Nick Counter blasts WGA

AMPTP chief has stern words for guild

With the town increasingly agitated about a possible writers’ strike, the saber-rattling’s amped up as the companies’ chief negotiator blasted the WGA as unprofessional and unresponsive.

“The Writers Guild of America made clear today that they are not serious about negotiating a new contract and have a total disregard for the true state of the industry and its fundamental economics,” said Nick Counter, chief of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, in a statement Wednesday.

Counter issued the statement at the end of the bargaining session — the first since July — and made it clear that it had been a waste of time for studios and nets.

“With two months to respond to our proposals, we were once again rebuffed with little or no explanation,” he added. “Seemingly, the WGA is much more concerned about posturing and their proposals, which only seek to vastly increase our costs and encumber our ability to adapt in this ever-changing time.”

In a reverse of its previous strategy, the WGA had no comment Wednesday other than to disclose that the talks will continue today. But Counter’s attack on the guild’s conduct at the bargaining table underlines how far apart the two sides remain and is certain to trigger more worries about a strike.

With no apparent progress in negotiations and only six weeks to go before the Oct. 31 expiration of the current contract, apprehension has been growing that the WGA may strike in November rather than wait for a better deal via the SAG and the DGA negotiations. The SAG and DGA contracts both expire June 30.

Agents have said in recent days that some studio execs are warning they won’t accept new scripts and pitches after Halloween.

Wednesday’s developments were not completely surprising. In recent interviews, WGA West president Patric Verrone had derided the AMPTP’s contract proposal, which calls for a revolutionary revamp of residuals in which talent would be paid only after basic costs are recouped.

Verrone had flatly rejected the notion of changing the residuals structure and pledged that the idea would be turned down without further discussion if it were broached at negotiations. “It’s not a serious proposal,” he said last week.

Counter’s also previously complained that the WGA hadn’t provided a point-by-point response to its 32-page proposal. Verrone’s response has been simply that the propsoal would be rejected again and that the AMPTP needed to make a revised offer.

Unlike at the July sessions, neither side resorted Wednesday to citing industry statistics. Coutner has claimed the industry is in a state of deficit financing amid soaring costs of film and TV, uncertainty over Internet revenues and flat DVD growth; the WGA’s accused the AMPTP of playing it both ways, claiming poverty in negotiations while boasting to Wall Street about its strong economic future.

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