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Scribes write quiet opener

Atmosphere remains cordial on first day of negotiations

With a complete lack of showbiz fanfare, talks between writers and studios kicked off Monday amid guarded optimism from both sides.

Monday’s session began with the exchange of proposals at 10 a.m. at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producer headquarters in Encino, with talks lasting into mid-afternoon. Session is expected to resume this morning.

Neither side issued a statement Monday, but those close to the talks said the atmosphere remained cordial, as is typical of a launch day.

Reps for the writers and studios have been attempting to allay fears of a strike by stressing that they believe a deal can be reached without a work stoppage. Current three-year pact expires May 2.

The low-key launch contrasted sharply with the contentious atmosphere of 2001, when both sides held first-day news conferences outside the negotiations after skirmishing for several months over WGA claims that the AMPTP had proposed rollbacks.

In another contrast with three years ago, there are no signs that the studios are ramping up production activity this spring in anticipation of a work stoppage. Off-lot feature production in Los Angeles County during March amounted to 549 days, or about half the level in March 2001, when 1,066 permitted days were logged.

The WGA has targeted higher residuals for DVD and improved health care coverage as its key goals in this year’s talks. It plans to hold several town hall meetings for members over the next few weeks.

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