Writers’ demands set off Short fuse

Soderbergh solution, Harvey's Oscar secret

NEW YORK — Thomas Short thinks the Writers Guild of America is full of hot air.

“Their issues are clearly unclear to me,” he said in a phone interview with Daily Variety from his L.A. office.

The prexy of the Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees denounced the WGA’s strike goals as hazy and wrongheaded.

“If anybody thinks I’m going to support an institution that is trying to obtain unobtainable proposals in a collective bargaining process … I don’t mind getting on a bus, but not on a bus without a driver that’s going over a cliff.”

He pointed to the squabbling over things like “a film by” credits and access to the set as senseless.

“Last time I checked, there was a reason why they called a director a director,” he said. “Who’s the gaffer going to talk to, the writer or the director? Who’s the director of photography going to talk to, the writer or the director? You can’t disrupt an industry entirely like that. You’re not even dealing with egos here. You’re dealing with megalomaniacs.”

Furthermore, Short doesn’t trust the writers to be honest to their union if they actually go on strike.

“If the Writers Guild strikes, they’re still going to be out writing scripts under assumed names. So it’s laughable,” he said.

The WGA, in its fourth week of contract talks with studios and networks, had no comment about Short’s remarks. The WGA contract expires May 2.

If the writers settle, Short thinks SAG will follow with a settlement as well. But if the writers don’t settle and SAG does, then the scribes could be out of luck, he said.

But he maintained the scribes should exert a more powerful influence on the thesps, if only because their contract will be handled first. “Writers have a tremendous amount of influence with (SAG president William) Daniels,” Short said.

As for SAG, the rambunctious IA topper, who has nearly gone on strike with his 100,000-plus IA workers in years past, thinks the guild needs to create a better internal structure or just improve its public relations.

“It appears to almost everybody that that organization has imploded in their infrastructure,” Short said. “It’s kind of like, who’s in charge?

“I know they have not been at the bargaining table. The only way you settle a contract, the last time I checked, is at the bargaining table,” he added.

The below-the-line workers are said to be unenthused about supporting potential writers and actors strikes because when the IATSE threatened to strike, SAG and the WGA were nowhere to be found.

SAG’s threat of a work stoppage was bolstered by the six-month duration of its commercial strike last summer, but Short said the strategy was equally opaque.

“It wasn’t clear what (SAG’s) strategy was during the commercial strike,” he said. “Another unobtainable proposal. And they have convinced themselves that they have won in that dispute.”

Short nonetheless backed SAG — but not until four months into the strike, after Daniels called Short and asked for help.

SAG’s film-TV contract expires July 1 and it has blamed producers’ late delivery of residuals data for being unable to set a start date for negotiations. SAG has insisted it can be ready to begin talks early next month on non-residual matters.

“We are very mindful of the impact the commercials strike had beyond our members,” SAG spokesman Greg Krizman. “We’re very aware of our responsibility.”

The confusion at SAG may be its ultimate undoing, said Short.

Short said the guild went first to Michael Ovitz to negotiate its contract. (Ovitz was unavailable for comment.) Then, Short added, it considered former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and, ultimately, former president Bill Clinton.

Said Short: “That sums it all up, to be honest.”

But Krizman said that none of the trio were contacted by SAG to his knowledge. The union will decide on a negotiator within a week.

SODERBERGH SOLUTION: I have an answer for any Steven Soderbergh fans who think he might get shafted in the best director category by voters who can’t choose between his two films.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences should allow the votes in the director category for “Traffic” and for “Erin Brockovich” to be lumped together and counted as a single Soderbergh vote.

The helmer shouldn’t be shortchanged simply because he was talented enough to direct two films that are Oscar-worthy in the same year. And he shouldn’t be forced into the demeaning role of asking voters to choose one or the other.

Michael Curtiz was nominated in 1939 for both “Angels With Dirty Faces” and “Four Daughters.” He didn’t win for either; Frank Capra took the best helmer nod for “You Can’t Take It With You.”

Soderbergh has smartly steered clear of comment on the situation.

SWEET ‘CHOCOLAT’: Harvey Weinstein has done it yet again with “Chocolat,” which stunned Hollywood with five Oscar nominations.

The media — including the Wall Street Journal, USA Today and the Los Angeles Times — have dedicated digging pieces to Harvey’s handiwork and marketing. Wednesday night’s “Charlie Rose Show” had four major film critics — David Denby, Richard Corliss, Janet Maslin and Owen Gleiberman — decrying the Miramax co-chair for his alleged ability to manipulate the Oscar race.

How does he do it?

Weinstein shared his insight with Daily Variety.

“I’ll give you the secret once and for all,” he said. “You just have to get people to see the movie. Six thousand Academy members are flooded with 50 movies each. At the end of the day, no Academy member that I know is ever influenced by the marketing in their decision. They’re only influenced in seeing the movie.”

Weinstein has chalked up 10 best pic noms in the last nine years. And that nomination works wonders at the box office. Last year Miramax cleaned up on “The Cider House Rules” at the B.O. after it got the best pic nod, among others.

“The word of mouth was always really strong,” Miramax spokeswoman Marci Granata says of “Chocolat.” The Oscar voters “responded very strongly to the film.”

Weinstein explains that “Chocolat” was “a beloved movie” at its very first Academy screening in early December. “We knew it then. We knew that’s where we’d turn our focus,” he said.

If you have information or just gripes, please contact Dan Cox at dcox@cahners.com.