WGAW united behind Verrone

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TV animation writer Patric Verrone has beaten back a challenge from a radio newswriter to secure re-election to a second two-year term as WGA West president.

The results were unveiled Tuesday, a day before the scheduled resumption of all-important talks on a new contract for guild movie writers and primetime dramatic scribes. Verrone drew 1,081 votes — or 90% of the 1,199 cast in the race — compared with 118 votes for challenger Kathy Kiernan of KNX-AM, who will maintain a seat on the guild's board.

Reps from the WGAW and WGA East will meet today for only the third bargaining session with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers since the film and TV negotiations began July 16. Scheduling conflicts and the onset of WGA campaigning brought a halt to the fledgling talks July 18.

With the film and TV pact set to expire Oct. 31, some at the guild have suggested negotiating brinkmanship gives the guild greater clout at the bargaining table. Verrone expressed gratitude for membership support and a determination to deliver them a lucrative new contract.

"The campaign was marked by an extraordinary level of civility and decorum," said Verrone, whose credits include extensive work on Fox's "Futurama." "There was near total agreement among all candidates about the issues that writers currently face."

About 1,286 ballots were cast, or just 17% of those eligible to vote at the WGAW. Together with the WGAE — which will announce its election results Friday — the guilds represent about 12,000 film and TV writers nationwide.

Verrone led a successful slate of officer and board candidates dubbed Writers United. All were elected with about 2-to-1 margins.

David Weiss was re-elected guild vp with 898 votes, or 77% of those cast, and Elias Davis was returned as secretary-treasurer with 961 votes, or 85% of the total. Those winning races for open board seats include:

Phil Alden Robinson (954, 11%), Peter Lefcourt (931, 11%), Tom Schulman (926, 11%), Dan Wilcox (905, 11%), Howard A. Rodman (850, 10%), Joan Meyerson (848, 10%), Nick Kazan (795, 9%) and Robert King (785, 9%).

The newly re-elected president — who assumed office in 2005, defeating rival Ted Elliott with 69% of votes cast — said he remains optimistic over a successful conclusion to talks with the AMPTP.

"I remain optimistic, and why shouldn't I, based on what seems to be the overwhelming vote of confidence from the members in the direction we are taking?" Verrone said. "The proposals from the other side are untenable, but our continued alliance with the other unions makes us believe that cooler heads in management should prevail, and we will be able to make a reasonable deal."

Elsewhere around town, there's concern about what appears to be dim prospects for hammering out a pact before the expiration of the parties' current three-year contract. But few believe the guild will walk on Nov. 1 or that studios will institute an immediate lockout.

Still, there is widespread concern about the seeming inability of those at the negotiating table to engage in productive talks.

DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg, speaking at a Merrill Lynch-sponsored media conference in Los Angeles, said Tuesday that he has never seen Hollywood writers and management further apart on contract issues than in the current talks.

"I'm fearful that the gap is too great," Katzenberg said. "Everybody would be impacted by a strike, us included."

The biggest demand for the WGA involves a push for expanded Internet residuals, while the AMPTP has underscored its call for a revision of current compensation formulas to allow studios to recoup costs on projects before having to pay any residuals.

With the parties in such opposite corners on those issues, even the most basic details of pay and benefit provisions could produce bloody sparring. Much of the positions articulated to date involve mere preliminary posturing and might be followed by more productive dialogue.

In the last round of contract talks, labor-side calls for sweeter DVD residuals ultimately proved unsuccessful. So many also will be watching how guild negotiators press that issue in the latest talks.

Meanwhile, for all the drama surrounding the negotiations with the AMPTP, Verrone will have no shortage of other matters to address in his second term. High among of those other issues is a WGAW push to organize reality programming and game shows.

Earlier Tuesday, Verrone took part in an informational picket line the WGAW staged outside Tribune production facilities in Hollywood, where FremantleMedia's "Temptation" game show is shot.

Writers Aaron Solomon and Rosemarie DiSalvo, who also picketed, walked off the production "after being refused WGA recognition," officials said.

"Temptation" airs on Fox's MyNetworkTV stations.

Reuters contributed to this report.
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