“The strike is over,” Patric Verrone said, dispassionately but with the hint of a smile. “Our membership has voted. Writers can go back to work.”
The WGA West prexy announced the news, something the town had taken as a fait accompli, shortly before 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. Some 92.5% of the 3,775 ballots cast were in favor of ending the 100-day strike, with 3,492 members voting yes and 283 die-hards ready to tilt at the windmill of continuing the work stoppage that began Nov. 5.
The vote on lifting the strike concluded a mere three days after the WGA cinched its contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers in the wee hours of a Saturday morning. The strike vote was held over a 48-hour frame, with members able to vote in person at the WGA Theater and at Gotham’s Crowne Plaza Hotel, or via fax.
After announcing the vote tally, Verrone said WGA members were free to go back to work “immediately,” and he noted that writers for the Feb. 24 Oscar ceremony were believed to be doing just that on Tuesday night. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences prexy Sid Ganis and Oscarcast exec producer Gil Cates will hold a news conference Thursday morning to discuss their plans for the show now that the cloud of picket lines and stars staying home has lifted.
The AMPTP was quick to weigh in after the vote tally was announced with a statement credited to the eight top execs of its member congloms.
“This is a day of relief and optimism for everyone in the entertainment industry,” read the statement credited to CBS’ Leslie Moonves, MGM’s Harry Sloan, NBC Universal’s Jeff Zucker, News Corp.’s Peter Chernin, Paramount Pictures’ Brad Grey, Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Michael Lynton, Walt Disney Co.’s Robert Iger and Warner Bros.’ Barry Meyer.
“The strike has been extraordinarily difficult for all of us, but the hardest hit of all have been the many thousands of businesses, workers and families that are economically dependent on our industry. We hope now to focus our collective efforts on what this industry does best — writers, directors, actors, production crews, and entertainment companies working together to deliver great content to our worldwide audiences.”
Tuesday’s vote was a pro forma step, given the enthusiastic response of members to the contract agreement that guild leaders detailed at membership meetings in Gotham and L.A. on Saturday. Showrunners returned to their offices Monday in their producer capacities in preparation for the formal return to work by the scribe tribe today.
Moonves, CBS Corp. prexy and CEO who worked closely with News Corp. prexy Peter Chernin and Walt Disney Co. topper Robert Iger in initiating the informal negotiations that broke the WGA impasse last month, said that both the scribes and the studio brass had learned a lot during the wrenching process of watching TV and film production grind to a halt.
“I think there was some miscommunication early on. It was important that we started speaking eye to eye. Ultimately, getting the percentage of streaming revenue was important to (WGA), and I understand it,” Moonves told Daily Variety.
“We will never know if they would have achieved these things without a strike. I think it’s really important now that everybody come back together, and work together. I think that’s going to happen. Let’s not look backward; let’s look forward. Let’s not talk just once every three years but maybe every month. Especially on new media. The rules of our business are changing so rapidly, the ways people are using media and content are changing so rapidly. For our creative partners, relationships and communication are really important. The (WGA) realizes it, and we realize it.”
Although relations between guild leaders and AMPTP conglom toppers seemed to be nonexistent during the worst stalemate periods of the strike in December and early January, Moonves said the ill will quickly dissipated once both sides agreed to meet together in small groups and under the cover of a media blackout.
“Once (WGA leaders) got to know some of us (toppers) they realized where we were coming from. Nobody handed us these jobs,” Moonves said. And he was quick to praise his colleagues Chernin and Iger for “doing an excellent job in going in with (WGA toppers) and working out the details.”
Looking ahead to the AMPTP’s pending negotiations with the Screen Actors Guild, Moonves said he was hopeful that “the tone that was set at the end of (the WGA talks) will continue on.”
The SAG-AFTRA contract on feature films and primetime TV expires June 30. No talks have yet been set.
Hopes that the WGA strike would end began to rise when the DGA reached a tentative agreement on Jan. 17 on a three-year deal with the helmers touting its gains in new media. The WGA was able to use that pact as a template in reaching the outlines of its deal two weeks later.
DGA prexy Michael Apted issued a brief statement following the WGA’s strike vote tally announcement.
“The DGA applauds the successful conclusion of the AMPTP/WGA negotiations and the end to the strike,” Apted said. “The last three months have been painful ones for tens of thousands of working people in and around the entertainment industry, and like everyone else, our members are now eager to get back to work.”
For any WGA members who might not have been decided on whether to call it a wrap on the strike, the wintry weather that blanketed Manhattan with snow on Tuesday provided a stark reminder of the freezing days spent on picket lines since the work stoppage began Nov. 5.
In Gotham, WGA ballots were cast at the Crowne Plaza Hotel from 4 to 7 p.m. The opening of the polls was preceded by an hourlong membership meeting, at which WGA East prexy Michael Winship, WGA East exec director Mona Mangan and others spoke about the contract terms and took questions from members.
In brief remarks to reporters before the meeting, Winship reiterated that the hard-fought contract includes landmark gains for writers in new media, and that the guild achieved its primary goal of establishing a new-media compensation formula that will pay scribes a percentage of revenue generated by exploitation of their work in the digital realm.
“We’re receiving a percentage of the distributor’s gross,” he said, “which is very real money, as opposed to what people refer to as creative or Hollywood accounting.”
The ratification process of the contract itself will begin later with week via a mail-in-ballot. The vote will be tallied at membership meetings on Feb. 25, with the expected ratification being finalized on Feb. 26.
(Dade Hayes in New York contributed to this report)