Next plot point tough to figure


Where from here?

That was the rueful question posed around Hollywood on Monday, three days after a dramatic breakdown in contract talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Industryites all over town were wondering how Friday's news would impact their operations, while the guild and studio reps were deciding next-step strategies in light of the impasse.

In all likelihood, the quarreling parties will chart separate paths for now. There seems to be a scant chance of the WGA negotiations being resumed anytime soon.

To do so, the guild would likely have to agree to withdraw certain demands, including a call for first-time jurisdiction in reality TV and animation (HR 12/10). So far, WGA leaders are flatly refusing to cede to such an AMPTP ultimatum.

Alternately, the guild has suggested it might try to woo individual studios into contract talks, targeting more moderate CEOs in the studio mix and those running smaller entertainment companies who might prove amenable to dealing separately from the AMPTP. If successful, such a strategy could drive a wedge in the production community, but for now it appears that the tact is more theoretical than based on actual contact with individual companies.

On the management side, just about everybody in Hollywood expects the AMPTP to announce talks with the DGA at just about any time. Although it's unlikely actual negotiations between the directors and studio reps would begin before Jan. 1, the DGA is well prepared to launch such early talks in advance of its June 30 contract expiration.

The DGA, which already has a negotiating committee in place for such talks, has a history of striking new pacts about six months in advance of any expiration date. The directors were prepared to connect with the AMPTP in November, only to delay the move when the WGA launched its work stoppage.

Then, with the strike dragging on for weeks, the DGA was expected to connect with the AMPTP sometime this month, but the directors backed off again when writers and management resumed bargaining Nov. 26. With negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP now off again, it's tough to see what might keep the DGA from beginning its own negotiations with studio reps next month.

"I think the DGA's just about done waiting," said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney with TroyGould and a former associate counsel with the WGA West.

The directors' entrance on the scene would not be a happy development for the WGA, he added.

"The DGA is not going to be as aggressive on residuals at the writers guild," Handel said. "About 40% of the DGA is below the line and get practically nothing from residuals, and the prominent feature directors get so much up front that they rely on residuals a lot less than the writers do."

Meantime, with the WGA potentially mounting a campaign to persuade individual companies to break ranks with the AMPTP, some were wondering if the strike-prompted shutdown of scores of TV shows might start to spread labor disharmony.

On Friday, IATSE head Tom Short blasted guild leadership for what he charged was an overly rigid negotiating strategy that has prompted the layoffs of thousands of entertainment workers. And Sunday, hundreds of displaced below-the-line staffers marched through Hollywood in a protest aimed at urging both sides back to the bargaining table.

On Monday, writer-director Craig Mazin ("Superhero!") used his ArtfulWriter blog to suggest guild leaders agree to the studios' ultimatum on reality jurisdiction and other matters and focus primarily on new-media compensation. Mazin cited what he suggested has been a series of WGA failures in attempts to force the AMPTP to consider the guild's other demands.

"We waited until late in the game to negotiate," Mazin wrote. "They didn't move. We threatened a strike. They didn't move. We threatened Teamster support. They didn't move. We got the showrunners to walk out entirely. They didn't move. We staged huge rallies and had well-organized pickets at every studio in town. They didn't move.

"Now what?" he continued. "Now it's time to dramatically reduce all of our demands down to the only one that matters, in an attempt to wrest this negotiation back to our union and away from the DGA."

For the guild's leadership even to consider such a tack, there would need to be a cooling of emotions that appear to still run high over the breakdown in talks. Certainly, a Monday statement issued by WGA East president Michael Winship gave little reason to believe the ill will had dissipated.

"They lie," Winship wrote. "And then they lie again. And then they lie some more. Because the AMPTP wants to create confusion, doubt, fear and dissension. They want to divide and conquer, to undercut our proven solidarity."

The WGAE president vowed to stay the course and resist the AMPTP's ultimatum to narrow guild demands.

"We refused to bow to such supercilious, bullheaded intransigence, designed solely to destroy us," Winship said. "Yet we remain reasonable women and men willing to talk, bargain and negotiate, anytime, anywhere."

The AMPTP also put out a news release on Monday, seeking to correct what it views as "factually inaccurate" claims by the guild. Those included a recent complaint that management had previously demanded the WGA stop seeking expanded DVD residuals before it would address the guild's proposal on new-media pay.

"The AMPTP never demanded that the WGA withdraw its DVD proposal as a precondition to making an offer on Internet residuals," the studio group said. "In fact, the AMPTP's actions proved otherwise, as the AMPTP presented the WGA with a wholly new TV streaming residual proposal before the WGA withdrew its proposal to double DVD residuals."

Amid such fractious exchanges, the guild would seem to have few good options short of reversing its refusal to meet the AMPTP ultimatum on reality jurisdiction and other issues, TroyGould's Handel said.

"I do think they've been outmaneuvered," the entertainment attorney said.