WRITERS, PRODUCERS REACH TENTATIVE DEAL
Deal points revealed
By DAVE MCNARY
The WGA has finalized its tentative agreement with the majors and will present details of the pact to members today in meetings in Los Angeles and New York.
Those meetings — set for the Crowne Plaza in Gotham and the Shrine in Los Angeles — are expected to serve as a barometer for WGA leaders to determine whether the deal’s acceptable to the 10,500 striking writers.
The WGA West board of directors and the WGA East Council will meet Sunday to formally endorse the contract. And writers could be back at work as early Monday, depending on whether the WGA’s ruling bodies decide whether to end the three-month strike at those Sunday meetings.
If approved, the deal will run through May 1, 2011.
Leaders of the WGA made the announcement of the finalized deal early Saturday after spending much of Friday meeting with lawyers over the contract language. WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East prexy Michael Winship sent a message to members that stressed the gains made in the new-media sector.
“It is an agreement that protects a future in which the Internet becomes the primary means of both content creation and delivery,” they said. “It creates formulas for revenue-based residuals in new media, provides access to deals and financial data to help us evaluate and enforce those formulas, and establishes the principle that, ‘When they get paid, we get paid.’ “
Verrone and Winship said in the message that the time has come to end the strike and cited the “enormous personal toll on our members and countless others.”
“As such, we believe that continuing to strike now will not bring sufficient gains to outweigh the potential risks and that the time has come to accept this contract and settle the strike,” they said. “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.”
The finalized deal came a week after the Feb. 1 breakthrough in informal talks between WGA leaders — Verrone, negotiating committee chief John Bowman and WGA West exec director David Young — with News Corp. president Peter Chernin and Disney topper Robert Iger.
The resolution of the strike will enable TV networks to salvage the remaining TV season and pilot season along with permitting scribes to begin working again on film scripts. The end to the strike would also permit the Academy Awards telecast on Feb. 24 to proceed without disruption.
Members have remained strongly supportive of Verrone throughout the strike so it would be a surprise if the pact isn’t approved. Several of the board’s members are hardliners who were openly critical of the compensation terms to which the DGA agreed last month but Verrone will be able to tout gains in compensation for shows and films streamed on the Internet.
Verrone and Winship’s message singled out WGA jurisdiction and separated rights in new media, residuals for Internet reuse, enforcement and auditing tools, expansion of fair market value and distributor’s gross language.
The WGA leaders have been under pressure to be able to claim a victory in the talks that would justify the strike. But there is also widespread sentiment in the industry that the WGA strike helped pave the way for the DGA to achieve the gains made in its contract.
The WGA’s streaming deal still included a combination of a flat fee for the first year (excluding a two- to three-week window of free usage for promotional purposes) followed by a percentage of distributor’s gross. The WGA’s proposed pact on downloads is identical to the DGA deal, which more than doubles the residual payments from the old homevid formula for titles that sell more than 100,000 units.
The WGA’s terms also mirror the DGA agreement on new media jurisdiction, giving the guilds jurisdiction over projects with budgets of more than $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series, whichever is lowest.
Most of the details of the pact were presented Friday at a strike captains meeting with WGA leaders stressing to the captains that the membership needs to view the deal as a pragmatic way to end the strike under the best terms available.
The most significant opposition is coming on the issue of the promotional window on ad-supported streaming. The objections center on concerns that TV viewing will be quickly migrating to the Intenet before the end of the contract, given current viewing trends.
Speculation had been going around since the Feb. 1 breakthrough in negotiations that the length of the window would be shorter than terms in the DGA deal — 17 days for continuing shows, 24 for new shows. But the window matches the DGA’s.
To some WGA members familiar with the current workings of streaming, that’s unnacceptable due to current data showing that the lion’s share of streaming views takes place within the first three to five days with the majority often in the first 24 hours.
Indeed, reaction to the deal points in the blogosphere on Saturday morning has been decidedly mixed, with much of the criticism pointed at the length of the promotional window. “How can this be a good deal when everyone was yelling (that) the DGA deal was bad?,” read one comment on the United Hollywood blog. “There’s still that 17 day/24 day window which is SO SO BAD.”
“Family Guy” scribe Patrick Meighan described himself as “nominally on the fence on this deal” but said in a United Hollywood post that he felt the shift to distributor’s gross in the third year of the pact “should end up being a much better deal for writers than the DGA deal.”
The wide range of opinions on the merits of the pact could complicate WGA leaders’ efforts to gauge at Saturday’s meetings whether the pact would pass a ratification vote. The lukewarm responses from some vocal members have raised the possibility of the guild staying on strike during the 10-day ratification process. WGA boards could also opt at Sunday’s meetings to trigger a special 48-hour ratification process, though that may not be as attractive if there’s significant dissent expressed at Saturday’s meetings.