As everyone (well, anyone who reads this column, anyway) knows, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), otherwise known as “the conglomerates,” have been holding informal talks in an effort to settle the more than three-month old strike. The AMPTP walked away from the bargaining table in December, leaving much of the vast wasteland (also known as “television”) even more of a wilderness for quality television. Regular, scripted series have been bled of new episodes and their wells will soon be dry, to be replaced by more unscripted, reality television, imports and heavily edited cable series (such as Dexter).
The WGA signed a couple of independent agreements early on (well, sort of), including one with David Letterman’s shop World Wide Pants, enabling Letterman and Craig Ferguson to return to late night television with their writing staffs intact. “But something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear…” (Sorry, that wonderful '60s protest song “For What it’s Worth” just popped into my mind.
Within the last week or so, and since the parties have been informally chatting, something IS happening. Joining World Wide Pants, several (and increasingly influential) film production — and distribution — houses have signed individual agreements with the WGA. To me (a loyal member of the viewing public, and — what do I know? — far from an industry insider) this is pretty darn significant.
A growing list of major league companies has begun to sign independent agreements with the WGA — agreements that largely adopt the standards proposed by the WGA back in December. The WGA would suggest (and I would have to agree) that this is powerful evidence that the WGA demands (particularly regarding things like compensation for new media) are fairly realistic.
So, who are these "maverick" production companies and distributors? Perhaps the corporate names won’t ring a bell, but their movies might. Some of the companies are newish but a couple of them (RKO and United Artists) are downright legendary:
• RKO (a granddaddy of a film company!) — Citizen Kane, King Kong (the original), It’s a Wonderful Life — will announce its 2009 production schedule shortly.
• Lionsgate — Akeela and the Bee, Bug, Good Luck Chuck, Saw IV
• Spyglass Entertainment — Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Eight Below, 27 Dresses
• Marvel (yes, the comic book guys) — The upcoming The Incredible Hulk
• Weinstein Company — Rambo, The Great Debaters
• Sydney Kimmel — Breach, Alpha Dog
• United Artists — Tom Cruise’s company (‘nuff said, whatever you think about Cruise personally)
• MRC — Babel
• Jackson Bites — Doug Liman’s (Bourne Supremacy) company, who has made a deal with the WGA to produce Internet-based films
• Mandate Films — Kenneth Branagh's upcoming remake of Hitchcock’s Sleuth
Far from being small indie producers who have nothing to lose by dealing with the WGA, these are (at least in my non-Hollywood estimation) pretty heavy hitters in their own right. What does it mean that these respected and influential entities have signed with the WGA? Is it to show solidarity with the creative folks? Is it to have a leg up on the really, really big guys like General Electric, Time-Warner and Sony should the ongoing informal talks go nowhere fast? (As my mother would say: “Bite your tongue.”) Perhaps it is as Ted Hartley, CEO of RKO said: "This now releases the pent-up energies of the talented executives, producers and writers at RKO… We are all eager to get back to creating great films and innovative programming…”
Maybe these deals, nearly all occurring in the past couple of weeks, will serve to prod the conglomerates to strike (as it were) while the iron is hot and bring the strike to a positive solution for all of us!
And — this just in: Nikki Finke of Deadline Hollywood is reporting that the talks between the AMPTP and the WGA going so well that the Oscars might be able to “proceed normally.” Keep your eye on Nikki's column and on United Hollywood over the next few days as this story develops.