As Actors Strike Looms, Insurance for Studios Assumes Lead Role

March 5, 2008

The final chapter to the tumultuous writers strike has been written, but Hollywood is bracing for a possible a sequel to the costly walkout — this one starring film and television actors.

While the TV industry has rushed to bring derailed shows back on the air since screenwriters returned to work three weeks ago, the threat of renewed labor unrest by actors in the months ahead has put movie studios in a tenuous situation.

Filmmakers are reluctant to launch any production that cannot be completed before the expiration of the Screen Actors Guild’s major film and TV contract on June 30 — a date being treated as the union’s de facto strike deadline.

Assuming a typical 60-day movie shoot, plus extra time for days off, possible overruns and re-shoots that might be necessary, that means few if any big-studio movies will start filming after the end of this month, industry experts say.

“The studios for the most part are not greenlighting any movies that would have to be in production after that (June 30) deadline,” said an insider at one leading talent agency who was not authorized to speak publicly about client issues.

Labor jitters have even prompted Hollywood’s leading insurance carrier, Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co, to offer a first-of-its-kind “strike expense” policy for studios.

The policy covers the costs of a strike-related production shutdown in case an actor’s illness, equipment damage or other unexpected loss pushes the shooting schedule of a movie past SAG’s June 30 contract deadline.

To qualify, a film must be scheduled to finish shooting by June 15 and already be covered by a so-called completion bond, which insures a movie’s financial backers against the cost of failing to finish a picture on time and on budget.


SAG itself sought Tuesday to assist smaller, independent producers having trouble getting bonded by offering special waivers that permit them to employ union actors in the event of a strike. The producers in turn must accept the terms of any interim contract SAG may offer and any final settlement reached with the major studios, which are ineligible for a waiver.

SAG has already signed several producers to one of its “guaranteed completion contracts,” and several more applications are pending, union sources said.

Nerves are still raw from a 14-week strike by 10,500 writers that shut down much of the television industry and derailed numerous film projects, idling thousands of production workers and costing the local economy some $3 billion.

The walkout ended Feb. 12 after the two sides reached agreement on a deal giving writers more money for work distributed over the Internet. The contract was formally ratified by the Writers Guild of America membership last week.

The Screen Actors Guild shares many of the same contract demands. But SAG also faces issues unique to its 120,000 members, such as forced commercial endorsements through product placement in TV shows and movies.

Many in Hollywood believe strike fatigue is running too high for another work stoppage to materialize. But with tens of millions of dollars at stake when a film production is disrupted, movie studios are playing it safe.

Steven Spielberg has called off the April start to a DreamWorks film about the trial of the 1968 anti-war activists, the Chicago Seven, according to Daily Variety newspaper

SAG leaders have come under mounting pressure to open contract talks with the studios as soon as possible, leading to tensions inside the guild and with its sister union, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).

SAG President Alan Rosenberg has insisted the guild will not be ready to begin official talks before early April.

Rosenberg and SAG executive director Doug Allen recently suggested informal talks like those that led to contracts with the WGA and the Directors Guild of America were already underway. “We will certainly continue to meet with the CEOs of the major networks and studios as we prepare for formal negotiations,” they wrote in a Feb. 28 memo to members.

(Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Todd Eastham)

Was this article valuable?

Here are more articles you may enjoy.