Behind the breakdown

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The studios' chief negotiator says he still doesn't know why the WGA chose to go on strike Monday.

"We thought we were making some progress in our discussions about streaming on the Internet," Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers president Nick Counter said of Sunday's marathon bargaining session with the WGA. "I can't speculate. All I know is that they told me they were unwilling to 'stop the clock' and continue negotiations."

Counter was referring to the odd occurrence a day earlier, when negotiators discovered — even as they continued bargaining discussions — that the WGA East had notified its members they were officially on strike at 12:01 a.m. EST. Until then, many expected East Coast writers to sync their walkout with West Coast scribes, who weren't scheduled to strike until three hours later.

A WGAE spokeswoman said that the "rolling strike" plan was "always planned" by WGAE and WGA West officials.

"The practical effect of (WGAE's) going on strike was for the negotiations to cease," Counter said. "You are clearly at impasse, and they are on strike."

That didn't mean management needed to halt the Sunday talks, WGAW president Patric Verrone said Monday. The WGAE strike could have been stopped at any point that guild negotiators were convinced the talks had sustainable momentum, he said.

"It could have been stopped at 3 a.m. West Coast time," Verrone said. "If they wanted to keep talking, we could have kept talking."

Meanwhile, the parties also expressed different views Monday about how much bargaining progress had been marked in the eleventh-hour Sunday session.

Late Sunday night, a couple of hours after the last-ditch bargaining session came asunder at 9:30 p.m. PST, the WGA listed several issues its execs felt that management had continued to ignore. Those included claims that the AMPTP had insufficiently embraced guild demands regarding pay for Internet-streamed content and for jurisdiction over new-media content.

Counter said he found that puzzling. "We were discussing the issue of streaming on the Internet and an appropriate compensation arrangement," the AMPTP president said. "And we were discussing a certain jurisdiction in that regard."

Specifically, the parties were discussing an AMPTP proposal that would have provided first-time guild jurisdiction over Internet-originated content, an AMPTP spokesman said.

"It's nice for them to say that we discussed it, because we heard them say some general philosophical things about those points," Verrone said. "But when they broke off … we really hadn't been given a serious proposal on either of those things."

WGA negotiators also felt aggrieved that their withdrawal of a demand for doubled DVD residuals wasn't met by a management agreement to discuss greater compensation for permanent digital downloads, or "electronic sell-though," he added. Writers currently are paid under the home video formula on such content but have been seeking greater compensation.

"We sort of felt that we were sand-bagged," the WGAW president said.

So could the talks quickly get back on track? "We look forward to it, as soon as they have proposals for us on the issues we have been trying to talk about since July," Verrone said.

Counter said he didn't know if the parties could re-engage in negotiations anytime soon. "(But) if their strategy is to sync up with SAG, they'll be on strike for nine months," he said.

The AMPTP's contracts with SAG and the DGA both expire June 30. SAG has been closely aligned with the WGA in the buildup to the writers talks, which began July 16.

On the other hand, the DGA is known for negotiating pacts early, and it already has formed a negotiating committee for its next round of talks with the AMPTP.

Counter was coy on the matter when asked about the prospect of the DGA's talks beginning as early as this month. "We haven't had any discussions yet with the DGA, but we'll let you know when we do," he said. "(Right now), I'd like to go home and get some rest."
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