Rancor Increases in WGA Strike

LOS ANGELES After several days of negotiations between Hollywood writers and producers, during which time hopes were raised that the writers’ strike might end before the holidays, both sides once again traded barbs on Friday. Each camp accused the other of releasing false information.

The East and West branches of the Writers Guild of America jointly issued a letter to their members Friday morning informing writers of where talks stood, while allegedly correcting misinformation disseminated as a result of those negotiations.

Among the letter’s more rancorous nuggets: “Highly placed executives have been telling some of our writers that the companies are preparing to abruptly cut off negotiations. They say the companies plan to accuse the WGA of stalling and being unwilling to negotiate, and that the companies will use that as an excuse to walk out.”

In response to the WGA’s letter, the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers issued its own statement, countering what it perceives as factual errors made by the WGA. Among those accusations were the following:

“The WGA’s organizers actually spend relatively little time at the negotiating table. The WGA’s organizers sought a four-day break, and when they returned, sessions that were supposed to begin at 10 am often did not start until after lunchtime. When they are at the negotiating site, WGA organizers typically spend as much time speaking among themselves as they do at the negotiating table.”

Talks were expected to continue through Friday. But how this increased level of vitriol will affect those discussions was unclear.

Negotiations held since Nov. 29 have featured a swap of detailed proposals on various issues, including a particularly elaborate give-and-take on the subject of compensation for TV content streamed over the Internet.

The introduction of actual haggling into the talks swelled optimism for the first time in weeks. Yet at the end of the fifth week of the WGA strike, a new realization may be kicking in: The parties must actually agree on compromise solutions to many difficult issues.

There had been a few days of newly civil discourse thanks to CAA partner Bryan Lourd’s ad hoc mediation. But identifying specific formulas for compromise still could prove easier said than done.

Robert King, a WGA West director and negotiating committee member, posted his feelings about the current state of negotiations on the ArtfulWriter screenwriting blog Thursday. “My personal observation is that negotiations have moved toward a better place,” King wrote. “This might be just a brief respite before Negotiations Armageddon, but for the moment there is dialogue, and dialogue is essential for these difficult new-media issues.

“Part of the problem of negotiations—and especially this negotiation—is that both sides tend to interpret the contractual proposals and counterproposals in one way: as an attempt to [screw] them,” he added. “This is complicated by the fact that sometimes management’s proposals are designed to do exactly that, and sometimes they aren’t designed to do that but might be used later by less enlightened souls to do that.”

Twenty-four bargaining sessions have been held since the WGA-AMPTP negotiations began July 16. The strike marks its 33rd day today, with picketing scheduled to continue on both coasts.

In addition to its usual picketing throughout Los Angeles, the WGA will mount a special “informational picket” at the Burbank, Calif., offices of FremantleMedia, whose reality productions the guild has been trying to organize.

In New York, where picketing has targeted select media headquarters on a rotating basis, picketers suddenly are faced with the additional challenge of wintry weather conditions.

“[Thursday] was the coldest day so far in New York,” WGA East rep Sherry Goldman said. “Temperatures got close to freezing, and the wind chills were in the high teens.” Some 200 striking writers were joined by members of SAG, AFTRA and DGA on Thursday for picketing at HBO’s Manhattan offices.

“The crowded swelled so much that New York City police were forced to extend the barricades into one lane of the very trafficked Avenue of the Americas to accommodate the picketers,” Goldman noted.

Chant of the day: “Hey, hey, ho, ho—HBO, show us the dough.”

Also on Thursday, the WGA said that nominations for TV and radio categories of the 2008 WGA Awards would be announced Dec. 13 and film noms will be unveiled Jan. 10.

There had been some speculation that the WGA Awards could become a strike casualty. But the guild said awards galas remain slated for Feb. 9, when simultaneous ceremonies will be held by the WGAW and WGAE in Los Angeles and New York, respectively.

This story updates and replaces an item posted earlier today with strike developments on Friday.