New WGA talks on the clock


Despite recent signs of progress in their contract talks, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers still don't have their next negotiating session booked.

That's probably in part because of the guild's preoccupation with a strike-authorization vote it is conducting, to be ready should leaders decide to mount a walkout. Balloting continues through 5 p.m. PDT today.

As for their next bargaining session, spokespersons for the WGA and AMPTP said they wouldn't have any scheduling news until today at the earliest.

Meanwhile, exhibitors assembled here for the ShowEast convention this week appear less nervous about the prospect of labor strife than the studio execs, who also are in attendance. But a quick check showed that execs of both stripes feel that the chance of an imminent strike by Hollywood writers was lowered by Tuesday's announcement that the AMPTP had withdrawn its controversial recoupment proposal.

The AMPTP had sought to revise current film-and-TV residual formulas to allow studios to recoup certain basic costs before making any future residual payments. The guild, whose contract with the AMPTP expires Oct. 31, had rejected the recoupment proposal.

Many believe the guild's strike-authorization vote will show at least 90% approval, as such balloting is standard-issue labor strategy when a contract expiration draws near. But a related question will be: How many guild members actually bother to vote on the question?

Once authorized by membership, guild leaders could call a strike against studios and networks at any time after the contract has expired, and such a move is deemed strategically beneficial. But with the recoupment proposal now withdrawn, most observers are now more optimistic that the guild and the AMPTP will keep trying to hash out a new collective bargaining agreement of some sort.

Of course, the movie theater owners assembled here for a week of screenings and seminars naturally are a bit more removed from the immediate potential impact of any strike on film production operations.

"We feel that's more of a problem for the distributors," an exec from one major theater chain said. "So as long as we have films in the pipeline, we'll let them worry about that. And hopefully, they will work it out, one way or another."

Unfortunately, it remains unclear when the parties next will try to do that, or where.

Since July 16, they've held just 10 bargaining sessions. The site of those talks has alternated between the AMPTP's offices in Encino and WGA West headquarters in Los Angeles.