Is this a strike that could have been prevented?
Both producers and writers are angry over the way talks collapsed Sunday night, with the two sides creating a “Rashomon”-like atmosphere of disagreement over who did what — and when. But pretty much everyone agrees that action must be taken in the next 48 hours if Hollywood is going to avoid a long and costly strike.
The question: Who will take the initiative to get talks to resume? The companies believe it’s up to the writers to make the first move; the WGA says it’s ready, willing and able to resume talks at any point.
“I think both sides want to continue negotiations,” WGA West exec director David Young said Monday. “We are not getting a divorce.”
But with a full-fledged strike started and lingering acrimony between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, prospects for resuming talks are dimming. Many already believe that the Directors Guild of America will end up riding in like the cavalry to make a deal that could lead to labor peace — even though WGA leaders have asserted that they won’t look favorably at such an outcome.
The confusing outlook could get especially ugly by Thursday, the date the Writers Guild of America has given as the deadline for its Script Validation Program, whereby writers must turn in drafts of their current works. Studios and networks have demanded that the guild cease and desist from enforcing that program.
Sources close to talks said that five key sticking points were on the table at the start of talks Sunday, and those had been whittled down to just two by the dinner break. Many in both camps feel that they could have made serious progress if the talks continued.
But AMPTP president Nick Counter said the talks collapsed when the companies were in caucus shortly after 9 p.m. and discovered that the WGA East website was declaring the strike had started. The AMPTP reps then asked WGA East topper Mona Mangan if that was indeed the case, and she said it was.
“We asked the WGA if they’d be willing to put a pin in the strike so we could continue negotiations, and Mona and David Young said no,” Counter said. “We were having dialogue and making some progress, and then we hit a brick wall. I’m shocked and chagrined over what happened.”
But Young said the companies had ample warning, noting that he had told the AMPTP at noon Sunday that the WGA was willing to talk all night but that it would not call off the strike. He also admitted that there had been some progress during the session.
“If it were Oct. 10, I would be hopeful and happy,” he added. “But here we are at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 and they still have not made an economic proposal. We had gotten some movement but nothing on their economic package.”
Both sides only agree that everyone walked out at 9:30 p.m. with no new talks scheduled.
And WGA negotiators were infuriated by what they perceived as a lack of movement by the AMPTP once they had taken their proposal to double DVD residuals off the table. Counter had insisted last week that negotiations could not go on until the WGA withdrew its residual proposals on DVD and Internet downloads.
Counter said that the AMPTP had withdrawn 11 of its proposals but would not elaborate. Sources close to the talks said the AMPTP moves included offering an economic package; a residuals window in streaming video; jurisdiction over made-for-the-Internet work when it’s derivative; and revising pension and health proposals.
However, negotiating committee member and showrunner Shawn Ryan (“The Shield,” “The Unit”) was unimpressed by the AMPTP moves. He sent out an angry email after spending nearly 12 hours in the Sunday session.
“I watched our side desperately try to make a deal,” Ryan said. “We gave up our request to increase revenue on DVDs, something that was very painful to give up, but something we felt we had to in order to get a deal made in new media, which is our future. I watched as the company’s representatives treated us horrendously, disrespectfully, and then walked out on us at 9:30 and then lied to the trades, claiming we had broken off negotiations.”
The key sticking points remain residuals for new media, payment for work for the Internet and use of streaming video. The WGA’s seeking a 2.5% residual for reuse on new media plus TV minimums for work in made-for new media; the AMPTP is asking for the status quo but has softened its stance on the right to classify streaming video as promotional — which would have meant no residuals.
Counter painted a grim future on Monday.
“The outlook for future WGA negotiations is pretty bleak,” he admitted. “The only guideline we have is that the 1988 strike by the WGA lasted five months.”
And for his part, Young took a dim view of a scenario in which the DGA would swoop in and negotiate a new contract with the AMPTP before the WGA’s made its deal.
“We are on strike, and we expect a good-faith effort to resolve this, and we would not look kindly upon the AMPTP making another deal,” he added.
Counter said he could not speculate about talks with the DGA; the Directors Guild had no comment.
CBS Paramount Network Television has sent letters to its non-writing exec producers with overall deals saying that those pacts have been suspended effective immediately. The move immediately affects those with deals who aren’t currently working on their own projects.
Several other TV studios are also said to have sent out such letters or are in the process of doing so, people familiar with the situation said. Studios can justify the suspension of these deals by citing force majeure, created by the start of the strike. However, some agents around town were stunned that studios took this action so quickly, believing the move was unnecessarily belligerent.
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)