A Thaw in Tensions Between WGA, Producers

Statements From Both Camps Indicate Progress in Strike Talks

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LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Unseasonably warm.

It's a description of both the significant improvement in L.A.'s nippy weather over the last few days and a welcome change in temperature for what's been a winter of discontent for Hollywood's writers.

After plenty of icy glares and stalled talks, progress is emerging in negotiations in the now month-old Hollywood writers strike. In brief -- though for once, not terse -- statements released after the end of negotiations Wednesday night, both writers and producers hinted there was a deal to be made.

"For the last two days, we have had substantive discussions of the issues important to writers," read a WGA-released statement, "the first time this has occurred in this negotiation."

'Common ground'
A separate statement released by the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers sounded a similarly conciliatory tone: "We believe that there is common ground to be found between the two sides that will put all of us in the entertainment industry in a better position to survive and prosper in what is a rapidly changing modern, global marketplace."

Talks are said to be coalescing around a "fixed residual" proposal that would offer writers one fixed level of compensation in the first year that a writer's material spent online, then shift to a different percentage-based formula for the remainder of its life on the web.

Of course, it's that percentage on which all will hinge, and it is still being worked out.

In a letter to members, WGA West President Patric Verrone wrote, "We held to our proposal that the appropriate rate for that payment is 2.5% of distributor's gross and the same rate should also apply to streaming of theatrical motion pictures."

Talks to resume
Producers have not yet responded to his union's specific proposal, but talks are scheduled to resume at 10 a.m. PST today.

Mr. Verrone, in a statement to the press, was eagerly couching his guild's proposal as mutually beneficial.

"We believe these formulas will protect the writer even if all television reuse migrates to new media. This is our real goal -- we simply want to make sure that writers keep up if reuse moves to the internet. If new-media reuse turns out to be additive, both partners will benefit."

The writers and producers are both under substantial economic pressure to reach a deal sooner rather than later -- for reasons other than the obvious lost wages and bare-network cupboards: The Directors Guild of America contract expires on June 30. The networks and studios are often willing to pay a premium in exchange for an early deal, and especially now. The writers hope to reach an accord before a deal can be made with the more-powerful DGA that would reframe the digital debate.
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