It hasn’t quite bubbled up to the surface yet, but there’s a fair amount of subterranean angst in Hollywood these days.

Within the next few months, the studios’ contracts with the unions representing writers, actors and directors will all expire. The Writers Guild of America agreement ends this fall; those with the Screen Actors Guild and the Directors Guild of America are up early next year. And very few people involved in the negotiations believe that a work stoppage by all three unions next spring can be avoided.

Recently, I spoke with several studio executives and members of the Writers Guild negotiating committee. All of them agreed, privately, that the two sides are so far apart that it’s hard to imagine a settlement before a strike deadline.

On one side, the WGA – which tends to be the leader among the Hollywood unions – is looking for language or improved language that covers all the new technology (online, Video on Demand, DVD sales). On the other side, the studios want to make major changes in the residual payment structure that has been the backbone of union contracts since the 1950s. (Union members get residuals every time one of their episodes or films is released on DVD, sold overseas or resold for syndication.)

“It’s like we’re talking two different languages,” said one prominent TV writer. “We want improvements; the studios want give-backs.”

More:    MercuryNews

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