WGA waiver wrangle a slow burner for Lerner

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The WGA has failed to act on a request from film indie Nu Image/Millennium for an interim work agreement, and company co-topper Avi Lerner is doing a slow burn over the situation.

Lerner wants to get back to work on several film projects frozen in development by the writers strike, and he said another recently lensed feature could use some script tweaks for reshoots. A guild spokeman said Tuesday that no final decision has been made in the matter, but Lerner said a WGA representative informed Nu Image execs, effectively, that the company wouldn't be granted an interim pact because Nu Image is too lightweight to put pressure on major studios.

"We've had some preliminary discusson, but there has been no decision on anything," WGA West spokesman Neal Sacharow said.

Lerner acknowledged being told to try again in a few weeks, but he is finding the delay hard to understand.

Guild brass hopes its recently secured interim work agreements with such indies as the Weinstein Co., United Artists, Summit, Overture and even mini-major Lionsgate will force the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers back to the bargaining table over fears by major studio executives of a growing competitive advantage by the indies. The interim pacts have allowed the indies to bring certain WGA members back to work on an array of film projects.

"Do you think the studios care?" Lerner asked. "They can wait another 10 years, but I'm talking about surviving. I can't understand why (the WGA) would make agreements with so many independent companies and not with us."

Like most indies, Nu Image caps its budgets well below the average studio tentpole production. Yet with a slate featuring films budgeted as high as the $60 million earmarked for Nu Image's upcoming Robert De Niro-Al Pacino starrer "Righteous Kill," Nu Image arguably rivals all but studio specialty divisions in the scope of its feature productions.

Principal photography has wrapped on "Kill," but Lerner said he had hoped to stage some brief reshoots. "We were thinking of doing a reshoot of a few things, and now we can't do it," he said.

Also, Nu Image recently acquired film rights to the John Burdett novel "Bangkok Eight" and is anxious to get the thriller into active development, Lerner said.

The AMPTP broke off negotiations with the WGA on Dec. 7, citing concerns over some fringe negotiating demands.

The WGA's seeming snub of Nu Image is particularly galling for Lerner because Nu Image is a frequent film partner of the Weinstein Co. and Lionsgate, which recently inked interim deals.

The three companies collaborated on "Rambo," and Lionsgate is set as Nu Image's distribution partner on the 2009 project "Conan the Barbarian." With Nu Image taking the lead on "Conan," script work remains stalled until Nu Image secures a WGA work agreement, a spokeswoman said.

Despite the official rationale, Lerner figures his recently reported criticism of the writers strike is the real reason for the guild's failure to grant an interim work agreement for Nu Image.

"I'm sure that's true," he said. "Otherwise, I can't understand what (the reason) is. But it's still discrimination."

Lerner stressed that his criticism of the WGA is directed not toward the writers themselves but their guild leaders.

"I have an opinion about the strike," he said. "I think it's unjustified and harming the people who are striking. My opinion is that this union of writers is the most stupid union in the world. There are some who are making $2 million and others who aren't working at all. I know that this will create a lot of animosity against me, but I'm not scared. I think what they're doing is rubbish."
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