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Striking Writers Upbeat About Proposed Deal

Reuters
Sunday, 10 Feb 2008 | 8:37 AM ET

Striking television and film writers on two coasts gave a warm reception to a tentative contract deal reached Saturday with major studios, signaling that Hollywood's bruising three-month-old labor clash is near a conclusion.

But union leaders urging support for the deal left unclear exactly how much longer it might take to send the 10,500 screenwriters back to work, ending a walkout that has crippled the television industry and overshadowed the Oscar season.

To Vote Sunday

The governing bodies of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) were expected to vote Sunday to formally endorse the proposed settlement, which hinged on how writers should be paid for work distributed over the Internet.

They also could vote then to call off the strike as early as Monday, pending ratification of the labor pact by union rank-and-file -- a procedure that normally takes at least 10 days.

But a union spokeswoman and several writers emerging from a boisterous late-night briefing on the deal said WGA leaders were more likely to invoke an expedited 48-hour ratification process that would essentially leave the decision to lift the walkout in the hands of union members at large.

The Writers Guild of America
AP
The Writers Guild of America

Under that scenario, writers would not return to work before mid-week, union officials said.

The tentative deal to settle the worst Hollywood labor confrontation in 20 years was announced to WGA members early Saturday in an e-mail from WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Michael Winship.

"While this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve ... our strike has been a success," they wrote, stressing gains achieved in the area of digital entertainment.

Gains on Internet

"It creates formulas for revenue-based residuals in new media, provides access to deals and financial data to help us evaluate and enforce those formulas, and establishes the principle that, 'When they get paid, we get paid,"' they said.

There was no comment from the studios' bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

Hours later, the union held closed-door meetings in New York and Los Angeles to review terms of the deal with members and gauge their response. The mood outside both sessions was notably upbeat.

Participants at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, where about 3,500 writers gathered, said the meeting was marked by clapping, cheering and standing ovations.

"It's a good deal, and I think they've done very well with ... the Internet stuff," said screenwriter Paul Mazursky, a four-time Oscar nominee for films like "Harry and Tonto" and "An Unmarried Woman."

"The mood is great, and everybody is dying to get back to work," added writer-actress Toni Kalem, who worked on "The Sopranos." "We're in much better shape than we thought we'd be."

The tentative deal capped more than two weeks of intense but low-key negotiations following months of on-and-off bargaining, impasse and rancor between the two sides.

The TV industry has been especially hard hit, with most prime-time comedies and dramas shut down since mid-December, idling thousands of production workers. Ending the strike now would allow networks to salvage some of the remaining broadcast season, as well as show development for the fall.

Film studios can restart numerous stalled movie projects but will be wary of rushing too many into production too soon for fear of another labor confrontation with the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract is up for renewal in June.

A settlement at least ensures that the Academy Awards proceed, as planned, on Feb. 24 without disruption.

The writers' deal is modeled largely on a separate labor pact for Hollywood directors that helped pave the way for the studios and the WGA to resume bargaining on Jan. 23, after weeks of stalemate.

Both deals essentially double the rates paid for TV shows and films sold as Internet downloads, once certain break-points are reached. And they require studios to work with union talent on content produced specifically for the Web, though lower-budget productions are exempt.

Both pacts also set new "residual" fees for ad-supported online streaming of TV shows. But the WGA gained a modest improvement over the directors' deal in the form of a higher potential residual in the third year of its contract.

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