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Striking writers and studios talking again

The Hollywood writers guild said Tuesday it has agreed to back off proposals to unionize writers of reality and animated shows, a key concession.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The Hollywood writers guild said Tuesday it has agreed to back off proposals to unionize writers of reality and animated shows, a key concession that came the same day the sides said they would begin informal talks.

The new strategy was disclosed in an e-mail from the union to its members that was later released publicly.

The message was sent after guild officials met with representatives of several Hollywood studios, according to a person familiar with the bargaining strategy who was not authorized to publicly comment and asked for anonymity.

The talks held Tuesday were intended to lay the foundation for the resumption of full negotiations, which broke down Dec. 7 after the studios demanded that the guild take the unionization issue off the table.

The union message to members says it plans other unspecified methods to organize reality and animation writers.

The informal discussions mirrored a series of meetings held by the Directors Guild of America and studio heads before they reached a tentative three-year deal, announced last week after less than a week of formal negotiations.

The writers strike that started Nov. 5 has shut down production of most scripted TV shows, disrupted movie schedules and the Golden Globes ceremony and has put next month's Academy Awards at risk.

The informal writers-studio talks began on the day Oscar nominees were announced.

The Academy Awards ceremony on Feb. 24 could face guild pickets and boycotts by actors who support striking writers.

When the directors guild announced its deal, studio heads urged the writers to join in talks that could lead to the resumption of their negotiations.

In its deal with producers, the directors union resolved new-media compensation issues that are also central to the writers guild dispute, including compensation for movie and TV projects delivered over the Internet.

The executives said the deal with directors established a precedent for the industry's creative talent to "participate financially in every emerging area of new media."

Debate was building among guild members over whether the directors' proposed deal created an acceptable model for an agreement for the writers union.

A letter circulated online among writers and addressed to guild officials called on the union to "disregard outside pressures and negotiate the best possible terms on behalf of every member of the Writers Guild of America."

Those in agreement were asked to attach their name to the letter and pass it on to colleagues. A copy of the message was to be delivered Tuesday to the guild board and its negotiating committee.

Writer-producer John Wells, whose credits include "ER" and "The West Wing," said in a letter posted online last week that the deal by directors was good for them as well as writers.

The directors won several key points, including union jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet and payments for downloaded TV programs and movies based on a percentage of the distributor's gross.

But the writers guild was seeking 2.5 percent of such grosses — about three times what the directors' deal provides.

Interim deals made by the writers guild with several individual production companies provide 2 percent compensation on downloaded films and 2.5 percent on TV programs, the guild has said.