Writers May Be Ready to Picket

In a move that is striking fear into the heart of the entertainment industry, the contract talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the industry, have collapsed.

Hollywood could be heading into a crippling strike this spring.

After six weeks of intense negotiations, both sides’ representatives said the key sticking points revolve around residual payments, which are made as movies and TV programs enter secondary markets like videos or TV reruns.

Guild officials said the industry’s latest proposal would merely keep up with inflation, with a freeze in prime-time network residuals and no increases for basic cable reruns of broadcast shows or for videos and DVDs. The overall economic package, they said, would actually amount to a slight decrease from the current pact.

The industry, however, estimated the guild would have walked away with a net gain of $30 million in residual payments and wages–about 11 percent more than the current agreement–over the next three years.

“We are disappointed this round of negotiations has not met with success,” WGA president John Wells said during a news conference at the guild headquarters. “There’s going to have to be more money in the package for us to make a deal.”

According to Walt Disney Co. President Robert Iger, the industry’s proposal was driven by “a great need on our side to manage our costs” in the face of economic uncertainties. He said in a briefing, “The proposal that we had is quite realistic and reasonable because it offers the guild an increase no matter what happens with the economy.”

The talks began Jan. 22, and industry executives were hopeful a deal would be set as the negotiations extended well beyond the two-week deadline. But now the collapse of the talks only heightens the growing labor unrest in Hollywood, with the possibility of both writers and actors striking this spring and summer. Major studios have been rushing films and TV series into production and stockpiling scripts in anticipation of the work stoppage.

No further talks have been scheduled, and Wells has said his side will most likely wait until April 1, a month before the current three-year contract expires, before returning to the negotiating table.

HERE COMES ANOTHER ONE: As if entering into the crazy world of making movies were an easy thing, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and producer Chris Moore have named their Project Greenlight winner.

“Stolen Summer,” written by Peter Jones, was chosen from more than 7,000 entries in the online screenwriting competition. “Ultimately, it was very difficult for us to make a decision,” Affleck told The Hollywood Reporter. “On some level, we thought that one would tower head and shoulders above everybody else.”

Jones will be awarded a $1 million production budget to make the film, which will be released by Miramax next year. The entire process is being documented in a 13-episode reality series to air on HBO next year.

The script centers on an 8-year-old Catholic boy and his friend, a 7-year-old Jewish boy dying of cancer, as they try and figure out how to get the Jewish boy into heaven. Affleck said: “It’s a really wonderful, heartfelt story that’s about real people.”

Jones said: “When you’re the one picked out of thousands of scripts, it’s a very humbling experience. I hope I make all of these people proud. I always dreamed of an opportunity like this, and it’s overwhelming when your reality exceeds your dreams.” He quit his job as a health insurance agent and moved to Los Angeles with his wife three years ago to pursue his filmmaking dream.

“I’d never even gotten as far as development hell. And this is only the beginning. [Now] I have to go make a movie!” he said.

The announcement was made jointly on Thursday by Miramax Films, HBO, LivePlanet and corporate sponsor Samuel Adams, although an impromptu appearance by Affleck and Jones on Wednesday’s “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” gave away the surprise.

Let’s hope the impending WGA strike doesn’t hurt Jones’ chances of making it.