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Hollywood studios make new offer to writers

With less than a week to go before a presumed strike deadline, Hollywood studio executives sought to break a deadlock in contract talks with screenwriters by offering a newly condensed package of proposals.
/ Source: Reuters

With less than a week to go before a presumed strike deadline, Hollywood studio executives sought to break a deadlock in contract talks with screenwriters by offering a newly condensed package of proposals.

Initial reaction by the Writers Guild of America was chilly, with the chairman of the union’s negotiating committee saying the studios’ latest offer amounted to “minor adjustments to major rollbacks.”

The move came as the two sides ended their second day of talks since the Writers Guild of America won the overwhelming approval of its members to call a strike if no settlement were reached once their existing contract expires next Wednesday.

The WGA and studios remain sharply divided over union demands for higher “residual” fees, a key source of writers’ income for TV and film work that gets reused in such formats as reruns and DVDs after initial broadcast or theatrical release.

“With only a week remaining on the term of our current contract, it is incumbent on each party to find the common ground which will result in an agreement,” the studios’ Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers said in a statement.

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AMPTP executive Carol Lombardini said the new package presented to the union was designed to strip away “the less vital proposals on both sides” and suggest compromises on other issues that could pave the way for settlement.

One example was to offer higher studio contributions to union health and pension plans on some types of screenwriting assignments but impose new ceilings on others.

But Lombardini said producers would stand firm against several key demands of the union, including higher residual payments for DVDs, digital downloads and pay television.

John Bowman, chairman of the guild’s negotiating committee, said the union would formally respond to the producers’ latest package on Friday but indicated the new plan was less than a major breakthrough.

“Minor adjustments to major rollbacks do not constitute forward motion,” he said in a statement.

The current three-year contract covering the guild’s 12,000 members expires October 31. WGA members could continue working under the terms of the old pact if both sides agree to keep negotiating.

But studios and TV networks have treated the end of the month as a de facto strike deadline, stockpiling scripts and speeding up production on some projects in case of a walkout.

Hollywood screenwriters went on strike in 1988 -- a 22-week work stoppage that delayed the fall TV season and cost the industry a reported $500 million.