WGA ‘Evaluating’ Date Options for Contract Talks With Major Studios

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Elliot Stokes for Variety

The WGA is evaluating its options for conducting contract talks with Hollywood’s major studios that were to have started today until coronavirus prevention measures made it untenable for the sides to hold a face-to-face bargaining session.

“Nothing has been worked out as of yet,” a spokesman for the Writers Guild of America said. “The guild is evaluating the situation.”

The WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are trying to come to terms on an extension date for the guild’s existing Minimum Basic Agreement that covers most film and TV work. The current pact is set to expire May 1. But given the upheaval to regular business brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, the sides need more time to negotiate what is sure to be a tough and complex pact addressing compensation issues in a fast-changing content landscape.

Industry sources said the WGA initially reached out to the AMPTP with a proposed extension of the current MBA to Sept. 1. The AMPTP was said to be leaning toward June 30, a date that would line up the WGA’s contract terminus with that of SAG-AFTRA. The contract extension date would set in motion a new timeline for negotiations.

A representative for the AMPTP declined to comment.

The WGA is expected to push hard in the coming round of talks for higher residuals for network and cable programs that are made available in syndication via streaming platforms. Hollywood scribes also want to see improvements in per-episode compensation and stricter rules about length of time that writers can be committed to working on shows — a thorny issue for writers that has become known in WGA-AMPTP shorthand as “span.” The studios already made a move to boost made-for-streaming TV series residuals by a significant amount in a tentative pact clinched earlier this month that still needs to be ratified by DGA membership.

In considering date options for the coronavirus-postponed talks, the AMPTP is said to be concerned about giving WGA more time to prepare and organize for a strike. The WGA also typically tries to ensure that its negotiation come before the AMPTP sits down with SAG-AFTRA, lest the WGA have to sit on the sidelines while directors and actors drive the agenda for the 2020 cycle. It’s believed that the AMPTP will offer to commit to sitting down with the WGA before SAG-AFTRA as part of an agreement to extend the current MBA.

The shock to the global economy that has unfolded during the past two weeks as coronavirus shutdowns proliferate means that the WGA talks will come in a very different business environment than negotiators on both sides would have predicted even three weeks ago. That fact is contributing to both sides willingness to push back the deadline for reaching an agreement.