January 7, 2008 / 10:11 PM / 10 years ago

United Artists reaches deal with striking writers

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - United Artists, the film company backed by actor Tom Cruise and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc, said on Monday it has reached a deal enabling striking Hollywood screenwriters to work on the company’s films.

UA becomes the first Hollywood film company to clinch an independent accord with the Writers Guild of America since some 10,500 film and TV writers represented by the union went on strike against major studios on November 5.

The deal is similar to a recent agreement between the WGA and the production company owned by late-night TV host David Letterman that allowed his show and another one produced by his firm, Worldwide Pants, to return to the air last week with their writing teams intact.

Negotiations between the WGA and the major studios on a new contract broke down December 7, but the union has been pursuing separate talks with smaller, independent production companies.

While controlled by MGM, one of the major film distributors still at loggerheads with the union, UA was reorganized by the studio in November 2006 as an independent film company run by Cruise and his longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner.

Their installation at UA, with Wagner as CEO, was touted at the time as a revival of the storied studio founded in 1919 by silent era stars Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and director D.W. Griffith.

But the company’s first film since the Cruise-Wagner deal, “Lions for Lambs,” was a box-office disappointment.

Industry sources said at least two other independent film companies, the Weinstein Co and Lionsgate Entertainment Co, were considering similar interim agreements with the WGA.

But one studio insider said he doubted that a flurry of independent deals with the WGA would lead the major studios to return to the bargaining table with the union or settle the labor dispute any sooner.

The main sticking point in the strike as been disagreement over how writers should be paid for work distributed over the Internet.

Reporting by Sue Zeidler and Steve Gorman; Editing by Andre Grenon

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