Hollywood writers strike talks making progress, but no deal yet

A third straight marathon of negotiations between Hollywood studios and striking screenwriters ended Friday night without a deal. But as three people at the talks described, both sides made substantial progress.

The two sides met again on Saturday.

Friday’s session began at 11 a.m. Pacific time at the headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which negotiates on behalf of major entertainment companies, in suburban Los Angeles. For the third day in a row, several Hollywood moguls participated live in the talks, which ended after 8 p.m.

Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive; Donna Langley, Chief Content Officer, NBCUniversal, Universal Pictures; Ted Sarandos, co-chief executive of Netflix; And David Zaslau, chief executive of Warner Bros. Discovery, previously delegated negotiations with the union to others. Their direct involvement — which many screenwriters and some analysts said was long overdue — contributed to meaningful progress in the past few days, according to people familiar with the negotiations, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic nature of the efforts.

During Thursday’s talks, for example, on the topic of minimum staffing for TV show writers’ rooms, the two sides downplayed their differences, saying the studios didn’t want to engage before the guild called a strike in early May.

Thursday’s session took a turn, however, after the two sides agreed to take a short break at 5 p.m., according to people familiar with the talks. Executives and studio labor lawyers expected guild negotiators to return to discuss points they had previously worked on. Instead, the guild made additional demands — one that the screenwriters’ return to work be tied to the resolution of the actors’ strike.

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The actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA, went on strike with the writers on July 14. Its demands are greater than those of the Writers Guild. Among other things, actors want 2 percent of gross revenue from streaming shows, which studios have said is a non-starter.

Hours after negotiations ended Thursday night, the guild sent an email to its members.

“Your negotiating team appreciates all the messages of solidarity and support we have received over the past few days, and urge you to come to the picket tomorrow if you can,” the email said.

The guild on Friday extended the strike to 2pm, which normally ends at noon.

In Los Angeles, several hundred writers picketed outside the gates of the arching Paramount Pictures, more than in recent weeks. The Writers Guild and SAG-AFTRA have been holding themed pickets to engage members, and Friday’s theme was “Puppet Day,” meaning that, in addition to picket signs, some marchers felt hand puppets and marionettes. The mood was optimistic.

A writers’ picket also began Friday afternoon outside Netflix’s Hollywood offices Farewell speeches, delivered via bullhorn. On the CBS lot in Studio City, the theme is “Quiet Disco,” where several hundred writers don headphones and go on a dance-pick.

Negotiations were mostly back on track before Friday’s strike ended, according to two people familiar with the matter. On the sticky issue of minimum staffing for television shows, the two sides were debating whether a showrunner felt that a minimum of four writers should be hired regardless of the number of episodes, or that a lesser number could do the job. (Earlier in the week, studios were pushing a sliding number based on the number of episodes.)

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They also discussed plans for writers to get paid for the first time from streaming services — in addition to other payments based on a percentage of active subscribers. The Guild originally asked entertainment companies to institute audience-based royalty payments (known as residuals in Hollywood) to reward “shows with the largest audiences.”

The writers have been on strike for 144 days. The longest was the writers’ strike of 1988, which lasted 153 days.

“Thank you for showing great support for the pickets today!” The guild’s negotiating team said in an email to members late Friday. “This means a lot to us as we continue to work toward a deal that writers deserve.”

Nicole Sperling Contributed report.

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