The ice appears to be cracking in Hollywood's long, cold winter of picket lines, shuttered productions and canceled award shows. As early as this week, the Writers Guild of America, which has been on strike for three months, may be presented with a new contract. With two key industry events fast approaching the Academy Awards and TV pilot season the writers and the studios have had plenty of incentive to return to the negotiating table and get past the rancor that doomed the early talks. Thanks to a deal hammered out by directors, they have also had a road map to a contract.
Despite rumors and media reports of a deal struck over the weekend, WGA presidents Patric Verrone and Michael Winship e-mailed their members Sunday, saying, "We are still in talks and do not yet have a contract... Picketing will resume on Monday." The Alliance of Motion Picture Television Producers (AMPTP) also waved off reports of a done deal, though an AMPTP source said to "stay tuned."
WGA negotiators are expected to bring the union's board of directors a rough contract on Monday, the result of recent bargaining sessions attended by News Corp chairman Peter Chernin, Walt Disney chief executive Robert Iger and WGA negotiators David Young, John F. Bowman and Verrone. The negotiators have used the contract producers struck with the Directors' Guild of America last month as something of a template. That deal doubles residual payments for films and TV shows sold online and grants the union jurisdiction over shows created for the Internet.
Once the DGA deal got writers and studios back at the bargaining table, the WGA was the first to make concessions, dropping its demands to unionize writers on animated movies and reality TV shows. The studios, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times, are offering the writers a slightly sweeter deal than they did the directors, paying more for shows that are streamed free on ad-supported web sites. The directors get a flat $1,200 fee for the entire first year of streaming, a prospect that underwhelmed many striking writers.
"The DGA deal had some positive elements, but it was, 'eh'," says John Aboud, a WGA strike captain and contributor to the strike blog UnitedHollywood.com. "The pressure on everyone has been building. The creative community on an emotional level can't afford to lose the Oscars, and the companies can't afford to lose them on a financial level."
If the WGA board approves the tentative deal Monday, contract language will be finalized over the next several days or weeks. If past Hollywood strikes are any guide, the writers may resume work before every detail of the contract is agreed upon. With less than two weeks to pen some Oscar patter and with plenty of productions anxious to resume, writers may want to start flexing their typing fingers.