Pressure builds for WGA to settle

Hollywood is anticipating a settlement on the Directors Guild contract this week — but not expecting an end to the labor war.

Anticipation of a DGA deal is amping up the pressure from all sides on the leadership of the Writers Guild. The major studios sent a blunt wakeup call to striking scribes Monday, canceling dozens of TV deals in a move guaranteed to intimidate WGA members and split their ranks.

A significant number of writers — weary of the 11-week strike and perplexed over what they perceive as the hardline approach of WGA West prexy Patric Verrone and exec director David Young — have been quietly pushing for the leaders not to reject the DGA deal out of hand.

Top scribes have been telling agents they will seriously consider going fi-core (resigning from the WGA by declaring “financial core” status) should the leadership spurn the terms in the DGA pact.

That group, which styles itself as moderate and pragmatic, held a meeting early in the week and has been seeking recruits with the warning that more pain will visit the scribes shortly should Verrone and Young give a thumbs-down to the DGA terms.

The DGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers met for the fifth consecutive day Wednesday under a news blackout. Both sides will meet again today at AMPTP headquarters.

Warner Bros. confirmed Wednesday that it will cut three dozen slots at its studio facilities operations, after warning more than 1,000 employees earlier this month that layoffs were coming.

One top exec said he’s expecting a deal by the end of the week and emphasized that the AMPTP will not make this a take-it-or-leave it proposal for the WGA, i.e., not creating any new roadblocks for the scribes to get back to table. But he said his worst fear is that Verrone and Young will spurn the DGA deal — in which case, the companies will undoubtedly respond with more deal terminations and job cuts.

Still, some prominent TV scribes are cautiously optimistic that the DGA deal will be enough of a breakthrough to pave the way for a WGA pact.

There are jitters about how a Directors Guild deal will be received by rank-and-file writers. WGA members have been fired up by the strike battle, but beyond the fiery rhetoric of the leadership, there’s a powerful contingent of moderates in the guild who are eager to get back to work.

The WGA’s negotiating committee is populated with very successful screenwriters and showrunners who all have gigs to go back to, and their voices will be significant in assessing the merits of any DGA pact.

The directors are mindful of the importance of their negotiations but at heart just want to take care of their own as they’ve grown impatient over the prolonged walkout. The tension between the two groups is being fueled by the hardline bargaining position of the AMPTP.

The timing with which the major TV studios swung the force majeure ax on dozens of writer and producer deals was no coincidence.

The studios likely saw the clock ticking on their opportunity to invoke force majeure and get rid of dead-wood deals.

Knowing that a DGA-negotiated template would soon be in hand, they also saw this as a method of getting the WGA back to the bargaining table.

Many have opined that the roots of the current strike are strongly tied to events of 2004, when the WGA agreed to a deal that had been crafted a month earlier by the DGA — without a gain in DVD residuals. Dissatisfaction over that deal led to Verrone and his allies gaining control of the WGA West board in 2005, firing exec director John McLean, hiring Young and spending far more on organizing.

Since November, the Writers Guild has run a supremely well-organized strike, with photo-friendly picketing, effective PR spin and, crucially, a lid kept on internal dissent.

At this point, no member of the writers or actors guilds will publicly say a discouraging word — some because they believe in their leaders, some because they want to show solidarity and others partly out of fear of being ostracized for raising questions.

WGA leaders have been taking a public wait-and-see stance about the DGA talks. With a news blackout and no details disclosed from the negotiations at AMPTP headquarters, speculation’s reaching the boiling point.

“We’ve been just as anxious as you to hear news from the Directors Guild talks,” Verrone told the Fox Business Network on Wednesday. “We hope they make a good deal, and when they close their deal and it does become public, we’ll take a look at it very, very carefully, but our strike doesn’t end until a deal is made with the writers.

“The deal we make has more influence not only on writers but on actors down the road, so there has to be a settlement that ends all of this for everyone. We’re the ones out on strike right now. We’re the ones who have to go to work before anyone does.”

The perception persists among many writers that the DGA is cozy with the studios, making it harder for other guilds to hold the line on financial issues in the past.

Many writers are quick to point to the hated homevideo residual deal in the mid-’80s, when the DGA agreed to exclude 80% of wholesale revenues — a formula that’s never been altered for any of the guilds and has been the central focus of WGA leaders’ call for the scribes to hold firm in their it’s-now-or-never demands on new media.

“The DGA has a history of making mediocre deals,” noted strike captain A.S. Katz (“Tales From the Crypt”). “We’re all hoping that they can rectify that.”

However, many industry insiders disagree. They point to the DGA’s history of focusing on the long term — such as ensuring that the guild’s pension and health plans are well taken care of.

(Josef Adalian, Michael Fleming and Cynthia Littleton contributed to this report.)

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