By Alex Dobuzinskis
Members of the Screen Actors Guild overwhelmingly approved a two-year contract with Hollywood studios on Tuesday, ending a year-long standoff that pitted top stars against each other and slowed production.
The union, which represents about 120,000 performers, was bitterly divided over the proposed deal, with SAG president Alan Rosenberg leading a hardline faction that demanded better terms, especially for work carried on the Internet.
But going into the postal-ballot count, many members feared a repeat of the 100-day writers strike that cost the Los Angeles area economy as much as $3 billion before it was settled early last year.
Indeed, filmmaking slowed in the past year as producers worried about starting productions and then being forced to shut them down if actors walked off the job.
SAG said 78 percent of members voted to approve the contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the Hollywood studios. The margin was wider than expected.
SAG's old contract expired on June 30, 2008, but actors continued working under its terms. The new pact gives actors a 3 percent wage increase this year, 3.5 percent next year and coverage for work done for the Internet.
Experts say the new deal, which takes effect immediately, should pave the way for some increase in moviemaking even as the industry battles the economic recession.
SHEEN VS. CLOONEY
Rosenberg, the estranged husband of "CSI" co-star Marg Helgenberger, told Reuters he was disappointed his side was "unable to get our message out there as clearly and strongly as the other side."
But he said he plans to seek a second two-year term later this year, and hoped SAG members would seek a better contract in 2011 -- a view shared by moderates.
Other opponents included Martin Sheen, Ed Harris, and former SAG president Ed Asner, the voice star of the animated movie "Up."
Supporters of the deal included Tom Hanks, George Clooney and Sally Field. Adam Arkin, a SAG board member who starred in the recently canceled NBC show "Life," welcomed its approval.
"I had no doubt that it would be ratified, I didn't anticipate that it would be this overwhelming," Arkin told Reuters. "It's very encouraging to see."
Entertainment attorney Jonathan Handel said he was surprised by the strong support for the deal.
"The margin is stunning and indicates that the membership overwhelmingly wants to get back to work, and it discredits the hardliners' strategy over the last 12 months," he said.
The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a statement that the ratification vote was "good news for the entertainment industry."
SAG said more than 35 percent of its members who received ballots returned them, and that the figure was above average compared with its past contracts.