Members OK 3-Year Writers Guild Pact

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Television and film writers Tuesday overwhelmingly ratified a new three-year contract with studios as the industry's full attention now turns to trying to negotiate a new agreement with actors before the current one expires June 30.

More than 92% of 4,128 writers voting approved the deal, according by the Writers Guild of America. Even though the number of writers voting represented only 37.5% of the guild's 11,000 members, the turnout set a record.

Ratification had been considered a virtual certainty since the two sides reached a tentative agreement May 4, especially after no members submitted protest statements.

Nonetheless, the formal settlement sets the tone for a possible deal with actors because many of the same issues--such as the amount of residuals paid out when shows are rerun--are on the table in those talks.

Although negotiations between studios and actors have been marked by early tensions about pay issues, at this point a strike is considered unlikely by the two actors unions, the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Negotiations are widely expected to go down to the wire, with sources on both sides predicting they could extend beyond the June 30 contract expiration date.

Among the contract gains for writers are increased residuals paid for Fox network shows, additional payments when shows sell into the foreign market for hefty sums and more money for original shows written for pay TV and cable networks.

"Hopefully, we've set a template for future negotiations," said John Wells, president of the Writers Guild's Western faction.

With labor tensions that had gripped Hollywood for nearly a year easing, film activity in Los Angeles continues at a brisk pace as studios finish shooting feature films whose productions were accelerated as a hedge against possible strikes.

Figures released Tuesday by the Entertainment Industry Development Corp. show film shooting on Los Angeles streets rose more than 26% in May, reflecting increased filming activity that began nearly a year ago when strike threats first loomed.

The EIDC figures show the number of days devoted to feature film shooting outside studio lots rose in May to 1,287, more than 26%, from a year earlier. For the year, the number of film shooting days is up 46%, to 5,947.

The EIDC issues permits for shoots outside studio lots throughout most of Los Angeles County. The shooting tracked by the agency does not include activity on studio lots, where permits aren't required, but it is still considered a barometer of production activity.

Overall production activity--which also includes TV, commercials and music video filming--was up 7.6% in May, and is up 18% in the first five months compared with a year earlier, largely because of the accelerated film production.

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