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SAG’s Thaw

"Fire & Ice"  courtesy of Nathan Harper

Variety‘s Dave McNary reported that the Screen Actors Guild’s national board just approved a tentative two year deal on its film-TV contract, triggering a ratification vote by the guild’s members on June 1st.

As McNary writes in today’s Variety:

Should the deal be approved by members, it will extinguish what’s been a nagging uncertainty for the business for the past year. Production on film and TV was thrown off-kilter by the writers work stoppage, then by studios’ and nets’ fears that a SAG strike might emerge. During the period of uncertainty in the fall, control of SAG’s national board shifted to a moderate coalition, while the economic crisis helped create a big slowdown in local feature production. (First-quarter off-lot activity in Hollywood was at an all-time low.)

The terms of the new deal are generally the same as those the networks and studios agreed to with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA. That means that all of the guild’s protracted stang und drum sturm und drang was a waste of time and may have even hurt SAG’s chances to assert jurisdiction over all television programming.

SAG and AFTRA have joint jurisdiction over dramatic television and most television actors are members of both unions. The networks saw an opening and took it by entering into TV agreements with AFTRA instead of SAG. For the first time in 30 years, AFTRA split from SAG and negotiated its primetime contract without SAG. By doing so, the networks scored a twofer by fostering discord between and within each union and averting any threat to TV production during a strike.

Effective negotiating requires unity between and amongst the rep and the represented. This is all the more so when the represented are a large number of people (in this case, 120,000), each with different goals, motives and fears.

Group dynamics assumes that there’s always going to be dissent amongst a large number of people seeking a common goal. The WGA had similar difficulties during their negotiations with the AMPTP. However, a large group still requires a broad coalition of support before it embarks on any negotiation. In this case, SAG’s current board came to power in the middle of these negotiations and only holds a slim majority.

Given that, infighting between guild factions doomed these negotiations from the start; drawing off much needed focus and consensus away from the negotiations and towards addressing dissenters objections to the point of distraction. The AMPTP likely concluded that the best tactic for them was to stay largely mum lest they provide guild factions with any common ground on which to unify.

And now that SAG’s national board has approved the deal terms, it’s still far from over.

In the weeks to follow, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and his MembershipFirst faction have vowed to continue their opposition to the current proposal in an effort to get as many no votes from SAG members as they can. Although the consensus is that passage of the current proposal is all but assured, Rosenberg and company are reportedly setting the stage for next fall’s election of SAG’s leadership. This tactic has already proven to be self-destructive and will accomplish nothing other than to further weaken the union and any chance it may have at unification.

As it is, SAG should have postponed negotiations until it developed consensus within its membership and its leadership. Common ground is the cure here. This isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking; it’s common sense.

Expiration of SAG’s new agreement concurrent with the WGA, AFTRA and the DGA’s agreements was one of the most important concessions the guild was able to obtain from the studios. With all the creative unions’ deals expiring at the same time, they’ll be strength in numbers and an opportunity for a unified front based on a set of common goals. Although many SAG members believe they may have lost this battle, with that kind of formidable alliance, SAG may ultimately be in a position to win the war.