Writers Strike Talks Remove Major Roadblocks
Informal talks between representatives of Hollywood’s striking writers and production companies have eliminated the major roadblocks to a new contract, which could lead to a tentative agreement as early as next week, according to people who were briefed on the situation but requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak.
A deal would end a crippling writers strike that is now entering its fourth month.
The agreement may come without renewed formal negotiations between the television and movie writers and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, though both sides still need to agree on specific language of key provisions. If that process goes smoothly, an agreement may be presented to the governing boards of the striking Writers Guild of America West and Writers Guild of America East by the end of next week, the people said.
The breakthrough occurred Friday after two weeks of closed-door discussions between the sides. Even if approved by leaders of the guilds, a deal would require ratification by a majority of the more than 10,000 active guild members.
Writers walked out on Nov. 5 after failing to reach a new contract with producers in months of difficult bargaining. Talks resumed briefly in December, but quickly broke off again. The latest round of talks came more than two weeks ago in the wake of a tentative contract agreement between producers and the Directors Guild of America.
That deal confronted many of the same issues that have troubled writers -- including difficult questions related to pay for digital distribution of shows and movies-- and paved the way for Friday’s movement toward a deal.
A final sticking point had been compensation for ad-supported television programs that are streamed over the Internet after their initial broadcast. Companies were seeking a period during which they could stream such shows without paying a residual, and wanted to peg payments for a year of streaming at the $1,200 level established in the directors’ contract. Writers were seeking 1.2 percent of the distributors’ revenue from such streams, to ensure they would participate in any revenue gold mine discovered on the Web. How that issue was finally resolved in the informal talks remained unclear.
The talks were made particularly difficult by strong cross-currents within the guilds. Some members favored a rapid settlement along lines established by the directors, whose tentative deal made large gains in the area of digital media, but stipulated that new media pay schedules could not be regarded as final, because the markets are still not mature. Other writers argued that a much bigger step was required immediately.
The informal sessions involved on the company side Robert A. Iger, chief executive of the Walt Disney ; Peter Chernin, president of the News Corp. ; Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS .
Writers were represented by Patric M. Verrone, the president of the West Coast guild; David J. Young, its executive director; and John Bowman, who headed the guilds’ negotiating committee. Alan Wertheimer, a prominent entertainment attorney, also worked with the writers.
Even if the writers and producers hammer out a final agreement, there’s no guarantee that there will be an end to the labor strife in Hollywood. The companies’ current contract with actors expires on June 30, and leaders of the Screen Actors Guild -- a staunch ally of writers throughout their strike -- have said they did not expect to begin negotiations early.
But the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, which shares many members with the screen actors guild and traditionally has negotiated jointly with it, appears likely to start bargaining soon with companies on its own.
A spokeswoman for the Screen Actors Guild declined to comment on the writers talks, or the possibility her union might also start negotiating in coming weeks.
The writers walkout has not fully shut down Hollywood. But it stopped the production of dozens of television series, ended development work on future feature films, and created bitter divisions within the entertainment world.
One of the sorest points has been whether the 80th Academy Awards show, scheduled for Feb. 24, will proceed with its usual complement of stars, and without pickets. A rapid agreement between writers would clear the way for the ceremony, perhaps pointing again toward normality in an industry that has seen little of it lately.