Sides still have something to say

New-media compromise tops WGA, AMPTP agenda

The WGA and studio reps have agreed to keep talking.

That was the upshot of a 20th day of negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on Wednesday. The parties will resume contract talks at a secret location at 10 this morning.

Few details have leaked since negotiators reconvened Monday for the first time since the Nov. 5 start of the ongoing writers strike. But it appears most of the discussion in the three sessions held since then has amounted to how to take the next baby step forward in seeking a compromise on new-media residuals.

Before a recently instituted press blackout, the WGA blasted management offers on new media as too little and too late to prevent a writers walkout. There has been scant evidence of major new AMPTP proposals since then.

Still, the simple fact that negotiations will continue today is surely a sign for some optimism.

Skeptics had suggested that labor and management reps had scheduled their Monday-through-Wednesday sessions to portray a good-faith effort at breaking their impasse. Soon it would become apparent that the parties are too entrenched in extreme positions to make any real progress, pessimists predicted.

Now, even the most dour of prognosticators must admit the two negotiating teams aren't completely sick of talking with one another just yet.

There also are continued whispers of back-channel efforts aimed at identifying possible formulas for compromise. Those behind these informal efforts at shuttle diplomacy tend to have relationships on both sides of the labor-management divide, such as writer-producers and talent agents.

Elsewhere on the strike front Wednesday, writers expanded their picketing protests worldwide as the International Alliance of Writers Guilds helped round up sympathetic scribes in cities around the globe.

In Toronto, Writers Guild of Canada president Rebecca Schechter led a demonstration of about 100 writers and others outside the downtown Sony Centre. The Canadian scribes aimed to show solidarity with striking WGA colleagues because they also are affected by the thorny issue of Internet residuals, she said.

"One impact of the U.S. writer strike has been to galvanize Canadian writers around this whole issue of the Internet. That's going to be an issue when we come to our next round of bargaining," Schechter said.

Others on hand included Alyson Feltes ("The Associates") and Denis McGrath ("The Border").

In Montreal, about 90 writers stood outside SARTEC offices, including Anne-Marie Perrotta ("Arthur"), Barry Julien ("The Colbert Report"), Leila Basen ("Heartland") and Karen Walton ("Queer as Folk").

Several dozen French writers, actors and directors boarded a bus in the early afternoon, drove around Paris and then massed in the city's Trocadero square in a rally that swelled to about 200.

"We think it's really important to support other artists around the world, specifically in America in this case," UGS president Vincent Solignac told The Hollywood Reporter.

About 80 German writers, actors and helmers gathered in front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin to show solidarity with their striking colleagues in the U.S.

The event also was a chance for the German Writers Union to spotlight issues important to local scribes. German screenwriters aren't considering a strike of their own, but they have echoed U.S. writers' calls for boosted compensation from DVD and new-media windows.

Leafleting and other activities also was expected in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, Mexico and France, guild officials said.

"Writers' issues are the same anywhere," WGA East spokesman Sherry Goldman said. "It's terrific to have the support of writers around the world."

In stateside WGA activities, scribes including Belfast native Terry George ("Reservation Road") and French-born Jean-Yves Pitoun ("La Cuisine Americaine") were among the picketers at NBC Studios in Burbank.

In New York, a group of about 250 writers, actors and others demonstrated outside Time Warner Center. Those on hand included Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle"), Chris Elliott ("Late Show With David Letterman"), Tina Fey ("30 Rock"), Chris Meloni ( "Law & Order: SVU") and Arte Lange ("The Howard Stern Show").

Writer-producer Tom Fontana said the international support was an important symbolic gesture.

"Today, people all over the world are going to signify that we do have power and we do have influence," he said. "Every day we grow stronger. We're more resolved."

Nellie Andreeva, Etan Vlessing in Toronto, Rebecca Leffler and Scott Roxborough in Cologne, Germany, and Diana Britton in New York contributed to this report.