Hollywood writers got their first look Saturday at details of a tentative agreement with studios that could put the strike-crippled entertainment industry back to work, an offer the union’s East Coast president said he was endorsing.
A summary of the proposed deal crafted this week was posted on the Writers Guild of America’s website hours before members attended meetings in New York and Los Angeles.
Compensation for projects delivered via digital media was the central issue in the three-month-old walkout, which idled thousands of workers, disrupted the TV season and moviemaking and took the shine off Hollywood’s awards season.
“I believe it is a good deal. I am going to be recommending this deal to our membership,” Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East, told reporters before the New York meeting at a Times Square hotel.
Winship said afterward that he was encouraged by the membership’s response.
“We had a very lively discussion. I’m happy with what happened. … At the moment, I feel strongly it (the proposed deal) has a strong chance of going through,” he said.
Writers leaving the two-hour-plus New York meeting characterized the reaction as generally positive and said there was cautious optimism that the end of the strike — the guild’s first in 20 years — could be near.
“There’s a general feeling of tremendous success. I was delighted,” said TV writer John Simmons, who estimated that about 500 writers were on hand. “We agreed that this looks pretty good. … It bodes well for the future.”
He added that there are “always some people who will dissent” and that the complex deal required further scrutiny.
Carmen Culver, a film and TV writer, lauded the guild “for hanging tough.”
“It’s a great day for the labour movement. We have suffered a lot of privation in order to achieve what we’ve achieved,” Culver said.
Michael Moore, the Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker (“Bowling for Columbine”) and a nominee this year for his health-care film “Sicko,” attended the New York meeting.
“It’s an historic moment for labour in this country,” Moore told The Associated Press.
Hundreds of writers filed into the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles to hear from union leaders about the proposed deal. Some were cautiously optimistic that they could begin work by next week.
“I’m hopeful. We’ve been jerked around so much by the studios,” film writer Brian Suskind said. “I don’t think we’re feeling vindictive, but we’re angry about how we’ve been treated.”
If guild members on both coasts react favourably to the proposed deal, the guild’s board could vote Sunday to lift the strike order and the industry could be up and running Monday. This month’s Oscars ceremony, which has been under the cloud of a union and actors boycott, also would be a winner.
Sunday’s Grammy Awards ceremony has a picket-free pass from the union.
Winship cautioned that it’s not a “done deal” until the contract is ratified by members. He also said that several steps must be taken before the West guild’s board and East guild’s council decide to lift the strike order.
“It conceivably could be Monday, but there are several different alternative ways that the board and council could determine how this should be dealt with,” Winship said.
An outline of the three-year deal was reached in recent talks between media executives and the guild, with lawyers then drafting the contract language that was concluded Friday.
According to the guild’s summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs.
The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, including a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn’t kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed “promotional” by the studios.
Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal’s first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor’s gross in year three — the last point an improvement on the directors deal, which remains at the flat payment rate.
“Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success,” guild leaders Winship and Patric Verrone, head of the Writers Guild of America, West, said in an e-mailed message to members.
Together, the guilds represent 12,000 writers, with about 10,000 of those involved in the strike that began Nov. 5 and has cost the Los Angeles area economy alone an estimated $1 billion or more. Studios are represented by Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.