Another AMPTP Blunder: Force Majeure

An analysis by United Hollywood's Jeffrey Berman. -JA.

Two significant developments happened near the end of last week: The AMPTP agreed to come back to the negotiating table, and dozens of actors received letters of suspension due to force majeure, including the casts of 30 Rock, The Office and Rules of Engagement.

These two events couldn’t be more contradictory.

Force majeure literally means "greater force." It’s a clause in a contract that covers natural disasters or other "Acts of God.” Force majeure excuses a party from liability if some unforeseen event prevents it from performing its obligations under the contract.

So if the AMPTP is willing to get back to the table and negotiate, why are Sony and Universal laying off scores of actors? The answer is pretty simple: It’s an attempt to drive a wedge between the Screen Actors Guild and the WGA because SAG members have been extremely vocal in their support of our cause. But once again, the APMTP and its members have just made a major miscalculation. The issues we’re striking over today are the same ones that SAG will fight for seven months from now when their contract expires. The force majeure, which is essentially a "lock out" action by the companies, isn’t going to drive a wedge between our guilds. Instead, it's going to push 120,000 actors into the fray earlier than expected.

So on the one hand, the AMPTP giveth, appeasing the state legislators who have been leaning on them to come back to the bargaining table, while on the other hand they taketh away. In the process they create an even stronger bond between SAG and the WGA.

Makes you wonder where the Directors Guild will stand in all of this.

The upside for those suspended actors is, when we all go back to work -- and we will all go back to work, eventually -- this may be a great opportunity for them to renegotiate better contracts when the strike ends. But for now, I’d look for the picket lines to continue to grow as more actors and actresses find themselves without work and radicalized by the AMPTP's fumbling, hostile gambit.


Anonymous said...

Appreciate the anaylsis-- I'm a WGA member-- but don't fully understand it. Aren't we doing the exact same thing? We say we want to negotiate, and yet we continue to picket and take all necessary steps to advocate our position. Now they say they want to negotiate, but don't they have a like right (and responsibility) to continue advocating their position, which in this case means dealing with idle shows and their talent deals? What's good for the goose is good for the gander. So while I may not agree with their strategy, I can't fault them for pursuing it.

Anonymous said...

"excuses a party from liability if some unforeseen event prevents it from performing its obligations under the contract"
How was this unforeseen? I'm way outside the industry but I've been reading about a likely strike in Entertainment Weekly since at least January. Surely the heads of these conglomerates are as aware of their industry as I am. Plus, haven't all the studios been stock-piling scripts because the strike was foreseen?
Go WGA! Go SAG!!

Anonymous said...

This act isn't contradictory because the AMPTP as done nothing but give contradictory statements and make contradictory action throughout this entire process (i.e.: claim there's no validity to new media, then launch a new way to download shows off the internet)

The move is completely stupid though. It's an attempt to make the other unions more hostile and "supposedly" give them more power once negotiations start up again, though I think with growing public and SAG support the AMPTP will find themselves going to the bargaining table with a lot less than they hoped for.

Anonymous said...

The balance of power in H-wood is obvious as to be funny.

Just look at the history of H-wood strikes.

The last time the WGA went out, they were out for five months and made a bad deal.

The last time the DGA went out, they were out for THREE HOURS!!!

The DGA, which ever way it goes, will decide this.

Anonymous said...

What the actors on these shows should do, when taping resumes, is re-negotiate Friends-style, since EVERYONE is up for renegotiations, they should all refuse to do the show again unless they ALL get 25% raises across the board. The studios may be able to get the writers to creatively eliminate one or two actors, but not all of them. Basically, this would amount to an AMPTP initiated mini-SAG strike.

Anonymous said...

Listen, when that 6 week deadline is up it is cleaning house time for the studios. Think about it, sure they will EVENTUALLY come to some agreement with the WGA but by going on strike the WGA actually helped them.

There are countless production companies with first look deals that have done nothing for these studios. By going on strike now the studios can cancel all those deals with no legal repercussions.

As someone who has many friends now out of work from the strike I want nothing more for them to come to an agreement but that likely won't happen until after the 6 weeks are up. The only way the deal will come before then is if the writers bite the bullet and agree to a crappy deal, which looking at there previous track record history could repeat itself.

If the WGA were actually to stop the strike while negotiations are pending then yes, this move by the AMPTP would seem hypocritical but I'm sorry, you can't sit here and tell me that the writers aren't doing the same thing by keeping up the picket lines.

Oh and I know it is in a different posting but sending pencils, really? One what a waste of money, no matter how little the cost. And two, what an insult to the 50,000 plus already out of work from this strike. Get back to the table today, Monday the 19th, not postponing it till the 26th.

Andy said...

I'm a WGAw member who doesn't think the letters are a big deal. The actors aren't working, so the studios aren't going to pay them. Don't forget that in many cases force majeure works both ways, meaning in case of a greater power (ie, a strike) the actors can remove themselves from contracts. Do you really think Universal wants to bring The Office back without its leads? The timing might seem strange, but I think some of us are jumping the gun with conspiracy theories. People shouldn't get paid for not working.

Anonymous said...

I am a low paid actor and I am being affected by your strike, to whare I now have to find a new job while you are striking, and its not going to help me in any way if you get what you want or not, so the sooner you get back to work, the sooner I will as well.
What can I do to support the AMPTP anonymously, I would fear for my life if I do it publically!