New life for United Hollywood

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United Hollywood, the community site that became an online water cooler of sorts for writers during the strike, will live on in a new incarnation after the strike ends.

After a redesign, United Hollywood 2.0 will be launched as a community site for Hollywood writers looking to work in and learn about digital media, functioning as a kind of lab for writers as they break into the medium.

The site will gather information and articles aimed at traditional talent interested in writing for digital media, offer experiences from writers who have done it and provide a guide to various digital platforms and business models.

"There's a lot that needs to be figured out when it comes to working outside the traditional system, and intermediaries like agents and managers have an incentive to make that stuff a kind of black magic," said Tom Smuts, a strike captain and television writer who is financing and assuming editorial control of the site. "Our goal is to create a community that clears away the smoke."

In a sense, organizers said, the site will seek to further the digital mission that prompted the strike in the first place.

The new UH also will produce and distribute digital content of its own, aiming for as many as four productions per year from A-list writers. The site should relaunch within the next three weeks, organizers said, and will be supported by sponsorships and advertising. The new UH also will include a fan-oriented component.

Smuts, whose TV credits include "Law & Order" and "Close to Home," has a background as a lawyer and also is a former digital media executive. During the strike, he ran the nonprofit Strikewag.com, which sold T-shirts and other material to benefit writers. Among those working with him on the new UH is feature writer Laeta Kalogridis ("Alexander") and John Aboud, the Modern Humorist founder who penned "The Comebacks" and is developing the comedy "Over My Dead Body" with Ivan Reitman.

One lesson that Smuts said the new UH will impart is that, while the contract by necessity offers across-the-board terms, there is no one correct digital model for writers; different creators and content, he said, will lend themselves to different approaches.

UH originally launched as an informal collection of writers exchanging feelings and strategy about the labor dispute. But it soon evolved into a one-stop venue where picketers could air thoughts, experts could offer opinions and members from other guilds could drop by to offer support. Before long, the site had turned into a critical tool for the striking scribes and was credited with holding together a disparate group that some observers — as well as the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers — believed might fragment. Kate Purdy, Jeffrey Berman and Ian Deitchman are among the early contributors and founders.

UH also would also occasionally try its hand at satire; the group was behind the spoof site at AMPTP.com.

At the membership meetings last weekend, guild leaders said that the lifting of the strike wouldn't mean the end of deals with new-media companies; even with the new agreement made with the struck conglomerates, writers would continue cutting deals with independent digital firms.

The site, Smuts said, would embody that principle.

"We have a unique resource. When people in our community speak, the world listens," he said. "This is a very powerful way to learn by doing."
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