Filmmakers and dealmakers were just unpacking their parkas in Park City, Utah, on the opening day of the Sundance Film Festival Thursday, when news of a potential breakthrough toward ending the 11-week-old Hollywood writers strike began to zoom from BlackBerry to BlackBerry.
The Directors Guild of America reached a tentative contract deal with studios addressing the main issue that drove the writers to strike payment for work used online. Under the agreement, when TV shows and movies are downloaded from the Internet, the directors will receive about twice what they have received for videotape and DVD residuals. Across Los Angeles and Park City on Thursday, writers, directors, actors, producers and studio executives were scrutinizing the pact. "People can argue over whether it's a good deal or a bad deal," said Paul Haggis, the writer of Crash and Million Dollar Baby, poring over the DGA data points in his office in L.A. "If there's any way to make it work, the writers will."
Compared to the gloomy atmosphere of the star-less Golden Globes night earlier in the week, Park City was pretty perky at the prospect of Hollywood returning to business. "We're excited," said Mark Burton, president of production for independent film studio and financier IndieVest, before carving into his veal shank at one of the festival's hotter tickets, a ChefDance dinner at Harry O's nightclub. "There's something on the table. The writers are gonna have to have really strong reasons to turn this down." A film buyer sipping champagne at the bar expressed hope that the prospect of a settlement might calm Sundance's expected buying frenzy. "The prices here were supposed to go nuts with everyone desperate to fill their slates because of the strike," he said. "Hopefully now it will settle down to where it should be."
Some festival-goers were still trying to digest what the deal meant for them. A first-time screenwriter informed of the terms while riding the Park City shuttle bus wasn't sure a pact that served A-list directors would serve her as well. "I need to analyze what they're offering," she said, expressing qualms that the agreement includes a 17-day grace period before payments for online material kick in a smaller grace period than the six weeks the producers initially offered writers, but still a potential sticking point. An actor on a TV show impacted by the strike got word of the deal from a reporter while walking up Park City's Main Street. "Really? I'm glad if it means people will be getting back to work soon. Hey, what does George Clooney say?" We could actually answer that question, since Clooney, who has taken a leadership role among actors supporting the writers, issued a statement almost immediately: "I'm very pleased with the new agreement and I hope it helps speed up the negotiations with the WGA."
Even some Park City locals welcomed the DGA pact. "I support the arts. I support the writers," said Silver Queen Fine Art gallery owner Timm Hilty. "But if I have to watch reruns of Lost I will need some pharmaceutical help." Hilty is hoping to do strong business this week with like-minded industry folk who see the sign on his gallery door: "Please don't make me watch reruns. End the writers' strike."