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Friday, 2 March, 2001, 12:19 GMT
Hollywood strike talks collapse
Hollywood Hills
The screen writers' strike could start in May
Talks to avert a spring Hollywood strike have broken down, raising fears that a walkout by screen writers could bring the industry to a halt.

Writers have been in negotiations with producers, demanding a bigger share of the revenue earned by sell-on rights - such as for video, DVD, cable and internet - as well as a bigger say in the creative process.

The talks had continued way past their original 2 February deadline. But one month on, the two sides were still "so far apart" that strike action looks increasingly inevitable.

There's going to have to be more money in the package for us to make a deal.

John Wells
Writers' Guild of America
And an actors' strike is also looming - raising the possibility that strikes by the two groups could run at the same time, or back-to-back.

The contracts of the 14,000 members of the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) expire on 1 May and the deal for 135,000 members of the Screen Actors' Guild (SGA) is up for renewal two months later.

Revenue row

Writers have said that the knock-on revenue earned by their TV shows and films has increased over recent years but has not been passed onto them.

The number of US movies and series shown abroad rose by 37% between 1994 and 1999, but producers have not been sharing the proceeds, the WGA said.

Actors marching down Hollywood Boulevard during the last actors' strike
Actors marching during last year's actors' strike
Talks are now unlikely to resume before April.

Producers say the WGA has walked away from a $30m (20m) proposal. This is an increase of approximately 11% over the next three years, but is still $82m (56m) less than the union was looking for.

John Wells, president of the western WGA and executive producer of TV shows ER and The West Wing, said: "We are disappointed this round of negotiations has not met with success.

"There's going to have to be more money in the package for us to make a deal."

The actors' union, however, has not even yet scheduled contract talks with TV and film producers.

The proposal that we had is quite realistic and reasonable

Robert Iger
Walt Disney Co
An actors' strike against the advertising industry, which also centred on the knock-on residual payments, ended in October 2000 after six months.

TV and film producers said they cannot raise their latest offer because they had to manage their costs in the face of economic uncertainty.

President of Walt Disney, Robert Iger, said: "The proposal that we had is quite realistic and reasonable because it offers the guild an increase no matter what happens with the economy."

Writers had also objected to directors claiming ownership of a film by using the 'A film by...' line in the credits. But the latest talks collapse is purely down to economic differences.

Contingency plans

Film studios and TV channels have been stockpiling scripts and shows to fill their schedules in case a strike takes place.

It is likely that their spring schedules will be affected whether a strike takes place or not as executives make contingency plans. TV and movie studios have been rushing films and series into production for months.

Programming slots will also be filled with more reality TV and news magazine shows.

The last strike by the Writers' Guild, a five-month walkout in 1988, delayed the start of the autumn TV season. It is estimated that any walkout by both groups would cost at least $2 billion a month.

The entertainment industry represents 10% of the local economy and employs an estimated 271,000 people, according to the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation.

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