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Mexico’s scribe strife

Unpaid writers seeking pic royalties

MEXICO CITY — Mexican writers including “Y tu mama tambien” scribe Carlos Cuaron are fighting to get local exhibs to cough up three years of unpaid royalties.

It’s been just over a month since Mexico’s Supreme Court threw out the last of seven lawsuits filed in 2003 by exhibs seeking to get out of payments.

But they still haven’t paid the estimated 8 million pesos ($750,000) to writers of 58 Mexican films and more than 100 European films.

Law requires 1.6% of box office to be split among showbiz industry guilds who pass on payments to directors, composers, actors, musicians and writers.

The 0.5% royalty for writers doesn’t amount to much by Hollywood standards, but it counts to Mexican scribes.

“It’s armed robbery,” said Vicente Lenero, writer of “The Crime of Father Amaro,” the most successful local film at the country’s box office with $15.1 million.

Refusal to pay hasn’t been across the board in every writer’s case. Lenero, for example, received royalties from all exhibs except Cinemex, the nation’s second largest.

“Writers need these royalties not just to live well, but to survive, that is how pathetic our case is,” Cuaron said. While not owed anything, he made the issue the center of his speech at the annual conference of Mexico’s National Chamber of the Cinematographic Industry (Canacine) at the beginning of July.

The exposure may have pushed exhibs to start settling their debts. A source familiar with the matter said Cinemex prexy Miguel Angel Davila had contacted Mexico’s writers guild to start talks. As current Canacine president, source said Davila could broker a deal that other exhibs would follow.

However, previous talks have gone nowhere and writers’ reps are skeptical. Lawyers with the writers guild are preparing a lawsuit if fresh talks fail.

Execs from Cinemex and Mexico’s biggest exhib, Cinepolis, didn’t return calls late Wednesday.

Exhibs have “lost all their lawsuits. They will have to comply with the law, like they should have from the beginning,” said Victor Ugalde, head of government film fund Fidecine.

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