Writers pressured by Hollywood directors' deal

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The big Hollywood studios pulled off a victory last night in their campaign to coax striking film and television writers back to work, successfully concluding very similar contract talks with another industry guild, representing directors, in six days.

The deal with the Directors Guild – which came far faster than most Hollywood business analysts had predicted – offered minimum wage increases and, perhaps more significantly, a doubling of residual rates for programming and film work downloaded over the internet. Finding an equitable deal on new media distribution is at the heart of the writers' strike, which began in early November and has shown no signs of easing, at least up to now.

Not every detail of the DGA deal was immediately made public but it is likely to drive a wedge between writers strongly committed to staying out on strike, and those feeling the economic pinch who might be more inclined to compromise.

Directors are less militant about residual payments than writers or actors because their livelihoods are less dependent on them. Everyone in Hollywood expected them to cut a deal with the studios, but few thought it would come before next month's Oscars ceremony, which the writers and actors are threatening to close down just as they closed down last weekend's Golden Globes.

Both the negotiating body representing the studios and the Directors Guild sounded ecstatic about their rapid progress last night. "Two words describe this agreement – groundbreaking and substantial," said Gil Cates, who negotiated on behalf of the DGA and – perhaps not coincidentally – routinely oversees the Academy Awards ceremony. "The gains in this contract for directors and their teams are extraordinary," he added, "and there are no rollbacks of any kind".

The studios decided in early December they would rather break off talks with the writers and concentrate on the directors.

Formal negotiations with the DGA began last week, but both sides were already close to a deal after weeks of informal meetings.

The leadership of the Writers Guild had no immediate comment last night. But they have been under increasing pressure both from their own members – including the likes of George Clooney and Tom Hanks who have offered to mediate to end the strike – and from Hollywood's army of lighting technicians, set-builders, caterers, make-up artists and the rest, all of whom have suffered from the dramatic fall-off in production in the past two months.

Up to now the WGA membership has stood firm in their determination to win a fair share of the proceeds from work that they are instrumental in generating. The Screen Actors Guild, whose own contract is up for renewal in June, have been right behind them, refusing to cross any picket lines and participating in some of the demonstrations.

Since the last round of negotiations with the studios, the WGA has focused on cutting deals with individual production houses.