Guild board favors deal, with caution

Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

The West Coast board of the Writers Guild of America has reacted favorably to the outlines of a pending agreement reached between guild negotiators and Hollywood studios. But the board is holding off on giving its blessing until it sees the exact language in the contract, according to people familiar with the situation.

The 19-member board was briefed Monday by union leaders on the major points in a tentative deal reached Friday.

If the board approves the contract, it is expected to end the strike immediately, these people said. A vote could be held this weekend.


Time is of the essence in getting the board to sign off on a deal with the upcoming television pilot season, and the Feb. 24 Academy Awards show, hanging in the balance.

While the negotiating committee, headed by John Bowman, is expected to recommend the pending contract, approval by the board is not necessarily a slam-dunk because it is composed of several hard-liners who may be tougher to win over.

Furthermore, any approval would come only after a formal accord is drawn up by lawyers on both sides.

Attorneys are putting in writing what guild negotiators and studio representatives verbally agreed to Friday when they bridged key differences over how much writers should earn for work distributed over the Internet.

The proposed agreement is modeled largely after a deal studios recently clinched with directors.

The deal includes a doubling of the residual rate for movies and TV shows sold online and secures the union’s jurisdiction over content created specifically for the Web, above certain budget thresholds. It also establishes payments for shows streamed online that improve upon what directors were given in their new contract.

On Sunday, presidents of the guild’s West and East Coast branches, Patric M. Verrone and Michael Winship, sent a joint letter to members cautioning them not to put down their picket signs just yet.

“We are still in talks and do not yet have a contract,” they wrote. “Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP [Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers], it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity and strength.”

Also on Sunday, veteran screenwriter Larry Gelbart, best known for the 1982 movie classic “Tootsie” and the long-running TV series “MASH,” weighed in with a mass voice mail to members urging them to continue walking the picket lines.

“In all my decades as a member of the WGA, I’ve learned a few lessons about strikes and negotiations, the most important being that it’s never over till it’s over, no matter how much the lady singer might weigh,” he said.

Meanwhile, the union’s strike captains called on members to show up for pickets planned this week at various studios and media companies across Los Angeles and New York.

The latest round of talks came about after studios quickly reached a deal with directors.

However, the directors’ contract sparked heated debate among members of the writers guild.

Last week, one of the guild’s prominent board members, writer-director Phil Alden Robinson (“Field of Dreams”) picked apart several aspects of the directors’ pact.

“It’s my strong conviction that if an unaltered DGA [Directors Guild of America] deal were put before our membership for a vote today, it would fail resoundingly,” Robinson wrote in a blog on the United Hollywood website. “If they insist on trying to shove this deal down our throats without improvements, this strike will not end any time soon.”

Reaction to Robinson’s missive was mixed, with some members supporting his message and others privately blasting him for what they viewed as an inappropriate move for a board member at a crucial juncture in the writers talks.