- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 10, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Striking Hollywood screenwriters said yesterday they had agreed on a deal to settle their three-month-old dispute and could be back at work tomorrow if it meets with union members’ approval.

Leaders of the 12,000-strong Writers Guild of America e-mailed members early yesterday to inform them an agreement with studio chiefs had been reached and would be discussed at meetings in New York and Los Angeles.

“We have a tentative deal,” said WGA leaders Patric Verrone and Michael Winship, adding the time had come to settle the dispute, which has forced the cancellation of several television series and films.

“An ongoing struggle against seven multinational media conglomerates, no matter how successful, is exhausting, taking an enormous personal toll on our members and countless others. … Continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks,” they said. “The time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike.”

WGA members met in Los Angeles and New York to discuss the plan, before the guild’s board meets to approve the deal today.

“I believe it is a good deal. I am going to be recommending this deal to our membership,”

Mr. Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America-East, told reporters after the meeting at a Times Square hotel, during which he recommended that the deal be ratified, that the writers “had a very lively discussion. I’m happy with what happened.”

“At the moment, I feel strongly it [the proposed deal] has a strong chance of going through,” he said.

Writers leaving the two-hour-plus New York meeting characterized the reaction as generally positive and said there was cautious optimism that the end of the strike — the guild’s first in 20 years — could be near.

“There’s a general feeling of tremendous success. I was delighted,” said TV writer John Simmons, who estimated that about 500 writers were on hand. “We agreed that this looks pretty good.”

But he added that there are “always some people who will dissent” and that the complex deal required further scrutiny.

The agreement was reached after a breakthrough in negotiations on the thorny issue of how to share profits from sales of films and television shows sold via the Internet, the key sticking point of the dispute.

The proposed new contract would run through May 2011 and would give writers who are paid to set scales increases of around 3 percent per year.

According to the guild’s summary, the deal provides union jurisdiction over projects created for the Internet based on certain guidelines, sets compensation for streamed, ad-supported programs and increases residuals for downloaded movies and TV programs.

The writers deal is similar to one reached last month by the Directors Guild of America, including a provision that compensation for ad-supported streaming doesn’t kick in until after a window of between 17 to 24 days deemed “promotional” by the studios.

Writers would get a maximum $1,200 flat fee for streamed programs in the deal’s first two years and then get a percentage of a distributor’s gross in year three — the last point an improvement on the directors deal, which remains at the flat-payment rate.

“Much has been achieved, and while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success,” Mr. Verrone and Mr. Winship said in their e-mail.

Writers went on strike Nov. 5 after talks between the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers collapsed. The strike sent shock waves through the entertainment industry, with estimated losses running into hundreds of millions of dollars. It also severely disrupted Hollywood’s annual awards season, leading to the cancellation of the traditional gowns-and-tuxedos Golden Globes awards ceremony.

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