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DGA Gets a Deal, Writers Waiting

Developments are moving fast in the ongoing writers strike that is slowly cutting off the economic lifeblood of the San Fernando Valley and the Los Angeles region. Side deals with production companies. Layoffs. Networks filling air time with cable programs. Scaled-back televised awards shows. Not on the fast track, however, are talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. In fact, the two sides have not met since early December, when the Encino-based Alliance, representing the major Hollywood studios, walked away from the table. In the interim, the Alliance and the Directors Guild of America began their negotiations on a new contract which was reached Jan 17. The three-year deal gives DGA members a $1,260 fixed residual payment for one-hour TV dramas streamed through new media outlets in the first year. A 0.36 percent royalty rate applies on the first 50,000 downloads of films, and 0.65 percent afterward. Directors would get a 0.36 percent residueal for the first 100,000 downloads of their TV expidoes and 0.7% after that. It is people like Jim Elyea, owner of North Hollywood prop shop History for Hire, who are paying attention to those discussions. Elyea said he finds it encouraging that the directors and studios are talking and that new contracts for directors and writers can be reached if all sides talk in good faith. The negotiations are also important to Michael Tabb, a film writer from the San Fernando Valley who has been a strike captain outside The Walt Disney Co. since the walkout began in November. If the directors reach a new contract, then perhaps that will translate into something for the Writers Guild, Tabb said. “We are not counting on it,” Tabb added. “It would be awesome but right now that is why we are doing these interim agreements. We are not interested in kowtowing to an organization that is not interested in speaking fairly with us.” In recent weeks, the Guild made deals with David Letterman’s production company that allowed writers to return to the late-night talker’s show; with United Artists, the production company for Tom Cruise; the Weinstein Co.; and several others. While the Guild has granted a waiver to the NAACP to have writers available for its Image Awards broadcast in February, the same was not given to the Golden Globes. That annual awards show was reduced to a roundly-panned simple presentation of announcing the winners. The disagreement between the writers and the studios remains the amount of money writers receive for their work when distributed online and to mobile devices. For the writers it is about the future of the entertainment industry as more eyeballs turn away from traditional broadcast media and toward the immediacy of content on computers and portable devices. They also don’t want to repeat the mistake of previous contracts of not asking for a big enough share of revenues from a new distribution method, as happened when it came to home entertainment sales. To the studios, no clear method to generate revenues from online and mobile distribution has yet emerged. An early bargaining point by the Alliance was for a study on the impacts of new media. This occurs even as the studios continue to find new outlets for their product. In mid-January, the major studios including Warner Bros., Disney and NBC Universal agreed to make their feature films available for rental through the iTunes for viewing on Apple devices. That such a deal was struck shows that the Guild is on the right track and that it is advantageous for the studios, Tabb said. “It goes to show that the board and committee we entrusted to bargain for what we need are on target with what the executives are going to be pulling money from,” Tabb said. While Tabb and other writers picket outside the studios, the work stoppage makes its way down to business people like Elyea, who had to lay off part- time help at History for Hire as a way to cut costs as television production shut down. Other vendors and suppliers for the industry have made similar moves. Even Warner Bros. cut three dozen studio operations employees as the strike took its toll on filming in Burbank. Those job cuts serve to illustrate that the strike is not just between the writers and the producers but includes a third party Elyea calls “everyone else.” And in some circles it’s no longer the issue of writers vs. the studios but writers vs. everyone else. “You have a lot of people who historically have not been on the producers’ side who are not on the writers’ side,” Elyea said. But, he was quick to add, the frustration was aimed at the Guild leadership rather than at individual writers.

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