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Film and TV crew members rally amid SAG talks

February 17, 2009 |  1:50 pm

As the Screen Actors Guild and the major studios resumed contract negotiations today, Hollywood's below-the-line laborers wanted to deliver a message: "Let's get back to work."

About 100 film and TV workers, including cinematographers, studio drivers, makeup artists and prop makers, staged a rally this morning outside the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers -- the negotiating arm of the studios -- urging the parties to "reach a speedy resolution to the current stalemate."

Rally organizers said their purpose was not to take a position on the contract dispute, but to convey a sense of urgency about how the continuing stalemate was creating hardships for entertainment industry workers.Ctlogosmall

"We decided we needed to be seen physically,'' said Ed Gutentag, a cinematographer and spokesman for the self-described "Let's Get Back to Work" coalition. "We're not taking sides, we just want to send a message that we're suffering by their inability to come up with a deal."

Actors have been working without a contract since June 30, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty that has contributed to a steep falloff in feature film production. The slowdown has been a double whammy for crew members, who were hit hard by the fallout from the 100-day writers strike last year.

Hope Parrish, a property master, says she hasn't worked in eight months, the longest stretch in her 29 years in the business. "Nobody is starting any projects,'' said Parrish, who worked on "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." "I would like to see the producers negotiate a good deal with the actors so we can get back to work."

Many of the protestors belong to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which is grappling with its own contract issues with the studios. IATSE members are about to vote on a controversial contract that includes widely unpopular cuts in health benefits, including extending the number of hours members have to work to keep their health insurance benefits.

Also joining the rally were about 50 supporters from the Membership First faction at SAG, who've been at war with the union's board members over the firing of former executive director Doug Allen. Membership First fears the new negotiating team will capitulate to the studios, short-changing what actors earn from shows distributed on the Internet. In that spirit, they carried signs declaring, "SAG Board Sells Us Out Again" and "Vote No on Contract."

--Richard Verrier