Indies wait on WGA deals

Pants/UA deals give scribes renewed optimism

Deals with indie film companies that were supposed to fall like dominoes in the wake of United Artists’ interim agreement with the Writers Guild have not done so.

During the pause since Monday’s UA announcement, a gap filled with Golden Globes hysteria, a question has arisen about the true import of the deals.

In 1988, for example, dozens of interim pacts were struck with various companies, but the guild did not realize net gains as a result — partly because the deals emerged fairly late in the five-month strike.

“There was a lot of resistance early in the guild to making interim deals,” a labor vet recalled. “So by the time the WGA started making deals, the impact was fairly limited because the strike was starting to fall apart.”

In this case, the UA deal got sealed with the strike starting its 10th week, leading to widespread speculation that indies would be able to wrap up similar pacts in a matter of days.

For now, the interim deals certainly play well on the picket line. News about pacts with Worldwide Pants and UA have been used by the guild to demonstrate incremental progress to members despite the larger stalemate with the AMPTP.

“We are talking with a lot of people, and we’re optimistic that we’ll make several more interim deals,” said Mona Mangan, exec director of the WGA East.

Asked how soon those may come to fruition, she replied, “That’s impossible to say. You can never tell with these until they’re done.”

In front of the Paramount gates on Wednesday, “Back to You” scribe Gail Lerner said the interim deals had given her “a revived sense of optimism.”

In terms of morale, any upbeat sign goes a long way. “I had felt kind of discouraged over the holidays because of being distant from the discussion,” she said. “It’s nice to be back connecting with other writers out here.”

Indie film players Lionsgate, Summit and Overture said Wednesday that they were not actively pursuing interim deals. The Weinstein Co. has been mulling a proposal from the guild that was delivered just before Christmas and has only recently been reviewed by lawyers.

It’s unclear how they may affect the big picture at this point.

“They’re a double-edged sword,” said Tom Wertheimer, a TV producer and former network exec who was in on the final negotiations that resolved the 1988 strike. “It can create haves and have-nots within your own organization and prompt people to ask, ‘How come they’re working and we’re not?'”

The UA pact, he added, “isn’t generating much in terms of employment.”

The fact that Tom Cruise starrer “Valkyrie” needs finishing touches raised the possibility that mere expediency drove UA to make the interim deal.

Still, the accord may enable UA to jump-start projects while the rest of Hollywood’s development process idles. “United Artists has seen an overwhelming outpouring of support from the creative community, including a staggering number of scripts,” a UA spokeswoman said Wednesday.

Recalling his 1988 experiences, Wertheimer said he could predict the “thrusts and parries” of the strike.

“In response to these interim agreements, the companies will go about finding the next generation of (non-union) writers, or get people to write under assumed names,” he said. “These tactics are the result of the guild trying to claim these trophy deals.”

Film companies have a bit more flexibility given their production cycles. Many can simply go shopping at Sundance rather than hash out a deal with the WGA.

“This Sundance could definitely see some astronomical spending in this environment,” noted one buyer.