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Writers close to deal

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Dec 31, 1899 | 7:00pm EST

Negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers resumed at 10 a.m. PST Friday with the possibility that both parties will sign off on a new three-year contract. According to the Los Angeles Times, sources close to the talks have said that the two sides were nearly finished drafting the contract language and fine-tuning the deal points.

The talks have been characterized as extremely intense and exhaustive. There have been late-night negotiations, with the parties talking for 17 hours on Tuesday and for 14 hours on Wednesday. The existing contract expired 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

Negotiators recessed Thursday around 5:30 p.m. instead of dragging on into the night, a further indication that most of the hard work has been finished. Still, throughout Thursday's session, the situation was reported to be continually up and down, with talks possibly unraveling at any moment over the money issues.

Such 11th-hour tactics are fairly common in this kind of labor negotiation, according to a Hollywood veteran, former MCA Inc. president Sidney Sheinberg.

"Classically, a few tough issues get saved for the end, and everybody has a view on how to resolve them," Sheinberg told the Times.

A Thursday mid-afternoon call by WGA president John Wells and producer rep J. Nicholas Counter to Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan, vacationing in Acapulco, assured the mayor that a deal is near. Riordan has been incredibly vocal about how a strike would impact the Los Angeles economy - a potential $6.9 billion loss, according to a study funded by the city - and has pressured both sides to settle.

The Times also reported that studio chiefs were asked to be on call Friday for an "across-the-table handshake" if a contract is set.

According to the Times, the writers were expected to receive 3.5 percent increases through various minimum payments and compensation for video-on-demand systems. Also, some concessions were expected in the area of creative rights, mostly concerning the screenwriters' complaints about not being more involved in the filmmaking process and the possessory - or "a film by" - credit being given too liberally to directors. An unspecified, last-minute sweetener could be added in to help sell to the rank-and-file members when it comes time to vote on the contract. The WGA's 11,500 members would need to ratify any potential contract.

Some desperate TV reporters have found unique ways of filming the meetings being held at the WGA headquarters in Los Angeles. Camped out in a converted bank office across the street, the reporters are using high-tech wizardry to capture anything they can, including negotiators having dinner and people pacing in the meeting rooms. The strict news blackout is still in effect. The WGA warned its members not to pay attention to any news reports, saying that they are based on speculation and not founded in fact.

A settlement also would most likely defuse the possibility of the likes of Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts going on strike when the Screen Actors Guild contract expires June 30. Talks are still set to begin Thursday with the AMPTP.

And as a side note…

Following SAG's lead, the British actors union Equity has formally given a six-month notice to terminate its film contract with British producers.

SAG is fighting for increased pay in residuals for its members; Equity is fighting to establish them. At this point, an actor in the United Kingdom receives a flat rate for work, which included box office sales and video/DVD releases.

"You have the ludicrous position where U.S. actors get paid extra for a successful film, but British actors get nothing more," an Equity spokesman told BBC News.

Equity General Secretary Ian McGarry added: "The last thing any film actor in this country wants is a dispute, but we cannot any longer stand by and see actors denied a fair share in the success of their work."

No word yet on when the talks with the British Producers Alliance for Cinema and Television will start.

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