Both sides dig heels into the ground

Hopes for a quick resolution of the writers strike are fading fast.

Back-channel efforts have resumed to avert what’s now looking like a long and painful work stoppage. But those moves aren’t gaining much traction amid continued hardline public stances by both the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

Worries have risen that without reviving the WGA talks, the scribes’ work stoppage could easily bleed into the middle of next year.

The DGA’s expected to launch talks within the next few weeks while SAG’s negotiations would probably start in the late winter or early spring. Both the DGA and SAG contracts expire June 30.

WGA negotiations collapsed Sunday night, dashing a brief burst of optimism over the weekend that both sides had softened their stances and narrowed their proposals. And since the talks crashed and burned, both sides have ditched diplomacy.

AMPTP topper Nick Counter has insisted that the companies aren’t interested in new talks as long as the WGA’s on strike. And WGA West president Patric Verrone has declared in an email to members that the guild is no longer committed to taking its DVD residuals proposal off the table — even though it did so Sunday to address the AMPTP’s assertion that the DVD proposal was a roadblock to a deal.

“Our new comprehensive proposal (including the DVD removal) was presented in an off-the-record session; our new proposal was then rejected,” Verrone said. “Based on what I saw and heard on the picket lines today, therefore, all bets are off and what we achieve in this negotiation will be a function of how much we are willing to fight to get our fair share of the residuals of the future, no matter how they are delivered.”

In other developments:

  • The WGA’s considering offering waivers, or “interim agreements,” under which producers could employ writers with the proviso that scribes would be compensated under terms of the new contract. During the 1988 WGA strike, more than 70 such were signed.

“The question of when to sign interim agreements, and with what employers, depends on an assessment by the Guild leadership of how such agreements will affect our leverage at the bargaining table,” said WGA spokesman Gregg Mitchell.

  • The WGA has quietly backed off its strike rules on animated feature writing.

The guild announced nearly a month ago that writers could not work or negotiate for animated features — even though that realm is not under WGA jurisdiction with most writing performed under contracts handled by Local 839 of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees.

But the revised strike rules now permit WGA members to write for animated features covered by Local 839 without being fined or disciplined: “The Rules apply to (1) all network primetime animated series covered by a WGA contract and (2) contracts for writing services in connection with fully animated theatrical features negotiated or entered into during the strike, unless covered by a current collective bargaining agreement with another union.”

The AMPTP and IATSE threatened the WGA with legal action over the rule, under which violators could face expulsion, suspension, fines and censure.

  • The Writers Guild of Canada has come out in support of its southern brethren.

The Canuck guild said anyone who is a dual member of the two guilds and lives in the U.S. will not be allowed to write for Canadian productions during the strike. But the guild added that dual members living in Canada can write for a Canadian production during the strike.

The guild’s governing council passed a resolution stating: “The issues the WGA is addressing will affect every professional artist seeking compensation for their work in the digital age. Their fight is our fight.”

There are fewer than 300 dual members, most of whom live and work in Los Angeles. The WGC has 1,900 members altogether.

WGC executive director Maureen Parker said U.S.-based members of both guilds have to apply to the WGA for a waiver in order to be able to work in Canada.

“I can’t prevent a producer from hiring a writer for a production,” Parker said. “But that writer is violating strike rules and we will inform the WGA.”

Unlike the WGA, the WGC’s most recent collective agreement with the Canadian producers association gives writers jurisdiction over new media, but the two sides have yet to agree on a set rate for compensating Canadian writers for work used in new-media platforms.

(Brendan Kelly in Montreal contributed to this report.)

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