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Writers, producers tangle as talks begin

July 17, 2007|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

Much-anticipated contract negotiations between Hollywood's writers and their employers got off to a predictably contentious start Monday, with each side publicly lambasting the other's proposals.

Writers Guild of America negotiators are seeking to double the rate of compensation writers receive from DVD sales, want union pay and benefits for writers working in reality television and on basic cable shows and are proposing a much higher rate of pay when shows are downloaded from the Internet.

But after the first day of negotiations ended, representatives of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers rebutted the union's demands in a statement posted on the group's website Monday night.

"Instead of helping us work toward solutions that would give us flexibility we all need for the benefit of all, the WGA demands would impose unreasonable costs and Draconian restrictions," the producers' statement said.

Writers Guild officials fired back, saying: "The conglomerates always try to paint us as unreasonable and bellicose. Our proposals simply try to ensure that writers keep up with the industry's growth. That's fair and reasonable."

As expected, the alliance's chief negotiator, J. Nicholas Counter III, proposed a three-year joint study that would allow both sides to examine changes in the business and pay rates for new media.

Producers argue that it's too early to establish pay rates across all new media, while writers fear being shortchanged as new technologies transform Hollywood.

During a term of "experimentation," employers would continue to pay residuals -- the fees talent gets when television shows and movies are reused -- on digital downloads based on a long-standing home video formula that guild officials contend is unacceptably low.

Adopting a carrot-and-stick approach, the alliance offered a second, more controversial proposal in case the union rejected its study offer. That calls for overhauling the entire residuals system.

Arguing that the current pay system is outmoded, the producers' alternative proposes paying residuals only after they have recouped their costs on films and TV shows.

"We must change our mind-set and our age-old ways of operating," the alliance said.

Talks are expected to resume on Wednesday after both sides have reviewed their respective proposals.

richard.verrier@latimes.com

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