WGA rank and file OK demands

Digital media residuals at top of writers' concerns

WGA members overwhelmingly have approved the guild's formal list of demands circulated recently as a prelude to the launch of negotiations for a new film and TV contract.

The so-called pattern of demands, which places a heavy emphasis on increased residuals for digital media, was greenlighted by 96% of 3,176 WGA West and East members casting ballots, with 3,040 writers voting to approve and 136 against. Guild officials said the turnout represents a 32% increase over the number of ballots cast in the run-up to the WGA's 2004 contract talks.

On July 16, WGA negotiators will sit down with representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers to begin talks for a new contract covering movie and primetime scribes, whose current pact expires Oct. 31.

Topping the pattern of demands is language seeking "coverage and minimums for writing for the Internet and other nontraditional media" and a resolve to "increase initial compensation in all areas."

"I am pleased our members have given this pattern such a clear vote of confidence," WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman said. "As the media conglomerates' revenues continue to grow, our objective is to negotiate a deal guaranteeing writers a fair share of an ever-growing pie. Whether it's on your big screen, a flat screen or a computer screen, it's all content. And writers, like other creative artists, should be fairly compensated for what they create."

Other priorities in the approved pattern of demands include "significantly" boosting compensation for writers on the fledgling CW network, improving terms and minimums for scribes on the TV soaps and unspecified modifications to quiz-show compensation provisions.

Still other demands include further addressing reuse on the Internet and "other nontraditional media;" increasing DVD and videocassette payments; and for gross-based residuals, expanding and enhancing procedures "to enforce appropriate arm's-length equivalent standards." There are also such labor-side evergreens as a call for raising caps on health fund and pension plan contributions.

Three years ago, the WGA and other guilds failed in a collective effort to increase DVD residuals paid to talent. The WGA is expected to make another run at that goal, simultaneous with its all-important quest to boost new media compensation.

But judging from an AMPTP statement issued Monday in response to the membership vote, it looks like the parties may start talks well apart on the central issue of compensation.

"The producers look forward to the start of discussions with the writers, where we will all be seeking ways to deal with the revolutionary changes impacting our industry," the AMPTP said. "We are determined to adapt successfully to the times and avoid the fate of the newspaper and music industries, which ignored change until it was too late. That means that during our negotiations, we will need to find ways to restore the balance.

With the statement, management-side negotiators once again are floating the notion that business-model shifts call into question the appropriateness of compensating talent in traditional ways. Yet labor-side reps have made it clear that any idea of tying backend compensation to project profitability is a non-starter.

The WGA West and East together boast more than 12,000 members.

The almost 120,000 members of SAG, who have named an advisory committee to rep actors during the writers' talks, have a main film and TV contract that runs until June 30, 2008. That's also when the DGA's film and TV pact expires.