Friday, July 13, 2007

Hollywood gears up for writer contract talks

Strike talk is rumbling around Hollywood again. With the Writers' Guild of America West (WGAw) due to start formal talks with the industry about a new contract next week (the current one expires in October), talk is turning to memories of the 1988 writers' walkout.

One of the big issues up for discussion could be the distribution of residuals, reports Michael Cieply in The New York Times. At a recent meeting of top Hollywood executives, he writes, they:
...were emphatic in calling for the dismantling of a system under which specific payments are made when movies and programs are put on DVD, shown abroad or otherwise resold.

Instead, all such revenues would be pooled and companies would be able to recover their costs before sharing profits with the performers, writers and directors. “There are no ancillary markets anymore; it’s all one market,” said Barry M. Meyer, chief executive of Warner Brothers. “This is the time to do it.”
The WGAw rejected the idea, however.
In a statement, John F. Bowman, who will lead the writers’ negotiating committee in the talks, flatly rejected the idea of replacing residuals with a profit-based formula. “Our members can’t rely on Hollywood accounting,” Mr. Bowman’s statement said. “The companies have lost the right to talk about a profit basis for residuals.”
In the L.A. Times, meanwhile, Richard Verrier profiles the producers' lead negotiator, J. Nicholas Counter III.
Counter's tactics often involve putting opponents on the defensive, portraying their positions as unreasonable while rattling off statistics showing the industry's economic woes. When leaders of the Writers Guild of America recently telegraphed their demands, including securing "fair compensation" for entertainment distributed over emerging technologies, he publicly blasted them as an "assault on the industry."

Guild leaders dismiss such remarks as ploys to unnerve the rank and file.

"That's the sort of thing he does," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. "It's worked well for him in the past, but I don't know that it worked this time."
Update: more on the WGAw's perspective in The L.A. Times.

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