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Talks Between Writers, Studios Begin as Mellow Drama

Negotiations start today, with key issues being healthcare and pay. So far, the bitter relations of 2001 are a no-show.

April 05, 2004|James Bates | Times Staff Writer

Writers' position: Because of rising healthcare costs, studios should contribute more to the writers' plan. Writers note that they have kept the plan financially afloat by shaving $18 million in costs and requiring members to shoulder more of the burden. They now say studios should step up.

Studios' position: Although they acknowledge rising costs, companies contend that the writers' heath plan is a generous one that is in relatively good shape.

Outlook: Studios are likely to show some flexibility here.

DVD SALES

Writers' position: Studios should share a bigger piece of their DVD bounty with writers. Current formulas are antiquated, drafted in the early 1980s when video was a fledgling business.

Studios' position: Although the DVD business is healthy, it offsets soaring costs to make and market films, a majority of which don't break even.

Outlook: Probably the most contentious issue. Studios are dead set against yielding because they would also have to do the same for other guilds. But writers are adamant about scrapping the old formula.

RESIDUALS

Writers' position: TV writers deserve better residuals, especially in cable and on the UPN and WB networks.

Studios' position: TV costs are rising, with most shows losing money. UPN and WB are still developing networks and need to be free of costly burdens if they are to succeed.

Outlook: The issue could get contentious, although studios have yielded over the years on the issue of raising rates for writers on Fox shows.

JURISDICTION

Writers' position: The guild's representation of writers on animation, nonfiction and "reality" shows should be unambiguous.

Studios' position: The issue should be handled on a show-by-show basis and kept out of negotiations.

Outlook: Although important to both sides, jurisdiction doesn't look like a strike issue.

STRIKE THREAT

Most Hollywood industry and labor executives don't expect a strike, and say both sides are likely to continue talking even if the current contract expires. Talks could get heated, but studios haven't been stockpiling scripts or taking other steps that would signal a strike is looming.

Graphics reporting by Times staff writer JAMES BATES

Los Angeles Times

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