG factions in turning thumbs down on the “last, best and final offer” from the studios.

The LA Times reports that Tom Hanks and some other big names from SAG are now working behind the scenes to break the logjam. Meanwhile, News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and Disney CEO Bob Iger are said to be talking with other studio bosses on how to resolve the contract dispute. Chernin and Iger were instrumental in ending the 2008 strike by the Writers Guild of America.

Without a new SAG contract with the studios, the rival American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) has captured the lion’s share of pilot work for the upcoming TV season. The Hollywood Reporter tallied AFTRA with 66 of 70 pilots – 94% for AFTRA and only 6% for SAG, reversing the historic pattern of AFTRA having only around 10%. In his Digital Media Law blog, Jonathan Handel wrote that he had been told slightly different numbers by insiders, which worked out to AFTRA having 87% of the pilot work.

Regardless, AFTRA has gotten a lot more pilot work this year and SAG a lot less. That may be due in part for the cost savings of shooting with digital production, rather than film, but the lack of a SAG contract has clearly accelerated that transition.

“It’s ironic that Membership First, whose partisans generally hate AFTRA, has turned out to be one of the best things to have happened to that union in a long time. By holding out for the best deal imaginable, rather than the best deal achievable, MF boosted its rival,” Handel noted.

RBR/TVBR observation: Yes, Membership First deserves pretty much 100% of the blame for the original failure to reach a contract deal with the studios. But you can now blame the studios as well for injecting the new expiration date dispute after Unite For Strength, a more moderate faction, won majority control of the SAG National Board.