Tags: WGA | Producers | Still | Talking

WGA, Producers Still Talking

Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM

Bargaining resumed Monday, following a second consecutive weekend in which talks were held on Saturday and Sunday.

As Hollywood frets about the prospect of a strike by writers, it became clear Monday that there will not be a strike when the current contract expires at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

That's because there cannot be a strike without a strike authorization vote by the WGA's 11,000 members. No such vote has been held yet, and guild officials say it would require at least 48 hours to poll its members on the matter.

Three outcomes are possible after the current deal expires -- a settlement, a strike vote, or an agreement to keep talking. There is a growing consensus in Hollywood that negotiators will decide to keep talking, but that is largely based on speculation that the two sides have made significant progress towards a settlement.

The Los Angeles Times reported that negotiators were "creeping toward a settlement" following the weekend talks, and that "some labor and industry executives ... say they expect a deal sometime this week."

Both sides are honoring a news blackout. That makes it impossible to know what is being said behind closed doors, adding to the anxiety being felt in every segment of the film industry -- from the executive suite to the parking garage.

"There is so much hand-wringing that goes on about this," said screenwriter Charles Edward Pogue in an interview Monday. "Are they going to lock us out? Are we going to strike? It's all just useless energy and wasted time speculating on something that cannot be speculated."

Pogue -- who wrote the 1996 fantasy, "Dragonheart," starring Dennis Quaid and Sean Connery -- is a member of the WGA board of directors.

"What'll make the difference is what you don't hear in the media," said Pogue, "what goes on behind closed doors."

Despite the news blackout, some leaks are being reported.

For example, The Hollywood Reporter quotes "sources with knowledge of the negotiations" as saying that negotiators are still working on such issues as residual payments for foreign distribution and cable TV, as well as payment for distribution over digital media.

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 only 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."

The Los Angeles Economic Development Commission estimated earlier this year that a strike by writers and actors -- which would effectively shut down the entertainment industry -- would cost the local economy approximately $2 billion per month.

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.

Movie studios have prepared for the possibility of a strike by rushing production on feature films this spring, leading to a substantial increase in work opportunities for writers, actors and everyone else involved in production.

Most of that work has either been completed or is beginning to wind down, and the movie business has been hit by what Hollywood is calling a de facto strike. Producers are unwilling to start work on projects unless they can be reasonably certain they'll be able to finish them without disruption.

Even if a strike is averted, it is probable that production will remain slow, since the studio cupboards are pretty well stocked with the pictures they've shot this spring.

Copyright 2001 by United Press International.

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Bargaining resumed Monday, following a second consecutive weekend in which talks were held on Saturday and Sunday. As Hollywood frets about the prospect of a strike by writers, it became clear Monday that there will not be a strike when the current contract expires at...
Tuesday, 01 May 2001 12:00 AM
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