SAG MOVES CLOSER TO A STRIKE

Apparently convinced that members of the Screen Actors Guild who support the union leaders' demands for increased benefits for new media productions will vote for strike authorization -- and those who do not will refrain from voting -- the union's negotiating committee recommended Wednesday that the national board take a strike vote among members. Last month, in a poll of union members, 87 percent of voters, in effect, gave SAG leaders a vote of confidence. However, fewer than 10 percent of the 120,000 members bothered to vote. A strike authorization requires approval by 75 percent of union voters. "A strike authorization vote of the membership is necessary to overcome the employers' intransigence," the negotiators' resolution said. "We've done all we can do to compromise and work with our employers and they've refused to budge," Anne-Marie Johnson, a member of the guild's negotiating committee, told today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times. However, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers has insisted that it is the union that has exhibited intransigence by insisting on conditions that no other Hollywood union regarded as crucial. Moreover, the union's get-tougher stance comes at a time when every major media company has seen its shares plummet and, in some cases, its funding for new productions dwindle. "Is this really the time for anyone associated with the entertainment business to be talking about going on strike?" the AMPTP said in a statement.

BAILOUT BILL MAY HELP HOLLYWOOD

The book-length $700-billion bailout legislation contains a measure that would give movie and TV producers $470 million in tax savings if they shoot their films in the U.S., the Los Angeles Times observed Wednesday. The measure had already been included in a tax extension bill that had been approved by the Senate 93-2 two weeks ago, but it was folded into the bailout bill that the upper house passed by a vote of 74-25 on Wednesday. It was viewed as one of numerous tax breaks -- one repeals the excise tax on wooden arrows designed for children -- included in the bailout bill to ensure its passage by legislators.

STUDIOS, THEATERS REACH AGREEMENT ON DIGITAL CONVERSION

The impasse between Hollywood studios and theater chains over who should pay to convert theaters to digital projection may have ended Wednesday with an agreement by the studios to pay each theater $800 to $1,000 for each print they deliver on digital media instead of film. Although the cost of a digital print is negligible, the payment still represents a savings since film prints can cost as much as $3,000 each to process, distribute, store, and dispose of. The "virtual print fee" would be used to cover the theaters' costs to install digital projectors, which cost $70,000 to $100,000 each. Once the projectors are paid for, the payments would cease. Initially, the theaters had said that they planned to use the studios' commitments to borrow $1 billion to pay for the conversions, but they acknowledge that the current credit crunch could delay such plans. In an interview with today's (Thursday) Los Angeles Times, Julian Levin, head of digital exhibition for 20th Century Fox, commented, "I'm hopeful that the financial climate will get stabilized, [and credit] will loosen up a little so that the funds can flow and become available for the conversion."

VUDU BEGINS OFFERING HDTV RENTALS

Santa Clara, CA-based Vudu, the online movie and TV rental company, said Wednesday that, beginning today (Thursday) it plans to bring "a broad array of mainstream content straight into the living room." sporting the new HDX format, which offers 1080p high-definition resolution. "HDX delivers twice the quality available from any Internet, or broadcast on-demand service," the company said, while acknowledging that the quality is not quite the equal of Blu-ray. Although Vudu says it will charge the same $3.99-$5.99 price for rentals whether users choose HDX or its standard service, they will have to wait as long as four hours before they can begin viewing a movie, whereas movies in its standard format can be watched within seconds after purchase. Vudu requires a settop box that transmits movies directly to a TV set; no computer is necessary.

ITALIAN RESISTANCE MEMBERS ANGERED BY LEE'S FILM

Time magazine indicated on its website Wednesday that Miracle at St. Anna director Spike Lee and writer James McBride ignored a 2005 ruling by an Italian military tribunal that, contrary to the movie's assertion, there is no evidence that the Nazi massacre in the Tuscan town of Sant'Anna di Stazzema in 1944 was prompted by the betrayal of members of the underground resistance movement. The magazine interviewed Moreno Costa, who fought alongside the Buffalo Soldiers, the African-American unit at the center of Lee's film, who said that he had met with Lee to discuss the Buffalo troops, "but he didn't say anything about this betrayal. ... We are indignant about this." Giovanni Cipollini, head of a pro-resistance association, said that he had offered to bring Lee together with partisans who were present at the time but that Lee refused. "When a famous director makes a major movie about a chapter in history, people will believe that his version is the truth," he said. In an article appearing today (Thursday) in the Rome daily La Repubblica, Lee responded, "The visceral reactions in recent days make me think that the deep wounds that opened in Italy during the Second World War have not healed. ... I am not the enemy of the partisans."