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Screenwriters of the world unite

Special to The Times

In a show of support for the ongoing Writers Guild strike, 21,000 screenwriters worldwide are planning what's being described as an "international day of solidarity," with protests set for Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Mexico, France and Canada Nov. 28.

"For us it's a thing of admiration for our colleagues," said David Kavanagh, chief executive of the Irish Playwrights and Screenwriters Guild. "They're taking risks now that are going to benefit us later on."

The plan took shape at a meeting of the International Affiliation of Writers Guilds Thursday in Montreal, where members agreed that any deal that weakened or undermined their American counterparts would ultimately have a ripple effect in their parts of the world.

"We're all facing the same issues," said Allan Baddock, president and southern region representative of the 530-member New Zealand Writers Guild. "Our producers are serving the same international markets and the same international conglomerates. Especially at the bottom of the South Pacific where we feel isolated and don't have the resources to tackle these issues on our own, we feel their fight is our fight."

"There have been writers working solidly 25 years who have shows sold into 250 territories around the world who have never seen a cent of residuals," added Jacqueline Woodman, executive director of the Australian Writers' Guild. "This strike is really important for us because the WGA is . . . bringing international recognition that writers don't get valued and don't receive their share of the profits unless you're standing over [the producers] with a stick."

While the various constituencies all stand to be affected in different ways by the U.S. walkout, French writers feel that their position is enhanced by the reports of the strike because it spotlights their contributions to the industry. "[It] shows to people a race of people who are named screenwriters and they exist and they are important," said Olivier Lorelle of the Union-Guilde des Scénaristes.

In a nation of 60 million people, fewer than 200 are members of this writers guild. "In France the screenwriter is nobody, is not known, is not recognized as a person," said Lorelle, who shared credit on the Academy Award-nominated World War II drama "Days of Glory" in 2006.

Across the Channel,

Bernie Corbett, the general secretary of the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, said local reports have suggested that the U.S. strike actually could benefit screenwriters in the U.K. -- provided they would be willing to cross picket lines to work on American shows.

"The stock kind of response that we get from the media in London is [that] there will be lots of work for British writers because they can move in and take the work of the American writers," Corbett said. "Very few people will do that. A lot of British writers have a dream to work for a big studio or network, and they would be aware that if they get caught strikebreaking that wouldn't happen."

Corbett did concede, however, that while there is a strong feeling of solidarity he has no doubt there wouldn't be "one, or two, three people. There's always somebody, isn't there?"

The British guild currently operates under what Charles Slocum, the assistant executive director for the WGA west, called "the gold standard" -- a deal with the BBC that is as good as or better than the Writers Guild is seeking in connection with Internet use and new media.

The situation for Canadian writers is even more complex, with the Writers Guild of Canada and the WGA sharing 265 dual members.

"At times it seems that there is a kind of 'forced border,' " said David Kinahan, director of communications for WGC. "There is a porosity between us, and we're mindful of it."

In Vancouver, the WGA is striking against television series shot there including "Bionic Woman," "Battlestar Galactica" and "Smallville."

But some Canadians see the strike as a potential boon to their careers. Mary Darling, executive producer of the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s Muslim-themed sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie," was quoted in the Canadian entertainment press as relishing this opportunity to potentially enter U.S. prime time.

WGC President Rebecca Schechter, who co-developed the show, thinks such producers, Darling among them, are "dreaming in Technicolor."

"It's a weird pipe dream," she said. "American giant conglomerates, they've not come across the border to Canada. They have consistently showed no interest in putting Canadian programming on American network television."

The WGC recently added a new section in its collective agreement called "digital production" for initial exhibition on the Internet or other nontraditional uses which establishes jurisdiction. The terms are entirely negotiable, and no royalties have been paid out to date.

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