Hollywood writers, studios to resume talks

Striking United States screenwriters and major film and TV studios agreed on Friday to resume formal contract talks on November 26 as the most serious Hollywood labor confrontation in 20 years dragged into its 12th day.

The parties have not met face-to-face since the strike began with the collapse of last-ditch negotiations that had been urged by a federal mediator, unleashing a flurry of finger-pointing and angry rhetoric that escalated as the dispute neared its third week.

Word the two sides would return to the bargaining table came in identical brief statements from the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the industry’s negotiating arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

No further details were released.

But a Writers Guild spokesperson confirmed the union’s 12 000 members remained on strike. He said picketing would resume next week and that the union was going ahead with a rally and march down Hollywood Boulevard set for Tuesday.

Studio representatives had said at the outset of the dispute they saw no reason to keep talking so long as the writers were on strike, but they seemed to soften their stance in later statements. Both sides said in recent days they were waiting for a sign the other was serious about making a deal.

The announcement of new talks came hours after the strike claimed its first big-screen casualty, with production of a highly anticipated follow-up to the box-office hit The Da Vinci Code starring Tom Hanks put on hold.

In an online message to union members, WGA West president Patric Verrone hailed the breakthrough as a result of the union’s resolve.

”This announcement is a direct result of your efforts,” he wrote. ”For 12 days I have repeated that a powerful strike means a short strike.”

He added the guild would suspend picketing next Wednesday until Sunday, the eve of the next bargaining session, due to the Thanksgiving holiday.

The writers went on strike on November 5 after three months of contentious negotiations on a new contract with the movie and TV studios deadlocked over union demands for a greater share of revenues from filmed entertainment delivered via the Internet. A United States federal mediator joined in the last round of talks but failed to break the impasse.

Strike takes toll

The strike immediately threw the television industry into disarray, as several late-night talk shows like The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and Late Show with David Letterman were forced into reruns. Production also has ground to a halt on numerous prime-time comedies and dramas.

But the studios’ film release schedule had remained unscathed until Columbia Pictures announced late on Friday it indefinitely delayed production on the Da Vinci Code prequel Angels & Demons, to be directed by Ron Howard. The studio said the script, by Oscar-winning screenwriter and WGA member Akiva Goldman, needed further work.

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a former film star who still belongs to the Screen Actors Guild, intervened this week to try to break the stalemate, as did Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Both have expressed concerns about the economic impact of a strike.

The last major Hollywood strike, a 1988 walkout by the WGA, lasted 22 weeks, delayed the start of that year’s fall television season and cost the entertainment industry an estimated $500-million. Experts said a strike of similar duration this time would result in losses topping $1-billion. – Reuters

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