AMPTP to WGA: Take your pick

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On Day 1 of Hollywood writers' contract talks Monday, management detailed its proposal for reworking residual arrangements to allow for studio cost-recoupments, while the WGA stuck to its guns on pay boosts and other anticipated demands.

But management negotiators also laid out a key option for the guild: embrace a proposal to table Internet pay boosts and instead commission a study of new-media compensation models. Otherwise, the WGA must deal with a first-ever contract clause granting studios the right to delay residuals while recouping basic production, distribution and marketing costs on film and TV projects, the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers said.

For its part in the proceedings, the guild outlined a lengthy list of compensation demands and other proposals in a morninglong presentation by WGA executive director David Young, including a dramatic bid for doubling residuals paid to writers on DVD revenue. John Bowman, who chairs the guild's negotiating committee, made a brief opening statement before turning to Young to detail a 26-point proposal.

At day's end, the parties agreed to caucus separately through today and reconvene negotiations Wednesday.

Late Monday, the WGA issued a terse statement.

"The conglomerates always try to paint us as unreasonable and bellicose," the WGA said. "Our proposals simply try to ensure that writers keep up with the industry's growth. That's fair and reasonable."

The statement appeared to be a response to a statement posted on the AMPTP Web site shortly after the conclusion of the day's talks.

"Instead of helping us work toward solutions that would give us the flexibility we all need for the benefit of all, the WGA demands would impose unreasonable costs and Draconian restrictions," the AMPTP said. "We are committed to negotiating a deal that is fair to everyone."

The AMPTP also posted its two proposals on the Web site.

A relatively brief four-page proposal laid out its case for taking on a new-media study while implementing a new three-year contract with unspecified basic pay bumps. The other proposal, involving the controversial cost-recoupment concept, runs 32 pages and calls for a four-year contract while similarly leaving compensation issues to be hashed out at the bargaining table.

AMPTP president Nick Counter trotted out both proposals once parties had reconvened at the bargaining table after lunch. Talks are being held at the AMPTP's headquarters in Encino, but the WGA is expected to caucus at its own headquarters today.

Management, which previously had floated the idea of a study on new-media compensation, provided new details of its proposal Monday:

The study would be done by an independent third party, jointly selected by labor and management by Oct. 31, when the WGA's current minimum bargaining agreement with the AMPTP expires.

The report would be delivered no later than six months before the expiration of the next three-year pact between the parties.

In the interim, the guild would allow members to work on new-media projects with no further terms or conditions placed on their employment, other than updates to relevant pension and health contributions.

As for the management proposal that would allow studios to recoup project costs before paying residuals, there were these details:

The company would determine whether a "residual payment point" has been reached for individual films on a quarterly basis following the release of movies and telefilms, issuing its findings within 60 days of the end of each quarter.

For episodic series, serials and strip programs, the determination would be made within 90 days after the end of each television season.

If for films or TV programming it is determined that a residuals threshold has been reached sometime during a quarter, writer payments would begin to flow only from the beginning of the next calendar quarter.

A third-party auditor would be hired to oversee the process, with auditing costs borne jointly by the guild and producers.

The WGA previously detailed many of its key demands by issuing the guild's usual prenegotiations "pattern of demands." On Monday night, the guild posted its formal proposal to the AMPTP.

Although many of the demands were similar to those previously stated, the proposal gave more specifics.

Pay demands are topped by a call for coverage and minimums for writing for the Internet and other new media, followed closely by a resolve to boost initial compensation across the board. And the call for a doubling of terms on DVD made clear that the guild isn't gunning for Internet gains at the expense of a strong position on disc residuals, at least for the present.

Some other priorities were even more targeted, like significantly boosting compensation for writers on the CW and MyNetworkTV, a pair of fledgling broadcast networks. In something of a surprise, however, the proposal is shooting for actual parity in compensation terms for writers on those new networks and scribes on other broadcast networks.

The WGA also wants to improve terms and minimums for scribes on the TV soaps and unspecified modifications to quiz-show compensation provisions.

Many believe that the talks might break off after an initial week of negotiations. That would allow the parties to digest the other's demands before reconvening at some later point before the Oct. 31 expiration of the current WGA-AMPTP pact.

But at least one negotiations veteran, speaking anonymously, predicted Monday that nothing much of substance will happen on any of the biggest issues until after WGA West members vote for officers in September.

Results of that voting will be tabulated after the WGAW's Sept. 17 membership meeting. At the top of the ballot, Patric Verrone is opposed in his re-election bid by Kathy Kiernan, a KNX-AM newswriter some see as token opposition in light of Verrone's endorsement of her previous successful campaign for the WGAW board.

"His message will be, 'Don't change horses in midstream' — almost like Bush's in Iraq," the well-placed industryite said. "Each side will analyze the other's respective proposals, and then each one will say no to all the proposals. Maybe they'll say yes to some piddling matter, but nothing is going to happen until after (Verrone's) re-election."

Kiernan has acknowledged that she decided to run for WGAW president only after the guild's nominating committee approached her to do so. The guild's constitution requires at least two candidates be put forth for president.

Two candidates — newswriters Tom Phillips and Mike Winship — also are running to succeed outgoing WGA East president Chris Albers, with a WGAE membership meeting set for Sept. 20.

But the WGAW has more than twice as many members as the WGAE affected by the film and TV talks with the AMPTP. So the Verrone-Kiernan race will be the more closely scrutinized among those handicapping the Encino negotiations.

Once Verrone is safely returned to office for another two years — or so the thinking goes in some corners — he and his WGA negotiating team will be better positioned to take firm stands with the AMPTP on key issues. Shortly after taking office two years ago, Verrone and his board dismissed long-serving WGAW exec director John McLean and replaced him with Young, who was the guild's chief organizer.

Balloting for WGAE president will be watched most closely by those affected by long-stalled talks with ABC and CBS over a pair of newswriter contracts. About a third of the WGAE's membership comprises newswriters.
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