Guild board members are discussing the possibility of including Web royalties as part of demands for a new actors contract; the current contract expires in June. Negotiations with producers are expected at the end this month, and an agreement could be reached as early as mid-February, said Greg Krizman, the guild's spokesman.
"Productions made exclusively for the Internet are still pretty rare," Krizman said. "But technology has a way of promulgating itself. Just because it's not happening right now, it doesn't mean this time next year we couldn't be watching commercials and films on the Internet."
Hollywood has struggled in the Digital Age, as one entertainment Web site after another collapses during this period of dot-com deaths. The guild, however, is looking beyond the immediate crisis and wants to protect its 135,000 nationwide members in the event that cross-pollination of the Internet and television becomes a reality.
The sticky point for producers, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, has been that productions for the Internet do not generally turn a profit, even if the clip first appeared on television. Therefore, they argue, should actors be paid for work that doesn't bring in cash? If yes, how much should they get paid to perform on a medium that is less glamorous than television or the theater screen?
Some of these questions have been already hammered out in a contract last fall with advertisers. In that agreement, the guild decided to allow actors and producers to negotiate their own pay scale for Internet-only commercials. Producers would make pension and health plan contributions based on how much the actors get paid, Krizman said.
The contract, sealed in October, ended a bitter six-month actors strike against advertisers.
"We want to establish jurisdiction in this area," Krizman said. "We don't want to be in a situation where when Internet productions are a more routine occurrence that producers get used to using nonunion personnel and then have no reason to negotiate with us."
This is not the first time tech issues have bogged down actor contract negotiations. Four years ago, the guild developed a new committee devoted to digital issues. Among those issues, the committee has had to grapple with digitally altered performances without prior consent from performers and the recreation of background actors--where in some cases the same person was used repeatedly in several different movies.