Talks hit pause button

Negotiations will resume on Tuesday

With the writers strike in its fourth week, the companies on Thursday put forth what they consider to be a “groundbreaking” proposal — and the writers have blasted it.

On the fourth day of closed-door negotiations both sides lifted the news blackout as the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers unveiled its proposal that would deliver more than $130 million in additional compensation to scribes over three years.

The WGA rejected the math and dubbed the proposal both a “massive rollback” and a “bad deal.”

Both sides have agreed to continue negotiations on Tuesday. They agreed that a four-day moratorium was needed for the WGA to mull the offer, but the guild issued its terse, point-by-point deconstruction of the deal points only hours after adjourning.

The guild’s reaction will undoubtedly add to the town’s pessimism that time’s running out for the WGA to make a deal and that the AMPTP may turn soon to negotiations with the DGA instead. AMPTP insiders were irked that the WGA initially showed scant interest in the sweetened package of new-media proposals with one noting, “The WGA is not budging.”

The companies had initially hoped to issue a joint news announcement about the AMPTP proposal and the WGA’s request for a four-day break in talks to study the numbers. The companies had hoped to maintain the press blackout. Instead, the majors were caught off guard when WGA West exec director David Young announced he wouldn’t agree to the joint statement because the guild needed to communicate directly with its members.

The AMPTP insisted in its statement that its New Economic Partnership is what’s needed to close the deal but the WGA’s response showed there’s no chance of that happening. WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East prez Michael Winship urged members to press on their strike efforts.

“The AMPTP’s intractability is dispiriting news but it must also be motivating,” said guild presidents Patric Verrone and Michael Winship. “Any movement on the part of these multinational conglomerates has been the result of the collective action of our membership, with the support of SAG, other unions, supportive politicians, and the general public. We must fight on, returning to the lines on Monday in force to make it clear that we will not back down, that we will not accept a bad deal, and that we are all in this together.”

The studios took a more measured approach and said that they would have preferred to continue talks on Friday but “we respect and understand the WGA’s desire to review the proposals.”

The WGA also released details of the moguls’ new proposal, delivered after three days of glacially paced talks that yielded little more than a restatement of previous positions. The three key areas:

  • For streaming television episodes, the companies proposed a residual structure of a single fixed payment, based on 1.2% of producers’ receipts after a six-week promo window, amounting about $250 for a year’s reuse of an hour-long program.

  • For made-for-Internet material, they offered minimums starting at $800 for five minutes up to $1,300 for 15 minutes and granted jurisdiction on derivative material.

  • No change in the Internet download formula, currently paid at the DVD rate.

The WGA also said it had presented on Wednesday a “comprehensive economic justification” for its proposals, asserting that its entire package would cost $151 million additional over three years.

“That’s a little over a 3% increase in writer earnings each year, while company revenues are projected to grow at a rate of 10%,” Verrone and Winship said. “We are falling behind.”

Talks had broken down Nov. 4 after the WGA had withdrawn its DVD proposal, prompting the AMPTP to begin offering concessions during that session to pay writers for streaming video — with a six-week promotional window — and giving scribes jurisdiction over made-for-the-Internet work derived from existing properties without mentioning specific numbers.

But WGA leaders contended the AMPTP response on Nov. 4 wasn’t substantive enough given the guild’s move to take DVD off the table and the companies’ refusal to budge on paying writers for digital downloads.

With pressure growing to end the strike amid the growing number of pinkslips and shuttered TV shows, many in the town had viewed this week’s talks with a tinge of optimism after three weeks without negotiations. Hope for a positive outcome stemmed from the combo of the imposition of the news blackout plus extensive shuttle diplomacy efforts by leading agents and showrunners to persuade both sides to return to the table.

If the sides do not make progress next week, it’s most likely that the AMPTP would opt for launching negotiations with the Directors Guild of America. The DGA’s contract expires June 30, and the directors have indicated they’re ready to start talks even if the WGA hasn’t made a deal — a move that could undermine the WGA’s leverage.

Speculation has also emerged that the WGA could call off the strike and tell writers to return to work, leaving open the possibility that the strike could resume at any time. Meanwhile, the guild’s continued to mount an active campaign of picketing and rallies to keep the public pressure on the companies to make a deal.

The WGA West has scheduled a “Hollywood Homecoming” event at the Sony picket line today. Those scheduled to appear include Christopher Knopf, former WGA West president; writers Millard Kaufman, Norman Borisoff, Arthur Marx, Don Mankiewicz, Tom Mankiewicz, John Mankiewicz and Dominic Stefano; director Andrew McCullough; and actress Lelia Goldoni.

Meanwhile, WGA East has reached a tentative agreement with ABC covering about 250 news employees who have been working under an expired contract for nearly three years.

The guild made the announcement Thursday, noting that the deal had been accepted by its negotiating committee and will be put to a vote for ratification Dec. 13 at meetings in New York and Washington, D.C.

Read AMPTP statement
Read WGA statement

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