Tensions up as WGA discussions loom

Now it’s nervous time, with formal negotiations between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers set to start April 5 at AMPTP headquarters in Encino, Calif.

Negotiators will have only four weeks until they bump up against the expiration of the current three-year contract for film and TV work.

Studios and nets have not accelerated production to the same degree as in 2001, partly because SAG and AFTRA decided to extend their film-TV pact by a year to June 30, 2005. The SAG-AFTRA move, which has provoked anger among writers, eliminated the possibility of back-to-back strikes.

But top execs and agents still remain wary, with contingency plans for a possible work stoppage now under discussion. They note that the WGA’s leadership has been far more assertive than the DGA or SAG in what it will seek at the bargaining table, spelling out the need for improvements in DVD residuals, health care costs, jurisdiction over reality TV and free rewrites.

If writers were to strike, the effect would be most immediate on rewrites for features already shooting or about to go into production, with a longer-term impact on series TV, which will start production around mid-summer.

Thursday’s announcement comes on the heels of a tumultuous period for the WGA. Charles Holland resigned as president a week ago and was replaced by Daniel Petrie Jr.; the Labor Dept. announced Thursday it will supervise a special presidential election in September due to Victoria Riskin’s being ineligible when she ran last year.

“We are prepared to meet with the companies and bargain in good faith,” Petrie said. “The issues of concern to our members are critical to their economic security. We look forward to an open dialogue and a successful negotiation that addresses the needs of writers and the companies.”

AMPTP prexy Nick Counter issued a cautiously optimistic statement: “While there is much work that lies ahead, we are eager to sit down with the WGA and negotiate the important industry issues as expeditiously as possible to bring about a mutually satisfying contract.”

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