Striking writers will resume talks with studios

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Hollywood writers strike will continue, but now so will negotiations between the union and the studios.

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and studio reps will head back to the bargaining table on November 26 after back-channel dialogue facilitated by Creative Artists Agency partner Bryan Lourd helped put the parties onto a more productive track. The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) put out brief, identical statements Friday night.

No other details were provided, and a press blackout was instituted. But it’s clear that the emotion-charged issue of new-media compensation will remain front and center when the talks resume.

Despite the planned resumption of talks, the WGA intends to continue its picketing and other strike activities. Negotiations between the WGA and AMPTP broke down November 4, and strike pickets took to studio gates the next day.

Picketing will take place as planned Monday and a big writers march is planned for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday on Hollywood Boulevard. No strike activities will be held the balance of the week, but that’s only because none had been scheduled due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Pickets will reappear the same day negotiations resume. WGA West president Patric Verrone alerted guild members during the weekend that their picketing obligations remain in place.

“This announcement is a direct result of your efforts ... the hours you have spent on the picket lines, the days you’ve spent educating friends and colleagues, the boundless energy you’ve put into engaging with not only the Hollywood talent community but people all over the country and the world,” Verrone said.

Verrone said that future picketing schedules “will be determined in consultation with the strike captains and will be designed to continue to have maximum effect on our employers and include both studio and location picketing.”

Picketing and other strike activities also will continue in New York.

Members of the Writers Guild of America walk the picket line in New York's Times Square, November 15, 2007. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The resumption of talks in the face of continued picketing represents a concession by AMPTP president Nick Counter, who had said he wouldn’t return to bargaining under such circumstances. There was no immediate AMPTP explanation for the move.

The WGA and AMPTP started their contentious negotiations for a new film and TV contract July 16, holding 17 sessions before talks broke down and the strike began. Only the last session featured a press blackout.

In that session, the WGA took a demand for expanded DVD residuals off the table, and the AMPTP responded with some movement on new compensation in the area of new media. But the WGA said the response wasn’t enough, took to the streets and said its DVD demands were being restored.

Elected officials and industry figures have attempted to provide back-channel assistance in bringing the parties back to the table.

Top talent agents have been in the center of some of those efforts, as the major agency companies have been on the bleeding edge of economic impact from the WGA strike. The Lourd-assisted breakthrough came Friday, at a meeting the agent hosted at his home attended by studio executives and WGA officials.

Other public figures helping to get the parties talking again include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, both of whom met with guild leaders and telephoned studio chiefs.

The writers strike already has brought to a halt production of many TV series, including NBC’s “The Office” and ABC’s equally high-profile “Desperate Housewives.” It has sent late-night talk shows into reruns, and the Los Angeles-based “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” has had to cancel plans to shoot in New York after a showdown with the union about its continuing production.

Movie development also has been hampered, including an end for now to work on Sony’s “Angels & Demons,” a prequel to “The Da Vinci Code.”

The curtailed productions might have provided motivation for studio execs to resume negotiations, though some have suggested that show cuts actually translate into cost savings on some lots.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter