Page last updated at 08:54 GMT, Wednesday, 2 July 2008 09:54 UK

Q&A: Hollywood actors' dispute

Sreen Actors Guild rally
The row is over the way actors are paid when their work appears on DVD and the internet

Hollywood's biggest actors' union, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), is locked in protracted negotiations with film producers over a new pay contract.

What is the dispute over and why is there a stalemate?

WHO ARE THE MAIN PLAYERS IN THESE NEGOTIATIONS?

The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) represents the employers - the film production companies, TV networks and studios. As a trade organisation, the Alliance is responsible for negotiating virtually all entertainment industry-wide union contracts.

The actors involved in this negotiation are represented by the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), which has nearly 120,000 members. The Guild is America's largest labour union representing actors, in 20 branches.

WHAT ARE THE KEY ISSUES?

The main issue relates to 'new media' and the way actors are paid when their work appears on DVD and the internet.

As the internet becomes a bigger player in distributing TV shows and movies, the actors want a new contract that gives them a greater share in the profits. They are fighting for a framework that includes rates for shows or movies streamed or downloaded online.

SAG is also trying to tackle the issue of forced endorsements by actors of products places in films or on TV shows. The union believes actors should retain the right to refuse to be associated with a product if they have personal objections or if it clashes with other deals they may have to promote a rival product.

WHY IS THERE A STALEMATE?

SAG has been offered a deal which is similar to the contract offered and accepted by directors, screenwriters and members of a sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA), which is currently balloting its membership.

It is a contract that the SAG leadership is known to be unhappy with - the union's negotiators feel that it does not adequately address all their issues. The employers believe SAG should accept a contract that is broadly on a par with what other Hollywood workers have accepted - hence the stalemate.

ARE A-LIST ACTORS GETTING INVOLVED IN THE NEGOTIATIONS?

Not directly. But some, like George Clooney and Tom Hanks, are playing a role on the sidelines. Hanks took out a full-page advert in Variety, the Hollywood newspaper, urging both sides, AMPTP and SAG to mend their differences amicably.

He has also urged AFTRA members to accept their contract offer, contrary to the wishes of the SAG leadership.

Jack Nicholson has sided with SAG. Clooney has offered himself up as a peacemaker. He said: "What we can't do is pit artists against artists… because the one thing you can be sure of is that stories about Jack Nicholson vs. Tom Hanks only strengthens the negotiating power of the AMPTP."

WILL THEIR INPUT HAVE AMY IMPACT?

Maybe. Both Clooney and Hanks are well liked and respected in Hollywood and their speaking out may influence union members when they come to cast their vote. Clooney, who comes from a family of entertainers, is a staunch union man.

But he is also modest about his ability to impact the debate. "I'm not the brightest bulb out there," he said. "So maybe someone has a lot better ideas."

HOW LIKELY IS THIS TO END IN A STRIKE?

Not likely. The mood in Hollywood is very anti-strike at the moment.

Many people are still hurting after the writers' stoppage and no-one wants to prolong the misery. SAG has said that it has taken no steps toward a strike authorisation vote and it has urged its members to continue showing up for work and attending auditions.

A strike would require a 75% approval and take at least two weeks to complete the ballot process.

WHICH TV AND FILM PRODUCTIONS ARE ALREADY BEING AFFECTED?

According to the AMPTP, the entertainment industry is in a "de facto strike with film production virtually shut down and television production now seriously threatened". This is because the studios do not want to risk losing a fortune should the actors eventually walk out. Current films in production facing delays include:

The Hannah Montana Movie, Tom Hanks' Angels & Demons, the sequel to Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen, and Ridley Scott's Robin Hood movie Nottingham. On TV all the big prime time shows have been trying to stockpile editions, just in case. They include, Heroes, CSI: Crime Scene investigation, ER and My Name is Earl.

DID EVERYTHING GET BACK TO NORMAL AFTER THE 100-DAY SCREENWRITERS' STRIKE?

No, far from it. Hollywood has barely started to recover. The financial impact was devastating - to the tune of $2.5bn (£1.26bn).

Many people, the so-called below the line workers (behind the scenes people), lost their jobs and are still unemployed. SAG has been inundated with requests for help from its hardship fund.

WHAT IS THE NEXT STEP IN THE NEGOTIATIONS?

SAG and the AMPTP meet again on Wednesday 2 July. The union has said it is "pawing over" the employers' 42-page offer and will respond when its analysis is complete. The studios maintain that they have finished bargaining and will accept no new proposals from the union - their offer is the "last, best and final".




SEE ALSO
Hollywood actors mull pay offer
01 Jul 08 |  Entertainment
Actors' leader downplays strike
30 Jun 08 |  Entertainment
US TV and film actors sever ties
30 Mar 08 |  Entertainment
Hollywood on tenterhooks
27 Jun 08 |  Entertainment

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