Now they're on the same page

WGA, studios frame a deal

Clear progress has been marked in informal contract talks between studio execs and striking writers, stoking broad expectations that a tentative agreement may be announced sometime this week.

Such a pact with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers would have to be approved by the WGA West board and the WGA East council and ratified by memberships on both coasts. But recent movement in key areas under negotiation, chiefly involving new-media residuals, now has industryites expecting an imminent end to the 3-month-old work stoppage barring an unforeseen glitch as negotiators wrap up final details.

Word of the positive developments first spread Saturday, the result of two weeks of discussions between guild officials and Disney president Robert Iger, News Corp. COO Peter Chernin and other top media company execs. On Sunday, WGAW president Patric Verrone and WGAE president Michael Winship issued a joint statement to members warning that more work needed to be done to secure an actual tentative agreement.

"We are still in talks and do not yet have a contract," the guild presidents said. "When and if a tentative agreement is reached, the first thing we will do is alert our membership with an e-mail message. Until then, please disregard rumors about either the existence of an agreement or its terms.

"Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP, it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity and strength," the duo added. "Picketing will resume on Monday. Our leverage at the bargaining table is directly affected by your commitment to our cause. Please continue to show your support on the line. We are all in this together."

But despite those words of caution, a sense of optimism spread through Hollywood over the weekend — and not a moment too soon for those hoping to salvage a star-studded Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 24. If no deal is reached by then, the WGA is expected to picket the Oscars, and that would keep actors and other celebrities away from the Kodak Theatre in droves.

Well-placed sources touted broad progress in key areas, including compensation for content streamed over the Internet. Although the DGA recently reached a tentative contract marking historic gains in new-media compensation, the writers hinted they would press for sweeter terms.

In an unusual twist, there appears to be a good chance that the informal talks between guild reps and the AMPTP will segue into formal sessions in which contract language of a tentative agreement would be crafted. It had been assumed the parties would publicly acknowledge any resumption of formal bargaining sessions.

The AMPTP and WGA haven't met for on-the-record negotiations since Dec. 7. That's when the studio organization demanded the guild remove from the table demands for reality TV and animation jurisdiction and the right to stage sympathy strikes.

The jurisdictional demands have since been withdrawn. It was unclear how — or even if — the parties have yet dealt with the demand for the first-time right to stage sympathy strikes.

The WGA's most recent contract with the AMPTP expired Oct. 31, and the guild launched its work stoppage Nov. 5. The AMPTP and the WGA began their on-again, off-again negotiations for a new contract on July 16.

Next on the AMPTP's to-do list — once a WGA pact is secured — will be mounting negotiations with SAG over that guild's next film and TV contract. SAG's current pact expires June 30.

Since formal negotiations with the AMPTP broke down, the WGA has pursued interim pacts with smaller film and TV companies. The WGAE said Sunday it had reached such deals most recently with New York-based indies including GreeneStreet Films, Killer Films, Open City Films, and This Is That Corp.
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