New twist in WGA drama?

Scribes, studios restart talks amid tension

This article was updated at 7:35 p.m.

The high-stakes drama over a new writers contract could take a nasty turn today.

Negotiations will resume this morning at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers headquarters in Los Angeles after a two-day break to study proposals.

Both sides have adhered to a news blackout since talks launched April 5. But with the Writers Guild of America three-year contract having expired Sunday, negotiations could now collapse if the AMPTP makes a final offer that’s unacceptable to the guild.

The tenor of the talks had become increasingly emotional over the weekend as frustration emerged over the seeming lack of urgency to make a deal, according to sources close to the talks.

Observers believe the WGA’s demands for higher DVD residuals plus jurisdiction over reality TV and animation are the most likely stumbling blocks. Studio execs remain adamantly against changing the 2-decades-old DVD formula, insisting the revenues are crucial for moviemaking to stay financially viable. Scribes remain unmoved by studios’ assertions of declining earnings amid a booming market for DVDs, which carry a 65% profit margin.

Rank-and-file Writers Guild members have expressed dismay over the news blackout. Opponents of the strategy contend the AMPTP is the sole beneficiary of the tactic of leaving WGA members in the dark over details from the bargaining table.

Sunday’s expiration of the WGA contract has amped up the town’s anxiety level even though the guild has not taken a strike authorization vote. Members have continued working this week as Writers Guild execs declared that provisions of the expired contract remain in effect as long as negotiations continue.

Negotiators are facing a narrowing window in which to reach a deal. Both sides are being heavily pressured to bring the talks to a conclusion ahead of the networks announcing their fall skeds at the May 17-20 upfront meetings with advertisers in Gotham.

The current round of talks is somewhat reminiscent of the 2001 negotiations, which were settled three days after expiration. The key concession three years ago came with the scribes dropping their demand for a 20% hike in the DVD residual and agreeing instead to a one-time $5,000 payment to screenplay authors for the right to include their script on a movie’s disc.

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