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Writers Guild Talks Could Start Early

Entertainment: Hollywood producers are pushing to advance contract negotiations to ease tensions, avoid strike.

September 18, 2000|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

With tensions mounting daily over a possible strike next year by Hollywood writers against producers, a movement is quietly afoot to start contract talks as early as next month to try to head off trouble, sources said Sunday.

Sources said that there is a better than even chance talks will start then, but cautioned that the situation is in flux because it is still unclear whether leaders of the Writers Guild of America will agree to early talks.

The Writers Guild contract doesn't expire until May 1 with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents producers, the major TV networks and studios.

Still, the possibility of a strike by writers next year, along with a possible separate strike by film and TV actors after their contract expires June 1, has had Hollywood on edge all summer.

Because of the long lead time required for film and TV work, producers have already started trying to stockpile scripts and have been shuffling shooting schedules.

That practice prompted John Wells, president of the Writers Guild of America, West, to write a letter earlier this month to guild members urging them not to cooperate in writing extra TV episodes.

WGA officials declined to comment.

Sources said that in recent weeks Hollywood producers, worried that a strike will shut down the business, have been quietly lobbying writers to start talks sooner rather than later to ease tensions.

But any suggestion of early talks is likely to be controversial.

Past guild regimes favored negotiating well before contracts expired, arguing that producers were more likely to negotiate better deals without a strike breathing down on them. But those guild officials ended up being tossed out by more militant members.

Hollywood is facing its worst labor tension in more than a decade, largely because labor guilds believe they haven't shared in the riches from the booming cable and foreign TV markets.

Writers want a bigger piece of that pie. They also are lobbying for several "creative" issues, including modifying the common practice in which studios give "a film by" credit to directors of a movie. Directors counter that writers want to infringe on the work and rights of directors.

One bellwether of Hollywood's potential labor crisis next year is the strike by actors against the advertising industry, now in its 21st week.

The two sides, however, have been engaged in talks since last week and are expected to continue meeting today in an effort to settle the strike.

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