Tags: WGA | Deal | Until | Friday

No WGA Deal Until Friday

Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM

Negotiating committees decided late Thursday afternoon to take the rest of the night off while various subcommittees continue meeting into the night on so-called creative rights issues.

The full negotiating committees called a meeting involving studio CEOs for Friday at 10 a.m. (PDT).

The development assures that there will be no settlement before then, but strongly suggests that a settlement may be near.

Creative rights issues include the guild's demands that writers be given more access to movie sets -- perhaps leading to more influence on the finished product -- and that studios adopt more restrictive policies on granting possessory credits ("A film by ...") to directors.

Writers have been working under the old contract, which expired at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Negotiators returned to the bargaining table Thursday morning with speculation growing that they were making progress on a new contract.

Speculation is all that interested observers have to go on, since members of the bargaining teams have been maintaining a news blackout fairly rigorously. But there are clear signs that the talks have reached an important phase.

For one thing, the fact that Thursday night's meetings will focus on creative rights matters strongly suggests that the major economic issues are very close to resolution -- if they haven't been resolved already.

In another significant development, most of the major studio CEO's attended the negotiations for a second straight day Thursday. CBS boss Leslie Moonves, DreamWorks SKG partner Jeffrey Katzenberg, Fox Film Entertainment chief Tom Rothman, Universal Pictures chairman Stacey Snider and Warner Bros. president Alan Horn are among the top brass who have attended the talks.

A media camp has sprung up at the WGA headquarters, where negotiations stretched long into the night on Tuesday and Wednesday. But official spokesmen are limiting their comments, refusing to discuss the substance of the talks.

"I think both parties are interested in trying to reach a settlement as soon as possible," said Barry Liden, spokesman for the AMPTP.

"They are very intense negotiations," said Cheryl Rhoden, assistant executive director of the WGA.

There have been a few published leaks. However, studio and guild officials have taken pains to shoot down published reports based on unnamed sources.

For example, after the Los Angeles Times reported on details of a proposed settlement -- including a modest raise of 3 or 4 percent in minimum pay scales for writers, and an agreement that Fox-TV will give up the discount price on residuals it negotiated when it was still a fledgling TV network -- the WGA challenged the accuracy of the report.

"There are many sources speculating in the media about the status of the current negotiations," the WGA said in an e-mail to its members Wednesday. "To date, none of these so-called 'sources close to the talks' have been correct."

The WGA and the AMPTP have advised their members that the only reliable information on the status of the talks will come in official announcements by the negotiators.

There is considerable anxiety in Hollywood about the prospect of a writers' strike if there is no new contract with producers. The WGA has not called a strike authorization vote and, if it comes to that, guild officials said it would take at least 48 hours to poll its 11,000 members. The writers last struck in 1988.

The writers say they want an increase in residual payments for both TV and movie scripts, and they want to be paid for the use of their work in foreign markets, on cable TV and on the Internet. They also want higher payments for the sale of video cassettes and DVDs.

By some accounts, the monetary gulf between the guild and the AMPTP amounts to about $100 million over three years, meaning they need to come together over the matter of $33 million per year in a contract that involves payments to writers of more than $1 billion per year.

The contract between producers and the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists expires June 30. Union officials expect to begin talks with the AMPTP no sooner than May 10.

SAG and AFTRA announced going into the weekend that their Joint Board of Directors unanimously approved the wage and working condition proposals it will present to the AMPTP. The announcement said the package was "thought to be one of the most streamlined and focused in the history of these negotiations."

The unions said they would disclose details of their proposals "at a time SAG and AFTRA believe strategically appropriate."

If the writers walk out, the first casualties are likely to be found at the daytime dramas and the late-night variety shows. If a strike lasts very long, production could cease on primetime comedies and dramas.

TV networks have been developing contingency plans for their 2001-2002 primetime schedules that call for a greater reliance on unscripted programming, including more news and so-called "reality-based" shows.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Negotiating committees decided late Thursday afternoon to take the rest of the night off while various subcommittees continue meeting into the night on so-called creative rights issues. The full negotiating committees called a meeting involving studio CEOs for Friday at...
Friday, 04 May 2001 12:00 AM
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