Hollywood holds breath after 2nd day of talks

The WGA and the majors have stayed on their tentative path to peace with a series of informal meetings aimed at ending the brutal three-month writers strike.

Moguls and guild leaders confabbed Wednesday morning for the second consecutive day amid reports that the session was productive. Both sides observed a news blackout, and another meeting is set to take place today.

In a move aimed at keeping the pressure on the companies to get back to the bargaining table, the WGA is expected to annouce shortly that it’s signed an interim deal with Lionsgate. It will be the 11th such pact the guild’s inked with an independent production company, with terms mirroring those contained in the initial deal with David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants.

The WGA deal will allow Lionsgate to hire WGA writers for work on scripts to keep the company on track for meeting its goal of releasing 20 films annually along with maintaining TV operations in production and syndication. Lionsgate also owns Mandate Pictures, which signed an interim deal last week.

In the meantime, the town’s hopes for a deal have received several major boosts thanks to a variety of signals — the Directors Guild of America deal, the direct involvement of powerful players such as News Corp.’s Peter Chernin and Disney’s Robert Iger, the cooling of rhetoric from both sides and the WGA’s decision not to picket the Grammys.

Perhaps most critically, Tuesday’s decision by the Writers Guild to ditch proposals for reality and animation jurisdiction was widely interpreted as an indication that WGA leaders are ready to make a deal. The move came in the wake of pressure from high-profile screenwriters and showrunners to take advantage of the moguls’ offer to start the process — or face the possibility that a significant number of that group would resign from the WGA by filing for financial-core status.

Still, the WGA has not stopped its strike activities. Despite drizzle throughout the day, the usual picketing resumed Wednesday morning at major Los Angeles lots, with negotiating committee members meeting with pickets on the lines to explain the latest developments.

During a midday meeting on the sidewalk outside Paramount’s Windsor gate, panel member Steven Schwartz stressed that one key goal for WGA leaders is to build long-term protections into the new deal.

“What I want to do is protect us regardless of consumer behavior,” he said, in answering a question about how writers should be paid when their TV shows are streamed on the Internet. “The staff is trying all kinds of ways to skin that cat.”

Schwartz admitted the terms in the DGA deal for ad-supported Internet streaming — about $1,200 for a primetime drama for the first year and a 17-day period of free use for promotional purposes — don’t sound impressive. He also cautioned the members against reaching the conclusion that Internet residuals will automatically replace conventional TV residuals, which usually amount to about $20,000 per year, since it’s unclear whether all TV will shift to the Internet.

“If you are insisting on replacing the $20,000 residual with the Internet residual, you’re going to be on strike for a long time,” he added. Schwartz told a group of about 20 pickets that other key issues to be sorted out include language on separated rights, which covers compensation for scripts when used in areas such as plays, and the DGA’s gain of jurisdiction on made-for-the-Internet.

Schwartz, whose credits include “Critical Care” and “The Practice,” noted at one point that the negotiating committee has not yet seen the actual DGA deal. He credited the DGA deal with locking in the definition of “distributor’s gross” as the basis for payment of residuals in electronic sell-through.

“Distributor’s gross is huge,” he added.

(Anne Thompson contributed to this report.)

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