Writers Guild drafts hardline regulations

The WGA clearly wants to send a signal. The guild has formulated strike rules that would impose an exceptionally aggressive stance on its 12,000 members.

In addition to a ban on any guild-covered work in features and TV, a draft recap of the WGA rules said the guild plans to prohibit any writing for new media and declare that writers can’t do animated features — even though that realm is not under WGA jurisdiction.

The WGA didn’t specify what the penalties would be for violating the rules. It’s also asserting that nonmembers who perform banned work during a strike will be barred from joining the guild in the future.

Guild hasn’t issued the regulations officially and will probably not do so until after it obtains strike authorization from members next week. Deadline for ballots is Oct. 18 — 13 days before the current WGA contract expires.

But news of the rules began circulating Wednesday as the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers met in the afternoon in their eighth face-to-face session; they plan to resume talks this ayem. The two sides have achieved no progress during the previous sessions and have simply blamed each other for taking untenable stances.

The two meetings this week have focused on the WGA’s proposal to double DVD residuals. In a statement after Wednesday’s session, AMPTP president Nick Counter said the meeting consisted of discussions on “discrepancies in the data presented by the WGA.”

In response, the WGA opted for a civil tone, saying, “We appreciate the AMPTP’s offer to provide economic data to back up their arguments regarding the homevideo formula. We look forward to continuing the discussion of this critically important topic.”

Earlier Wednesday, WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young painted a gloomy picture of the state of the talks in a 90-minute visit to ICM offices. The duo expressed frustration during the confab, characterizing the AMPTP’s reaction as disrespectful to the guild’s proposals — which include spelling out rules for new-media work, doubling DVD residuals and expansion of jurisdiction in animation and reality.

Counter has returned fire repeatedly, accusing the WGA of being strike-happy and unprofessional. The AMPTP’s refused to revise its initial proposal for a revamp of residual payments so that talent would receive money only after basic costs have been recouped.

In a membership meeting Tuesday night at the Century Plaza hotel, Verrone indicated he believes some progress has been achieved outside the negotiations via back channels and expressed hope that the AMPTP will take the residuals revamp off the table.

He also stressed during the session — attended by about 100 writers — that WGA leaders expect that SAG will be able to make a better deal with the AMPTP than the DGA.

Both the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild contracts expire June 30, but the DGA’s expected to go first in negotiations — perhaps as early as next month.

The WGA’s effort to ban work for fully animated features is likely to be controversial, since nearly all of the work in that area is covered through a different union — the Animation Guild, which operates as Local 839 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees. The WGA’s asserting that its members can’t perform new work for feature animation, including negotiating for new work, on any project even if the producers’ deal is through the IATSE.

Steven Hulett, longtime business agent for the Animation Guild, said, “Any union can discipline their members for violations of internal rules and policy. But I can’t imagine our union attempting to prevent someone from joining and working for another union. So good luck to them.”

Under the WGA strike rules, writers with existing Animation Guild agreements are expected to be allowed to continue work, though that must be cleared with the WGA in each instance. Scribes will be banned from working on primetime network animated series already covered by the WGA.

The WGA is also taking a hard line on work for new media — including Internet and cell phones — with members prohibited from rendering writing services for any company due to the WGA’s position that it has jurisdiction in new media.

In addition, showrunners on TV series will be prohibited from any writing but may be allowed to perform nonwriting services if cleared with the WGA. But it’s unclear whether those members who are contractually required to render nonwriting services may refuse to do so without being in breach.

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