Hollywood screenwriters in last-ditch talks to avert crippling industrial action

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The Independent US

Screenwriters in Hollywood will sit down with studio executives today to try to avert a much-threatened strike when their present contracts expire on 1 May. This could be the last chance to ward off a season of industrial action which could grind the entertainment industry to a halt.

Screenwriters in Hollywood will sit down with studio executives today to try to avert a much-threatened strike when their present contracts expire on 1 May. This could be the last chance to ward off a season of industrial action which could grind the entertainment industry to a halt.

With studios rushing films and television series into production before the summer, both sides are accusing the other of making meaningful negotiation impossible. John Wells, one of Hollywood's most prolific television writers who is the Writers Guild president, has limited the talks to two weeks and threatened to cut off further contact until late April if they do not reach a solution.

The studios, meanwhile, have been talking about a strike as a fait accompli for such a long time that some union members think they want an industry shutdown as an excuse to slash overheads and radically restructure Hollywood so it is less dependent on unions.

The writers are not the only ones who might refuse to do their jobs. The Screen Actors Guild is due to renegotiate its contract by the end of June.

The writers and actors are concerned about proper compensation in new media. The writers are also spoiling for a fight over screen credit, contending that directors should not have the right to describe a film as being "by" them.

The studios are anxious to contain production costs and are not inclined to offer generous royalty packages for television re-runs and online spin-offs. Last year they endured a six month-long strike by actors refusing to appear in commercials and music videos.

For now, the guilds are playing the role of aggrieved but honest broker, insisting they are doing nothing to precipitate a strike. William Daniels, the Screen Actors Guild president, said last week: "There is no good that can come from talk of a strike before the unions and producers have even had a chance to begin formal talks.''

Writers and actors are themselves divided between those who feel they should not be cut out of the profits of new media outlets, and those who feel that a strike would be suicidal.

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