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Hollywood contract talks resume

Hollywood screenwriters are back at the tables engaged in contract talks after a week-long break.
/ Source: Reuters

Hollywood’s screenwriters resumed contract talks Wednesday with film studios and TV networks after a week-long break during which both sides emerged from a news blackout to publicly air their differences.

Calling the industry’s latest offer “unacceptable,” the 11,000-member Writers Guild of America last week suspended negotiations on a new three-year labor pact and proposed instead a stripped-down one-year deal to avert the possibility of a strike.

Screenwriters last walked off the job in 1988 in a 22-day dispute that delayed the start of that fall’s TV season and cost the industry a reported $500 million.

The union’s new 12-month offer calls for a 2.5 percent increase in basic salaries and a half-percentage point hike in health plan contributions by the studios. It also seeks higher pay for TV shows produced for pay-cable channels like HBO.

The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers declined to immediately accept or reject the union’s one-year package but said studios were inclined to stick with efforts to hammer out a traditional three-year accord.

The old three-year contract expired May 1.

Going into the first round of bargaining in April, both sides said they expected to clash over union demands for higher residuals, the bonus payments writers earn as their material enters secondary markets like cable TV reruns, overseas distribution and DVDs.

DVD residuals, in particular, have emerged as a stumbling block as the booming digital video disc market generates annual revenues of more than $16 billion worldwide.

Another major point of contention has been residuals for Internet-based movie sales, a fledgling distribution channel seen by the union and industry as a major souce of future revenue.