HOLLYWOOD WRITERS avert strike with contract deal
Saturday, May 5th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6
LOS ANGELES (AP) _ A tentative contract between screenwriters and producers is easing fears across Hollywood about a summer of strikes that could devastate the entertainment industry.
The three-year contract still must be ratified in early June by a majority of the Writers Guild of America's 11,500 members, but approval is expected.
Next up is the Screen Actors Guild contract, which expires June 30.
``Typically in this industry, the first one up has set the pattern for the others, and I believe the actors will recognize the leadership of the writers,'' said Alan Brunswick, a Los Angeles entertainment labor attorney who is not involved in the negotiations.
Last year, a record-length strike by commercial actors crippled the advertising industry, prompting fears of walkouts by writers and feature actors this year.
But with a contract agreement reached between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers three days after the expiration date and without a strike, those fears are subsiding.
``It's not conceivable to me the membership wouldn't ratify,'' said Steven Bochco, veteran writer-producer of ``NYPD Blue'' and other series. ``I'm sure you'll hear grumbling from certain quarters, but I think the people who make a living writing overwhelmingly will be relieved.''
The writers' deal mandates a 3.5 percent raise in initial minimum payments for TV or movie scripts, amounting to an increase of $29 million over the life of the contract.
Writers will see an increase in foreign TV residuals of about $1.3 million over the term of the contract. Residuals for made-for-cable programs, like HBO's ``The Sopranos'' and ``Sex in the City,'' will increase from under $300,000 a year to almost $4 million a year. And Fox will eventually be characterized as a full-fledged network and pay full fees to writers, rather than a discounted rate reserved for new companies.
Total writer pay would increase by nearly $41 million over the old contract, said writers guild negotiator Charles Holland.
The guild agreed to drop its objection to the so-called possessory film credit _ often given to directors in the form of ``A film by ...''
``We have something that's good for writers, and it's good for our industry,'' Holland said. ``We're very happy about that.''
Nick Counter, head of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, said he was happy the two sides were able to come together, but he declined to comment on the terms.
``This is a triumph of diplomacy on both sides,'' said Chris Murray, a Los Angeles-based entertainment business lawyer. ``They started further apart in their demands than ever before.''
News of a contract recommendation was greeted with jubilation throughout Hollywood.
``I've got hundreds of employees jumping for joy,'' said Bruce Helford, writer-executive producer of ABC's ``The Drew Carey Show.''
``I'm thrilled,'' said Rob Burnett, writer-producer for NBC's ``Ed'' and Letterman's ``Late Show'' on CBS. ``I don't think anybody wins in a strike. I was on strike in '88 and got tired of eating canned tuna.''
A writers' walkout in 1988 lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry nearly $500 million.
Negotiations for the contract began Jan. 22 and lasted nearly six weeks before breaking off March 1 amid pay disagreements. Talks resumed April 17.
The Screen Actors Guild said Friday that it would study the writers' agreement as it prepares for its own talks.
SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists have approved a package of wage and working condition proposals but have yet to present it to producers or movie studio and network heads.