Christopher Keyser elected prexy of WGA West

TV vet defeats former guild prexy Patric Verrone

The third time was definitely not the charm for Patric Verrone as members of the Writers Guild of America West continued moving toward moderation by electing Chrsistopher Keyser as president by a 3-to-2 margin.

Keyser succeeds John Wells, who opted not to run again and endorsed Keyser after a two-year term that offered a marked low-key contrast with Verrone’s confrontational style between 2005 and 2009 – highlighted by the high drama of the 100-day strike that ended on Feb. 12, 2008.

Results were announced late Friday afternoon with Keyser — best known as the “Party of Five” showrunner — getting over 60% of the votes cast. He received 1,221 votes to 806 for Verrone with turnout at about 25% of the 8,000 WGA West members.

Keyser was able to portray himself as a more pragmatic, less divisive leader during his campaign, setting up a showdown that amounted to partly to a referendum on the effectiveness of the strike.

With the WGA West’s reported writer earnings having declined 2.9% last year to $928 million — thanks to a 9.9% plunge in feature film salaries — and new media revenues still miniscule at $1.4 million, Keyser’s promise of focusing on core issues such as contract enforcement apparently resonated with the members.

The tone of the campaigns remained respectful but Verrone’s status as the dominant figure in WGA politics for the past six years turned out to be more of a liability than an asset among a majority of those who cast ballots.

“I congratulate Patric on an excellent, positive and constructive campaign,” Keyser said in a statement. “These past few months have reinforced for me how open and democratic this Guild is and how engaged so many of our members are in the issues that shape our working lives. That passion and involvement is the key to our success and leaves me, even in these difficult times, optimistic about our future.”

In 2009, Verrone was prevented by WGA West rules from seeking a third consecutive term as president. But in that election, he won a board seat with more votes than any other candidate.

“I congratulate Chris and everyone who was elected today,” Verrone said Friday. “I wish him the best of luck in rebuilding our union and I’m encouraging all my supporters to help in that task.”

The election also saw Howard Rodman win as VP over John Aboud and Carl Gottlieb take the secretary-treasurer slot from David Weiss — a longtime Verrone ally. The eight open board seats were won by Billy Ray, David S. Goyer, Dan Wilcox, Linda Burstyn, Carleton Eastlake, Thania St. John, Ian Deitchman and Alfredo Barrios Jr.

Weiss was running for re-election as secretary-treasurer against Gottlieb, best known for adapting “Jaws.” It was a rematch of the 2005 race for VP, in which Weiss succesfully ran as part of Verrone’s Writers United slate against Gottlieb, who was the incumbent and part of Ted Elliott’s Common Sense slate.

Burstyn, Deitchman,Eastlake, Ray and Wilcox are board incumbents who were all re-relected. Goyer – best known for partnering with Christopher Nolan on scripting Batman movies – is a newcomer to the board along with Barrios and St. John.

Verrone received endorsements from strike captains, Paul Haggis and Matthew Weiner while Keysor picked up backing from J.J. Abrams, Scott Frank, Susannah Grant, Robert King and Shawn Ryan.

The vote amounts to a repudiation of the more aggressive strategies embodied by Verrone during the 2007-08 WGA strike against the congloms — when Verrone was front and center as the public voice for writers seeking a larger cut of revenues as showbiz began shifting toward digital distribution. Keysor was also critical of using the WGA’s resources on an unsuccessful campaign to organize the reality sector and urged more focus on contract enforcement.

By contrast, Wells led the WGA through a low-key negotiation this past winter for a successor contract that concluded with a deal mirroring the gains in the pacts for the Screen Actors Guild, the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists and the Directors Guild of America. The WGA deal – touted as key to shoring up the WGA pension plan — expires in May 2014

The low-conflict tone was a marked contrast to 2009, which was characterized by hostility over how the 100-day writers strike of 2007-08 was handled. Wells topped Verrone ally Elias Davis by only 125 votes.

Verrone promised during this campaign that he would be an activist president, and pledged a return to a policy of external, internal and inter-union organizing.

Had he won, Verrone would have become the fifth former WGA West president to return to the post after an absence. The four who previously accomplished that feat are Wells (who served his first term in 1999-2001), Frank Pierson, Daniel Petrie Jr. and Melville Shavelson, who was president on three different occasions (1969-71, 1979-81 and 1985-87).

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