Striking writers and Hollywood producers approached agreement on a new formula for resolving the stubborn residuals issue in recent talks, but remain far apart on dollars, according to several sources familiar with the closed-door negotiations.
There were sharply conflicting reports about whether the plan remained alive and whether the federally mediated talks, which recessed Tuesday after a 20-hour session, will reconvene.
Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service District Commissioner Floyd Wood declined to say if he planned to call for a new meeting.
One high studio executive Wednesday said the conciliation effort was "over." But Wood, according to another source, paid a visit to Writers Guild headquarters Wednesday in a continuing effort to mediate in the 20-week-old strike.
Top officers of the larger companies represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers met in a strategy session Wednesday night at the alliance's Sherman Oaks headquarters. An alliance spokesman, citing a news blackout imposed by the mediator, declined to discuss the meeting.
Despite the blackout, word of the new residuals plan spread through Hollywood Wednesday.
The new plan, which grew from proposals made by both sides, apparently would have combined foreign and domestic residual payments. It would also have calculated the payments as a percentage of the producers' program sales, possibly after a certain, scaled-down, fixed residual had been paid for one-hour TV shows.
Currently, foreign and domestic residuals are paid separately on fixed-fee schedules. Producers have argued that a percentage-based formula for domestic reruns would help them turn a profit on shows in a slow market. Writers, leery that a percentage-based formula would result in rollbacks for writers of less-successful shows, have insisted that they receive a bigger share of the producers' expanding sales to foreign countries in exchange for any shift in the domestic formula.
Combining the two payments might presumably have provided a way to satisfy both, while making it difficult for other Hollywood unions to argue that the producers had set a precedent by hiking foreign payments.
But the new plan, according to several individuals, fell apart when the producers insisted on pegging the new residual at 1.2% of sales and writers argued for a percentage at least 50% higher.
In addressing more than 200 writers at an "informational" meeting on the Walt Disney Studios lot Tuesday afternoon, Jeffrey Katzenberg, the studio's head, claimed that the producers' last offer regarding the mixed residuals "was rejected out of hand" by the guild. One guild source strongly disputed that claim. The alliance has declined to comment.
Several studios, contending that guild leaders have not fully conveyed word of management bargaining concessions to union members, have convened meetings to tell writers directly of their views.
So far, there is little evidence that the studios have found replacements to write their shows. One large company, Lorimar, has engaged British writers to work on some of its shows, a Lorimar executive said Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, about 1,000 guild members picketed Aaron Spelling Productions in Hollywood, and about 1,500 writers picketed The Burbank Studios, where Columbia Pictures and Warner Bros. are headquartered.