Actors No Closer to Deal as SAG, AFTRA Spar Over Clips

After a week-long lull in apocalyptic mutterings from all sides of SAG and AFTRA negotiations with the major studios, a couple of new stumbling blocks have appeared en route to a deal. For starters, AFTRA national president Roberta Reardon today sent out a sobering e-mail to her members, both acknowledging her discussions' ongoing news blackout while giving the rank-and-file plenty to leak to the press. To wit: Reardon writes that even AFTRA, which was expected to breeze to a new contract after SAG very publicly dug in its heels last month, is apparently having a hard time coming to terms with the majors on new media:

We are confronting a number of challenging issues, and a resolution may not be quick or easy. ... AFTRA members and the Industry should be able, given appropriate safeguards, to satisfy and profit from the consumers' desire to access content through legitimate New Media sources, as opposed to the unlawful and uncompensated piracy that threatens the entire entertainment industry.
There are no easy solutions, which means that our Negotiating Committee must be both innovative and pragmatic, and the Industry must also embrace a realistic approach.

This all comes mere days after one of the new-media sticking points was revealed to be an online "clip library" of SAG/AFTRA members. In what they're calling an effort to curb said piracy, the studios want to make the actors' likenesses available online on a pay-per-use basis. The unions, which maintain they've had the right over that usage for decades, refuse to cede it now.

Leslie Simmons first noted the impasse last week, suggesting SAG's skittishness over AFTRA acquiescing to the producers' demands. Reardon's e-mail implies otherwise, but SAG's national executive director Dave Allen wasn't taking any chances today anyway, complaining in a SAG video quoted on Variety, "We think that's a real problem, and we suspect that the membership will agree with us."

Additionally, the actors are negotiating for the right of refusal with regard to product placement; if Robert Downey Jr. decides around the time of the next Iron Man that he hates Audis or abhors Vanity Fair, then they're as good as gone. We'd like to think that's one for the next contract (SAG returns to the bargaining table May 28), but if they really do plan to dynamite the industry, they might as well get their money's worth.