Negotiators for the guilds downplayed the likelihood of a strike but conceded it's possible if there's no deal by the June 30 contract deadline.
The Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists began the afternoon bargaining session Tuesday at the Encino, California-based headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.
Leaders of the guilds said their priority will be improving conditions for character actors and supporting players who earn less than $70,000 annually rather than multimillion-dollar stars.
"This is really a blue-collar union, and stars now won't always be stars tomorrow," said SAG negotiator Brian Walton. "These actors need to know they will be able to pay their rent, their mortgage and buy their kids school clothes."
Of the nearly 135,000 total performers represented by the two guilds, only about 2 percent earn more than $100,000 a year.
About 75,000 actors earn between $30,000 and $70,000 a year, and nearly half of the guilds' members are unemployed.
The guilds have not detailed specific new contract proposals, but officials indicated they want an increase in residual payments for shows rebroadcast on cable and in foreign markets. The guilds also want higher initial pay for screen work and assurances that studios will limit the number of productions filmed outside Southern California.
The negotiators also hope to close loopholes in previous contracts they say the studios have used to exploit actors.
For example, a provision that requires actors guest-starring on TV shows to work eight days for about $5,000 is sometimes circumvented by producers who squeeze that work into two shifts that are supposed to be reserved for actors with smaller roles, said AFTRA negotiator Stephen Burrow.
Guild leaders did not specify how much of a total pay increase over the last contract they plan to seek, and a news blackout has been instituted during the talks.
Fear of an actors' strike that would cripple TV and movie production has spread throughout Hollywood for months. Analysts have said the recent contract agreement by the Writers Guild of America, however, increases the likelihood that a work stoppage will be averted.
By Anthony Breznican
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