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ENTERTAINMENT NEWS
November 6

Entertainment News November 6 - TOP 3 Stories for Tuesday

ALSO ON SITE

BOTH SIDES LOOKING TO END WRITERS STRIKE

Is this a strike that could have been prevented?

Both producers and writers are angry over the way talks collapsed Sunday night, with both sides creating a Rashomon atmosphere of disagreeing over who did what -- and when. But pretty much everyone agrees that action must be taken in the next 48 hours if Hollywood is going to avoid a long and costly strike.

The question: Who will take the initiative to get talks to resume? Producers believe it's up to the writers to make the first move; the WGA says it's ready, willing and able to resume talks at any point.

"I think both sides want to continue negotiations," WGA West exec director David Young said Monday. "We are not getting a divorce."

But with a full-fledged strike started and lingering acrimony between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, prospects for resuming talks are dimming. Many already believe that the Directors Guild of America will end up riding in like the cavalry to make a deal that could lead to labor peace -- even though WGA leaders have already asserted that they won't look favorably at such an outcome.

The confusing outlook could get especially ugly by Thursday, when the Writers Guild of America has given as the deadline for its Script Validation Program, whereby writers must turn in drafts of their current works. Studios and networks have demanded the guild cease and desist from enforcing that program.

Sources close to talks said that five key sticking points were on the table at the start of talks Sunday, and those had been whittled down to just two by the dinner break. Many in both camps feel that they could have made serious progress if the talks continued.

But AMPTP president Nick Counter said the talks collapsed when the companies were in caucus ater 9 p.m. PST and discovered that the WGA East website was declaring the strike had started. The AMPTP reps then asked WGA East topper Mona Mangan if that was indeed the case, and she said it was.

"We asked the WGA if they'd be willing to put a pin in the strike so we could continue negotiations and Mona and David Young said 'no'," Counter said. "We were having dialogue and making some progress and then we hit a brick wall."

But Young said that he had told the AMPTP at noon Sunday that the WGA was willing to talk all night but that it would not call off the strike. He also admitted that there had been some progress during the session.

"If it were Oct. 10, I would be hopeful and happy," he added. "But here we are at 9:30 p.m. on Nov. 4 and they still have not made an economic proposal. We had gotten some movement but nothing on their economic package."

WGA negotiators were infuriated by what they perceived as a lack of movement by the AMPTP once they had taken their proposal to double DVD residuals off the table. Negotiating committee member and showrunner Shawn Ryan ("The Shield," "The Unit") sent out an angry email afterward after spending nearly 12 hours in the Sunday session.

"I watched our side desperately try to make a deal," Ryan said. "We gave up our request to increase revenue on DVDs, something that was very painful to give up, but something we felt we had to in order to get a deal made in new media, which is our future. I watched as the company's representatives treated us horrendously, disrespectfully, and then walked out on us at 9:30 and then lied to the trades, claiming we had broken off negotiations."

The key sticking points remain residuals for new media, payment for work for the Internet and use of streaming video. Counter painted a grim future on Monday.

"The outlook for future WGA negotiations is pretty bleak," he admitted. "The only guideline we have is that the 1988 strike by the WGA lasted five months."

WGA HAS A FAILURE TO COMMUNICATE

At CBS Television City Monday, a Writers Guild strike official shooed away a reporter who was trying to talk to a picket. The scriptwriter later admitted he was scolded for talking with the press.

Another reporter asked a question of a picket, who growled, "We're not talking to you guys."

Writers like to write. Apparently they don't like to communicate, except for star writers who disregarded the instructions and talked anyway.

During the entire pact talks, the producers have shown a well-organized attempt to convey their point of view. But the Writers Guild of America reps are potentially hurting their cause by being so slow to explain their side to the media.

Many in showbiz don't have a clear understanding of the writers' demands or the reasoning behind these demands. And so far, the WGA leaders are not helping enough to get the message across.

For example:

  • WGA West press reps have never addressed the conflict with the DGA about its strike rules requiring showrunners to perform writing services, even though the DGA sent out its email to members Oct. 24.

  • Many writers are confused about the WGA's Script Validation Program, which requires writers to turn in a draft by Thursday to the guild. The studios have told writers that they'll be in breach. Though WGAW general counsel Tony Segall sent a letter to the AMPTP lawyer Bill Cole Oct. 24 affirming the guild's stance, the WGA website does not address the studio's claim at all.

  • The WGA has held exactly two news conferences this year to discuss negotiations: on July 18, after the second day of talks; and Friday to announce the strike. People in the industry want to know what's going on and they need more info from the horse's mouth. The Writers Guild leadership is scrupulous about communicating with its strike captains. The leaders are trying to communicate with their members. But in Hollywood, it's not enough to have an idea -- you also have to sell it.

    WGA STRIKE HITS THE STREETS

    The chant of the pickets gathered outside Paramount's iconic main gate said it all: "Why are we standing outside this gate? 'Cause we got screwed in '88!"

    Hundreds of Writers Guild of America members fanned out across Los Angeles and selected sites in Gotham on Monday morning to serve as the human ammunition for the most fearsome weapon the WGA has in its arsenal: a strike.

    As evidenced by the hefty response among scribes of all strata to the guild's call for picket lines to form outside the major studios, members expressed strong support for the WGA leadership's decision to shift into strike mode.

    Many of those who donned red "united we stand" WGA shirts and hoisted "WGA on strike" signs said they were exasperated by what they view as an intractable stance taken by producers during the three months of negotiations so far on the key issues of DVD and new-media residuals.

    "The industry is at a crossroads," said multihyphenate James L. Brooks, who was among the crowd of more than 100 pickets who circled in front of the main 20th Century Fox studio entrance on Pico Boulevard. "The big question we're talking about is whether unions are going to share in the future of this business."

    Pickets were out in force outside each of Hollywood's majors -- Disney and Warner Bros. in Burbank; Universal Studios in Universal City; Fox in West L.A.; Paramount in Hollywood; Sony Pictures Entertainment in Culver City; as well as NBC's Burbank compound, CBS Television City and CBS Radford in Studio City; and a handful of indie studio lots where shows from the struck companies are shot, including Sunset-Gower Studios and Raleigh Studio locations in Hollywood and Manhattan Beach.

    WGA West prexy Patric Verrone worked the 9 a.m.-1 p.m. picket shift at CBS Radford, where the strikers also included A-list scribes Phil Rosenthal and Kevin Williamson.

    Guild organizers said they intend to have pickets out in force from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday for the duration of the strike. One striker suffered a broken leg shortly before 9:30 a.m. outside of Sunset-Gower Studios after being struck by a man driving a Honda Element as he tried to enter the lot.

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