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Writers, producers far apart in negotiations

July 19, 2007|Richard Verrier | Times Staff Writer

In a break from rancorous contract talks, negotiators with the Writers Guild of America on Wednesday sought to portray themselves and their contract proposals as reasonable while accusing their employers of being overly pessimistic about the industry's outlook.

"There's always an attempt to characterize us as bellicose," said John F. Bowman, who chairs the guild's negotiating committee. "We're reasonable .... I have a Harvard MBA."

Bowman and his colleagues spoke at the Writers Guild of America headquarters in West Hollywood after a second day of talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

So far, the sides are far apart. They are expected to resume talks next week. Writers are especially concerned about securing adequate pay for work distributed over the Internet. Producers have proposed a study, arguing that it's early to establish pay rates because the digital technologies are so new.

"We are responding to a changing business climate," said Carol Lombardini, the alliance's executive vice president.

But the union says the industry has established hundreds of new-media ventures and cites statistics showing growth for all forms of entertainment in new and old media.

"Our industry is thriving," said Bowman, whose credits include NBC's "Saturday Night Live."

Writers Guild officials have rejected the study, calling it a delaying tactic.

"Frankly, we're tired of playing catch-up," said Larry Wilmore, whose credits include NBC's "The Office," citing frustration over a decades-old formula for home-video residuals.

Residuals are fees paid to talent when their films and TV shows are reused.

J. Nicholas Counter III, the industry's chief negotiator, called the writers' rejection short-sighted. He said the alliance, however, would no longer pursue the study idea and instead would push proposals it made this week to overhaul the entire residual system.

"We are committed to negotiate a deal that is fair to everyone," Counter said.


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