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August 20th, 2003
Has it been three years already? Should you start preparing fo an actors’ strike?
Although it feels like the actors strike just ended, the SAG and AFTRA commercials contracts are expiring again at the end of October.
Since we won’t know for several months whether there will be a strike, there are some important things that you can do now to prepare yourself and your clients in the event that union production is interrupted.
Talk to your clients. Encourage your clients to think about their future production plans, so that a strike does not catch them by surprise. Many clients will expect you to produce non-union during a strike. Some may expect you to sign interim agreements with the unions. Of course, it’s also important for you to discuss with your clients how you plan to respond to a strike as well.
Finish current production. If you’re planning production for the late Fall or the Winter, complete it before the end of October. Otherwise, you may be in a position where a shoot is cancelled at the last minute.
Start talent negotiations. If you have overscale talent agreements expiring later this year, renegotiate these contracts right away so that you can continue using old materials during a strike. If you have talent where the maximum period of use is ending, you may also want to renegotiate their contracts as well. (Remember to take into account the potential for increased talent costs under the new contracts.) Once there is a strike, union talent will probably not authorize any further use until the negotiations are completed.
Include strike contingencies. When entering into contracts to use talent, music, stock footage, and other materials for a limited period, you should plan for a strike. Are you required to make full payment at the beginning of the term? Will you be required to make payments during a strike, even if you’re not using the materials? Are you entitled to any refunds? Do you get additional usage, or an option to terminate, in the event of a strike? What are the parties’ other obligations?
Develop alternate campaigns. If your client’s current advertising is dependent on particular talent, start thinking about new campaigns. At a minimum, union talent and celebrities who aren’t union members are going to be very hesitant to do any production during a strike.
Plan for non-union production. If you are going to produce during a strike, start making contingency plans. Where will you produce? Where will you obtain talent and production personnel? What contracts will you use with talent?
Review your client contracts. Regardless of whether you’re an advertising agency, a production company, or are providing other related services, review your client contracts now to make sure they address a strike contingency. Are you still expected to perform services during a strike? Who is responsible for expenses in the event that production is cancelled or goes over budget because of strike-related issues? If a project is cancelled, do you still get your fees?
With both sides still smarting from the hard-fought battle three years ago, the best guess is that the negotiations – which are expected to start in the Fall -- will be wrapped up quickly and that new contracts will be finalized without a strike. Taking these simple steps now, however, will reassure your clients and help you to be prepared no matter what happens.
This article first appeared in the August 2003 issue of SHOOT magazine. It presents a general discussion of legal issues, but is not legal advice, and may not be applicable in all situations. Consult your attorney for legal advice.
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