Writers, studios edging closer

Times Staff Writers

Hollywood’s striking writers and major studios have moved closer to bridging their divide after a week of talks, raising hopes that a new contract is within reach.

The parties have narrowed the gap between them in some key areas, including how much writers should earn when films and TV shows are distributed online, according to people close to the situation who insisted on anonymity because talks are confidential.

The discussions could still derail, as they did in early December, these people cautioned. The parties remain apart over how much writers should be paid when their shows are streamed online and union jurisdiction over original content created for the Internet. Moreover, relations between the two sides have been marred by distrust and near-loathing as positions hardened in both camps.

Nonetheless, there is guarded optimism on both sides that the outlines of a deal could be reached as early as this week, paving the way for formal negotiations.


Writers and studios alike face enormous pressure to cement an accord that would end the 3-month-old strike that has cost thousands of workers their jobs and the Los Angeles economy about $1.6 billion, by one estimate. If the work stoppage continues, it will upset program development for next season and spoil the Academy Awards show Feb. 24.

Talks revived last week, after studios negotiated a contract with directors in short order. The directors won terms that were superior to those offered in the writers’ previous round of negotiations.

A number of top writers, including several members of the Writers Guild of America’s negotiating committee, have viewed the directors pact as a flawed but workable model for their own agreement. They have strongly conveyed that message to guild leaders David Young and Patric M. Verrone.

Citing a “press blackout,” representatives of the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, declined to comment.


The guild’s board of directors, which ultimately has to approve any contract, met Monday to discuss the status of negotiations. One main area of concern is a flat residual payment of $1,200 that studios gave directors for streaming their shows in the first year.

Writers fear that such a rate could one day give networks greater incentive to rerun shows online, where residuals would be a fraction of what producers currently are required to pay.

For example, writers currently earn about $20,000 when a one-hour drama is rerun on the network.

Additionally, writers have specific issues that need to be addressed that are unique to their craft. Chief among them is securing so-called separated rights to their projects, which guarantee writers additional payments and credit when their work migrates from one medium to another, such as a Web show that spawns a TV pilot.


Talks are expected to resume today.