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Striking screenwriters rally in Hollywood

LOS ANGELES - Striking screenwriters marched down Hollywood Boulevard behind a phalanx of Teamsters trucks on Tuesday in a final show of force before labor leaders resume contract talks with major studios next week.

The rally on the 16th day of the strike, which first hit television productions hardest, came as movie studios reported postponing two more films due to the walkout, one starring Johnny Depp and another with Penelope Cruz and Sophia Loren.

Warner Bros. said Depp's adventure drama "Shantaram," which was scheduled to begin shooting in India in February, has been put on hold due to "strike-related script issues" that threatened to push production into India's monsoon season.

Another high-profile feature taking a hit was the Weinstein Co's "Nine," a musical adaptation of the Federico Fellini classic "8 1/2" to be directed by Rob Marshall and starring Cruz, Loren and Javier Bardem.

Originally scheduled for a 2008 holiday season release, "Nine" is now expected to open in 2009. Production is being delayed for several months from March 2008.

In both cases, the studios said the delays stemmed from strike rules barring union screenwriters from editing or polishing scripts that required additional work.

The delayed movies bring to at least four the number of feature film projects derailed by the strike, which began November 5 after months of contract talks between the Writers Guild of America and major film and TV studios collapsed.

The negotiations foundered mostly on differences over the writers' demands for a greater share of revenues from the Internet, widely seen as the future distribution pipeline of choice for filmed entertainment.

RETURN TO TALKS

Under pressure from back-channel diplomacy spearheaded by some of Hollywood's leading talent agents, the two sides agreed on Friday to return to the bargaining table on November 26, but the union's 12,000 members remain on strike for the time being.

Both sides said progress was being made before the last round of negotiations broke off, and labor experts say the fact that the parties have agreed to abide by a media blackout is a sign they are serious about reaching a settlement.

In a final WGA rally before talks resume, chanting writers and supporters from other unions, including the Screen Actors Guild and even janitors and nurses from the Service Employees International Union, marched down Hollywood Boulevard behind three tractor-trailers festooned with Teamsters Union banners.

Organizers said the rally, which was launched by singer Alicia Keys performing her latest hit "No More," drew between 3,000 and 4,000 marchers. Police put the number closer to 1,500.

Among those leading the way were actress Sandra Oh, star of the hit TV drama "Grey's Anatomy," who helped carry a large banner that read: "Solidarity with the writers. We are all on the same page."

"This is a defining moment in Hollywood history," said Scott Kaufer, former executive producer on the "Boston Legal" television series. "If we let them beat us now, we'll never have fair compensation."

WGA negotiator John Bowman called on studio executives to "show some soul, show some flexibility."

"We are your partners," he said. "And together we will conquer the Internet, just like we did the talkies."

Source: Reuters

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Article publication date: 20 Pluviôse Ray80 (21 Nov 2007)

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