United Artists working on interim pact with WGA

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STRIKE ZONE: COMPLETE NEWS AND UPDATES

UPDATED 11:20 a.m. PT Jan. 6

United Artists, MGM's indie arm topped by Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, is set to announce an interim WGA contract covering UA film projects, though the pact comes too late to save Oliver Stone's "Pinkville."

The WGA recently signed such a work agreement with David Letterman's production company, allowing striking writers of his late-night talk show to get back to work. A deal with UA would be notable because it would represent a first film company deal and allow UA to get cracking on new script development and execute any necessary rewrites on active projects.

A pact with UA could be announced as soon as Monday. Other indies also have been approached about interim pacts, with Lionsgate and the Weinstein Co. among those actively reviewing a WGA proposal.

The Weinstein Company is known to be leaning toward inking a deal with the WGA, but it's unlikely the film indie will jump into an interim agreement unless execs are certain Lionsgate inks a pact as well. For the present, it's apparent execs that execs at Weinstein are frustrated with the state of affairs between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, and they are anxious to get important film projects such as "Nine" and "Seven Samurai" back on track.

UA is perhaps the ideal first candidate for an interim pact with the WGA among film companies as its operations remain fledgling.

Lacking TV operations, UA is little affected by the WGA's tough demands on reality TV or even new-media residuals. And like other indies it isn't represented directly on the AMPTP board and feels less pressure to maintain solidarity with the studio group.

The AMPTP said on Dec. 7 that it would refuse to continue contract talks with the WGA until the guild removed certain demands from the bargaining table.

As for whether MGM would be likely to follow in UA's path, that's considered unlikely. MGM has a seat on the AMPTP board, and with both film and TV productions it would be much more daunting a task to hammer out an interim contract with the WGA.

MGM declined comment, but a well-placed source suggested MGM boss Harry Sloan spent much of the weekend huddling with Cruise and Wagner in an effort to dissuade them from proceeding with the interim pact. The MGM/UA discussions also centered on how such a pact could be managed within the MGM corporate structure, as ultimately Sloan was resigned to letting his prestige management team at UA make the final decision in the matter.

With Cruise and Wagner still very much in the fledgling stage of their turnaround takeover at UA, it would be a tough call for Sloan demand they continue to let dust collect on their various development projects.

UA postponed production on Stone's My Lai Massacre project "Pinkville" in mid-November, saying it needed a script rewrite that couldn't be done because of the writers strike. Skeptics at the time thought that might have been a convenient excuse after the Cruise starrer "Lions for Lambs" opened to disappointing business earlier in the month.

But whatever the original motivation for placing "Pinkville" on hold, a well-placed source said that "Pinkville" would remain in turnaround despite any interim agreement UA inks with the WGA. That's at least partly because cast who had been attached to the Stone project have since moved on to other productions.

Cruise is scheduled to shoot a final desert scene for his World War II thriller "Valkyrie" next month, perhaps in Dubai.

Asked about the UA's talks with the guild Friday, a UA rep first said a statement would be coming shortly but later said nothing would be issued and declined further comment.

Meanwhile, it's worth noting that no specifics have been circulated even about the WGA's deal with Letterman's Worldwide Pants, though it's been purported that the TV production company accepted whatever guild demands were within power to concede. Those agreeing to interim deals with the WGA are being given the option of replacing the pacts whenever a broader guild contract is finally reached with the AMPTP.

A deal with UA would represent a big notch in the win column for the WGA in its strike showdown with the AMPTP. But separately Friday, the WGA failed in a bid to have the city nix film-permits applications from struck production companies.
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