A threat by a group of below-the-line Hollywood crew members to picket Sunday’s Screen Actors Guild Awards at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to protest the ongoing writers strike has been called off. In an e-mail sent to other crew members, set decorator Mel Cooper, who had called for the rally, said the picketing was canceled “due to the positive motion of the talks” now that negotiators for the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are back at the bargaining table.
Thousands of people who work behind the scenes in movies and television, including vendors, have been adversely affected by the strike, which is now in its 12th week. Organizers had been hoping to picket the Shrine just as celebrities begin arriving in their limousines Sunday afternoon to gain maximum media exposure for their protest. Cooper said that if the current talks aimed at resolving the strike break down, they will plan another rally to highlight the financial impact the strike is having on their lives.
-- Robert W. Welkos
Marvel Studios has signed an interim deal with the striking Writers Guild of America, the union said.
The move follows recent separate guild pacts with other independent production companies such as Lionsgate, United Artists, the Weinstein Co. and David Letterman's Worldwide Pants.
Marvel Studios is launching its own film brand with the upcoming "Iron Man" (opening May 2 and distributed by Paramount Pictures) and "The Incredible Hulk," which opens June 13.
-- Jevon Phillips
Jumping on the bandwagon with other independent production companies, Lionsgate is on the verge of signing an interim agreement with the Writers Guild of America that is expected to be finalized in the next two days.
Based in Santa Monica, the publicly held entertainment outfit is behind such movie hits as the 2006 Oscar winner “Crash” and the “Saw” horror franchise, as well as the popular TV series “Mad Men” on AMC and “Weeds” on Showtime.
People close to the matter said Lionsgate was motivated to sign an interim deal to get rolling on its current TV shows, which also include the new NBC series “Fear Itself” and a planned small-screen version of “Crash" for Starz Encore.
If the deal concludes as expected, Lionsgate would join other independent companies that have recently signed agreements with the guild, including United Artists, the Weinstein Co., Spyglass Entertainment and David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants Inc.
Such deals, however, would be supplanted by any new contract that the writers sign with the studios. Talks between the parties resumed this week, raising hopes that an end to the 12-week-old strike is within sight.
The Writers Guild has hired entertainment attorney Alan Wertheimer to advise the union in its negotiations. Wertheimer, who helped negotiate the Worldwide Pants deal, represents screenwriters such as Eric Roth ("Munich") and guild board member Tom Schulman ("Dead Poets Society").
-- Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier
Joint statement from the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers:
On Wednesday, January 23rd the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will begin informal discussions to determine if there is a basis for both parties to return to formal negotiations. Both the AMPTP and the WGA have agreed to make no public comments about the informal discussions until those discussions have concluded.
Sent to the WGA membership today by their leaders:
To Our Fellow Members,
We have responded favorably to the invitation from the AMPTP to enter into informal talks that will help establish a reasonable basis for returning to negotiations. During this period we have agreed to a complete news blackout. We are grateful for this opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion with industry leaders that we hope will lead to a contract. We ask that all members exercise restraint in their public statements during this critical period.
In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks.
On another issue, the Writers Guild, West Board of Directors has voted not to picket the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Members of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) face many of the same issues concerning compensation in new media that we do. In the interest of advancing our goal of achieving a fair contract, the WGAW Board felt that this gesture should be made on behalf of our brothers and sisters in AFM and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA).
Writers Guild of America, East
Patric M. Verrone
Writers Guild of America, West
The 50th annual Grammy Awards will not have a picket line waiting for the limos.
The board of directors of the Writers Guild of America West said Tuesday it had voted not to publicly protest the music industry’s annual awards show, scheduled for Feb. 10 at Staples Center in downtown L.A.
In the days after the Golden Globes telecast collapsed this month, when the Screen Actors Guild said it would advise its members not to cross a writers’ picket line, the producers of the Grammys launched a very public campaign to distance “music’s biggest night” from the divisive issues that are at the center of the 11-week WGA strike.
The Grammy producers had requested an interim contract to allow their show to go forward, but WGA spokesman Gregg Mitchell said Tuesday that no agreement has “yet been reached.” The announced decision to forgo picketing, however, suggests that a deal may be forthcoming.
The decision takes considerable pressure off producers who are trying to book the performers on the CBS show as well as nominees such as Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and Queen Latifah, who also have memberships in the Screen Actors Guild.
The Writers Guild of America, West, will not picket the Grammys, as some had feared. That paves the way for the award show to go forward as planned -- with plenty of star power in attendance. Stay tuned for details.
Screen Actors Guild of America Chief Negotiator Doug Allen on Monday downplayed expectations that a proposed contract negotiated by directors would hold sway with actors.
"Each guild must act in the best interests of its own membership," Allen said in a statement. "The rush to anoint this agreement as the 'solution' for this industry is premature."
Allen said he was reserving judgment until he received more specific details of the directors contract that was announced last week. "Much of it is simply unknown,'' he added.
The remarks come a day before Hollywood's striking writers are set to resume talks with major studios, which are hoping to use their contract with the directors as the basis for deals with the writers and actors, whose contract expires June 30.
Directors achieved a doubling of the current residual rate for downloads of TV shows and movies and established payments for advertising-supported streaming.
Still, critics, including board members of SAG, say the agreement gives studios too big a promotional window for streaming movies and TV programs, and exempts too many original Web shows from union coverage.
-- Richard Verrier
Spurred by the day-old employment contract negotiated by the Directors Guild, Hollywood's writers and the major studios agreed Friday to resume their negotiations in hopes of reaching an agreement that would end the 11-week-old strike, according to several people close to the matter.
Writers Guild of America leaders plan to meet as early as Monday with News Corp. President Peter Chernin and possibly other studio chiefs, reviving talks that fell apart early last month, these people said.
Representatives of the Writers Guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, declined to comment on the meeting.
But in an interview Friday, Writers Guild of America President Practic M. Verrone acknowledged that his union was ready to re-engage.
“Everyone wants us to get back into negotiations, and that’s what we intend to do,” Verrone said.
Verrone declined to give his assessment of the DGA deal, saying guild officials were still studying its contents. The guild’s negotiating committee will meet Saturday to discuss the directors' contract and make recommendations to Verrone and Executive Director David Young on how to proceed in their upcoming negotiations.
Though the directors' deal falls short of what the writers were seeking, it generally received positive reviews from several negotiating committee members and top writers.
“I’m really impressed how mindful the DGA was that the deal had to be good enough to put the whole town back to work,’’ said writer-director Scott Frank (“Minority Report,” “The Interpreter”), a member of the Writers Guild board. “They were under enormous pressure and they seemed to have delivered.”
--Richard Verrier and Claudia Eller
Strike or no strike, the 80th Annual Academy Awards -- and the red carpet -- will go on, telecast producer Gil Cates said Friday. But what remains to be seen is who will be on that red carpet and onstage at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood on Feb. 24, when the winners are announced.
Cates hinted that he might not need actors on stage for the show.
“There are enough clips in 80 years of Oscar history to make up a very entertaining show,” said Cates in an interview with The Times. “We'd have a lot of people on stage. Much as this is shocking to people, there are a lot of people who don't act. I just hope that the actors are there. I pray that the actors are there. I'm planning that the actors are there.”
Cates also stressed that familiar phrase, “The envelope, please,” will be part of the broadcast.
“We can’t do the show without ‘The envelope, please,' ” he said.
The Writers Guild of America has said that it will not grant the Academy Awards a waiver allowing union writers to script the show and freeing the Screen Actors Guild members to attend without fear of crossing a picket line. The threat of picket lines kept actors away from last Sunday’s Golden Globe Awards, forcing organizers to curtail the glitzy, celebrity-filled event and replace it with a televised news conference in which the winners were announced.
“I thought that under the circumstances they did a very good show,” Cates said of the Globes.
Cates said the Oscar show’s set is being designed and built. Film montages are being assembled. And after the nominations are announced Tuesday, he added, they will begin figuring out the musical numbers and choosing actors to be presenters.
"I don't want to say read my lips, but it's not going to be canceled," Cates said of the show. "It's a big moment for the town. The grand-daddy of all the shows and it awards excellence. . . . The strike could be settled by then. Who knows? Four weeks is a long way off."
--Robert W. Welkos
The Directors Guild of America has struck an agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Below is the press release the group issued:
DGA AND AMPTP REACH TENTATIVE AGREEMENT ON TERMS OF NEW CONTRACT
DGA Gains Solid Wage Increases with No Rollbacks Plus Precedent-Setting Jurisdiction Over New-Media and a Doubling of EST Residuals Rate
LOS ANGELES – The Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced today that it has concluded a tentative agreement on the terms of a new 3-year collective bargaining agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).
Highlights of the new agreement include:
• Increases both wages and residual bases for each year of the contract.
• Establishes DGA jurisdiction over programs produced for distribution on the Internet.
• Establishes new residuals formula for paid Internet downloads (electronic sell-through) that essentially doubles the rate currently paid by employers.
• Establishes residual rates for ad-supported streaming and use of clips on the Internet.
“Two words describe this agreement - groundbreaking and substantial,” said Gil Cates, chair of the DGA's Negotiations Committee, in announcing the terms of the new agreement. “The gains in this contract for directors and their teams are extraordinary – and there are no rollbacks of any kind.”
Formal negotiations between the DGA’s 50-member Negotiations Committee and the AMPTP began Saturday, January 12, and were concluded today. Talks were led by Cates and DGA National Executive Director Jay D. Roth. They were preceded by months of informal discussions and nearly two years of preparation and research by Guild staff and consultants.
“This was a very difficult negotiation that required real give and take on both sides,” said DGA president Michael Apted. “Nonetheless, we managed to produce an agreement that enshrines the two fundamental principles we regard as absolutely crucial to any employment and compensation agreement in this digital age: First, jurisdiction is essential. Without secure jurisdiction over new-media production — both derivative and original — compensation formulas are meaningless. Second, the Internet is not free. We must receive fair compensation for the use and reuse of our work on the Internet, whether it was originally created for other media platforms or expressly for online distribution.”
The agreement includes the following gains in New Media:
• Jurisdiction: The new agreement ensures that programming produced for the Internet (both original and derivative) will be directed by DGA members and their teams. The only exceptions are low-budget original shows on which production costs are less than $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program, or $500,000 per series—whichever is lowest.
• Electronic Sell-Through: EST is the paid download of features and TV programming. The agreement more than doubles the EST residual for television and increases the feature film residual by 80% over the rate currently paid by the employers.
Specifically, the EST residual rates will be .70% for television downloads and .65% for film downloads, above a certain number of units downloaded. Below that, residuals will be based on formula employers currently pay.
Payments for EST will be based on distributor’s gross, which is the amount received by the entity responsible for distributing the film or television program on the Internet. Having distributor’s gross as the residuals basis was a key point in our negotiations.
The companies are now contractually obligated to give us unfettered access to their deals and data. This access is new and unprecedented and creates a transparency that has never existed before. Additionally, if the exhibitor or retailer is part of the producer’s corporate family, we have improved provisions for challenging any suspect transactions.
• Ad-Supported Streaming: After an initial 17-day window for free promotional streaming of Internet programs, companies must pay 3% of the residual base (approximately $600 for network prime time 1-hour drama) for 26 weeks of streaming. They can continue to stream for an additional 26-week period by paying an additional 3% -- or a total of $1,200 for one year’s worth of streaming. (During a program's first season, the 17-day window is expanded to 24 days to help build audience.)
• Sunset Provision: Allows both sides to revisit new media when agreement expires.
“Our fundamental goal in these negotiations was to protect our interests in the present while laying the groundwork for a future whose outlines are not yet clear,” said Cates. “We knew that gaining jurisdiction over new-media production and winning fair compensation for the reuse of our work on the Internet were the key issues for setting a framework for the future, but we also had to secure real gains for our members in today’s world.”
The new tentative agreement includes the following:
• Annual wage increases of 3% for primetime dramatic shows and daytime serials and 3.5% for all other covered programming.
• Outsized increase in director’s compensation on high-budget basic cable for series in the second and subsequent seasons.
• Annual residual increases of 3% for primetime shows and 3.5% for all other covered programming.
• Specific advances that pertain to members of the director’s team.
PLEASE SEE FACT SHEET BELOW FOR MORE DETAILS
Details of the new agreement will be submitted to the Guild's National Board for approval at its regularly scheduled meeting on Saturday, January 26, 2008. The DGA’s current contracts expire on June 30, 2008.
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FACT SHEET DGA Tentative Agreement January 17, 2008
• Compensation for all categories except directors of network prime time dramatic programs and daytime serials increases by 3.5%, each year of the contract.
• Compensation for directors of network prime time dramatic programs and daytime serials increases by 3%, each year of the contract.
• Outsized increase in director’s compensation on high budget basic cable dramatic programs for series in the second and subsequent seasons:
o For ½ hour programs: 12% increase in daily rate and increase in guaranteed number of days to 7 days.
• Results in show rate increasing from $9,009 to $11,760.
o For 1-hour programs: 12% increase in daily rate and increase in guaranteed number of days to 14 days.
• Results in show rate increasing from $18,010 to $23,520.
• Residual bases increase by 3.5%, each year of the contract, except for reruns in network prime time.
• Residuals for reruns in network prime time increase by 3%, each year of the contract.
• Employers continue to make health care contributions at specially negotiated rate of 8.5%, secured in the 2005 Basic Agreement to address the impact of the growing cost of health care on the DGA Plan. Provisions permitting decrease in contribution rate by employers removed.
• Second Assistant Directors to manage locations in New York and Chicago.
• Establishes a wrap supervision allowance of $50/day for the Second Assistant Director who supervises wrap on local and distant locations.
• Increases incidental fees and dinner allowances for Unit Production Managers and Assistant Directors.
• All new media content that is derivative of product already covered under current contracts.
• Original content:
o All original content above $15,000/minute or $300,000/program or $500,000/series, whichever is lowest.
o Original content below the threshold will be covered when a DGA member is employed in the production.
Electronic Sell-Through (Paid Downloads)
• More than doubles the rate currently paid by the employers on television programming to .70% above 100,000 units downloaded.
o Below 100,000 breakpoint: rate will be paid at the current rates of .30% until worldwide gross receipts reach $1 million and .36% thereafter.
• Increases rate paid on feature films by 80% to .65% above 50,000 units downloaded
o Below 50,000 breakpoint: rate will be paid at the current rates of .30% until worldwide gross receipts reach $1 million and .36% thereafter.
• Payments for EST will be based on distributor’s gross instead of producer’s gross, a key point in our negotiations. Distributor’s gross is the amount received by the entity responsible for distributing the film or television program on the Internet. We would not have entered the agreement on any other basis.
• Companies will be contractually obligated to give us access to their deals and data, enabling us to monitor this provision and prepare for our next negotiation. This access is new and unprecedented.
• If the exhibitor or retailer is part of the producer’s corporate family, we have improved provisions for challenging any suspect transactions.
• 17-day window (24-day window for series in their first season).
• Pays 3% of the residual base, approximately $600 (for network prime time 1-hour dramas), for each 26-week period following 17-day window, within first year after initial broadcast.
• Pays 2% of distributor’s gross for streaming that occurs more than one year after initial broadcast.
• Provides the companies with limited windows where they can distribute clips of feature films and television programs in new media to promote a program. Provides for payment for all other uses in New Media.
• Allows both sides to revisit new media when the agreement expires.