Writers Guild Presidents: Scribes Seek Big

Guild West president calls 2007-08 strike ‘fruitful’

Six years after the end of the scribes strike, leaders of the Writers Guild of America are gearing up for what could be another round of potentially contentious contract talks.

The negotiations will start Feb. 3 with the companies likely to insist the WGA take terms similar to the recently ratified DGA deal: an annual 3% wage increase; improvements in basic cable; and the establishment of minimums for high-budget new media made for VOD.

But WGA West president Chris Keyser and WGA East president Michael Winship told members recently that negotiations are taking place amid “a recovering economy and a healthy, and expanding, media industry” and have asserted that the 12,000 members are in line for an “outsized” increase in basic cable compensation.

“We can’t ignore the growth in cable and the profitability in new media has been good for the companies and good for us,” Keyser told Variety. “It’s proof that what we fought for in the strike turned out to be fruitful.”

Winship acknowledges that work in features slid as major studios focused on fewer films. “We’ve been through a period of recovery, so we’re OK in TV but way off in features.”

Both presidents were re-elected to two-year terms without opposition last September — the fourth term for Winship and the second for Keyser, who adds, “It has gotten easier as I’ve gotten more used to doing this.”

Billy Ray (“Captain Phillips”) and Chip Johannessen are co-chairs of the negotiating committee, which includes “Batman” writer David S. Goyer, “Lost” exec producer Damon Lindelof and John Bowman, who chaired the committee during the bitter 2007-08 strike. The current three-year deal expires May 1.

The WGA West’s most recent earnings report, released last July, showed that overall 2012 earnings rose 4% to $1.02 billion. A 10.1% surge in TV writing overcame a 6.1% decline in feature film work, which has plunged 35% since 2007.

Winship says there’s no plan to revise the guild’s policy on awards eligibility, which disqualified Oscar-nommed screenplays “Philomena,” because it was outside guild jurisdiction, and “12 Years a Slave,” because writer John Ridley filed for financial-core status during the strike.

“Our primary focus at the awards is on our members, so our policy is a way to encourage people to become members like Benh Zeitlin and Lucy Alibar from ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild.’ ”

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