The Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), which was expected to resume talks with the Writers Guild of America (
) next week, suggested Thursday that the next round of negotiations may have to wait longer.
AMPTP has indicated it could be another week or two before talks resume, as it turns its focus to concluding five contracts expiring July 31 with the Teamsters union representing about 4,000 drivers and four basic craft unions.
The rest period is unlikely to calm the waters in the WGA negotiations, which got off to a shaky start this week.
After just two meetings on Monday and Wednesday, in which the factions exchanged proposals, the guild rejected Hollywood’s all-or-nothing offer calling for a total revamp of the half century-old residuals system that pays writers $250 million-$260 million per year, saying it thinks the networks and studios are bluffing.
AMPTP had initially proposed keeping the current residuals, health and pension formula in place for three years while the two sides jointly studied the impact of new media.
But when the WGA expressed no interest in the offer, labeling it a stall tactic which would result in Hollywood finding a way to avoid paying its members anything, the producers pulled it off the table Wednesday.
Instead, AMPTP held out its harsher alternative: a “recoupment-based” system--the unions term it “profit-based”—in which writers would forego residuals unless the companies recover the costs of development, production and marketing.
WGA officials and producer-writers quickly rejected that proposal too, saying they don’t trust Hollywood’s accounting methods, even with an outside jointly selected auditor involved.
“What we’re asking for is very reasonable,” said WGA negotiation committee chair John F. Bowman. “We want to be compensated based on historical models. … We want to keep up and what they want to do is pay us nothing…. For us, revenues are clean. They’re easily audited.”
The guild fears that too many things can be thrown into the production hat and it would be impossible to enforce a provision allowing the studios to recover their costs before paying residuals.
Bowman reasserted his contention that Fox's accounting of “The Simpsons” shows the long-running hit is $45 million in the red. The studio has denied the claims, insisting that profit participants have earned millions.
Guild officials argue that the industry’s economic forecast is rosy. In contrast, industry executives have repeatedly complained about rising production costs and viewer erosion amid new and unproven distribution platforms.
WGA executives pointed to Price Waterhouse Cooper figures showing that worldwide television revenues from advertising and subscription fees grew from $130 billion in 2002 to more than $170 billion in 2006, and are projected to grow at about 5.8% per year through 2011—making TV a $228 billion global market (while film revenues would grow 4.9% to more than $100 billion by then).
“Our sense is this,” Bowman said. “The future is here. It’s right now and it’s very bright. It’s a great world we’re in and the industry is poised to grow and we ask to be a part of it.”