After 86 days, H'wood ready for strike to end

With the writers’ strike in its 86th day, the town’s running out of patience — despite hints of progress at informal meetings to lay the groundwork for official WGA negotiations to resume.

SAG muddied the picture Tuesday by blasting the DGA’s two-week-old tentative deal, prompting an immediate rebuke of SAG’s leaders by DGA president Michael Apted.

SAG’s dismissal of the DGA deal may dash hopes that the directors pact would serve as a template for a WGA deal and get the scribes back to work in the next few weeks.

In a message to SAG members, prexy Alan Rosenberg and exec director Doug Allen amplified previous prounouncements that the DGA deal would not automatically be the model for a new SAG deal — echoing what WGA leaders were saying before they launched the informal contract talks last week and began a news blackout.

“Some have rushed to anoint their deal as the ‘solution’ for the entertainment industry,” Rosenberg and Allen said. “We believe that assessment is premature.”

Apted responded by accusing SAG — which has been in lockstep with the WGA throughout the strike — of throwing a monkey wrench into the WGA talks. He pointed out that the SAG letter says too little is known about the DGA deal for anyone to “assume” anything about it.

“Then why do they need to send any letter to their members?” Apted added. “They are not in negotiations and have not scheduled any. Their letter has one purpose and one purpose only: to interfere with the informal talks currently under way between the WGA and the studios. Simply put, their assumptions and arguments are specious. The DGA deal is a great deal for our members.”

The inter-guild brawling comes with rumors circulating that the WGA strike may end within the next few weeks and that some progress has been achieved. But with pinkslips piling up, frustration’s mounting over the lack of resolution from the weeklong informal talks between WGA leaders and the moguls.

Worries center on what’s emerged as a de facto deadline of mid-February for the WGA to decide to stop striking. If a deal’s in sight at that point, networks could still salvage the current season by shooting a few episodes of suspended shows, a truncated pilot season could still take place, and the possibility of a summer SAG strike would diminish significantly.

The town’s hopes for an end to the strike’s been feuled by the Jan. 17 announcement of the tentative DGA deal, the WGA’s agreement to take up the moguls’ invitation to launch informal talks and the guild’s move to ditch its reality and animation proposals. But SAG’s thumbs-down on the DGA deal may put optimism in the deep freeze for now.

Rosenberg and Allen zeroed in on what they see as the lack of details about the DGA deal in areas such as paid downloads, determining fair market value and the “very high thresholds” in jurisdiction for made for new media content. The duo noted that DGA’s download residuals formula — calling for .7% in TV and .65% in features, or about double the current rate — falls well below the 1.2% pay TV formula that all three guilds are seeking in arbitration and represents a concession and “an AMPTP roll-back.”

Rosenberg and Allen also said thresholds in the DGA deal for jurisdiction in made-for new media may spur non-union work below the threshold amounts ($15,000/minute, $300,000/program, $500,000/series).

“What will stop the industry from making cheap, non-union pilots at below $300,000 per episode, for testing first on the Internet before the productions migrate to broadcast or basic cable?” the duo said, noting that only seven of 210 Internet producers signed to SAG contracts in the past two years would fall inside the DGA thresholds.

“We have worked hard, just as we do with low budget features, to capture this Internet work and to make sure it is done union,” they added. “This DGA proposal appears to abandon jurisdiction over a huge swath of actual Internet productions, which we currently cover.”

The duo said the DGA’s definition of distributor’s gross is “vague and not sufficient to protect against manipulation by the employers.” And the SAG leaders also scorned the DGA’s deal for streaming residuals, which includes a 17-day window for free streaming (and a 24-day window for new programs) and a one-year $1,200 buyout. “Residual compensation should be based on a fair share of revenue generated by covered content from the first dollar,” Rosenberg and Allen added.

The letter ended by asserting that it’s up to DGA members to determine if the DGA deal is acceptable, but noted that decision won’t be satisfactory for SAG. “Each guild must act in the best interest of its own membership, including rejecting management-imposed ‘pattern bargaining,'” it added.

SAG’s current contract expires June 30 and no talks have been set yet.

Both sides in the WGA talks continued to observe the news blackout. But sources close to the talks said the slow pace of the talks stems partly from WGA efforts to convey to members — particularly those that have grown weary of striking –that its leaders are negotiating hard and pushing for a better deal than the DGA pact.

“I still think they are a few weeks away, even if this process continues to be positive,” one said. “But I think it’s much harder than the DGA talks were because the personalities are not as compatible.”

Without a deal soon, however, the positions of companies are certain to harden, which would likely result in more deals being terminated and more jobs lost. The WGA could see members follow through on threats to resign from the union, and SAG would probably become more militant.

But with SAG members who work in TV already being on a de facto strike for several months, the actors guild may lose its fervor to follow the WGA out on strike.

The WGA returned to normal picketing Tuesday in Los Angeles. It was operating lines at its eight usual locations: Warner Bros., CBS Television City, CBS Radford, Warner Bros., Disney, NBC Burbank, Fox and Paramount.

Most pickets remain cautiously optimistic about the informal talks between the WGA and moguls.

“I’m ready for this to be over,” said WGA member Bob Zeschin at the Paramount lot.

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