LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The Oscars are still two months away but the world’s top film awards ceremony found itself embroiled on Tuesday in the worst Hollywood labor clash in two decades.
The screenwriters union, on strike since November 5 against major movie and TV studios, said it would deny waivers that would allow producers of the Academy Awards, as well as the Golden Globe Awards, to hire union writers for their shows.
Organizers of both awards said their shows would go on with or without the blessing of the Writers Guild of America. But the WGA’s action raised the possibility that some Hollywood stars, who are members of the Screen Actors Guild, might boycott the awards in sympathy with the WGA’s strike.
Leslie Unger, spokeswoman for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, said it was too soon to say how the 80th annual Academy Awards on February 24 would be affected.
Producers of the Oscars gala, which usually ranks as a top-rated TV broadcast, might seek an interim agreement with the WGA that would free the ceremony of sanctions. “There are any number of possible options we might explore,” Unger said.
For now, the waiver denial means that unless the strike is settled, the globally televised ceremony will be treated by the union as a “struck company,” and someone other than WGA members must write material delivered by performers and presenters.
The same is true for the Golden Globes telecast, which is set for January 13, although producers of that show, sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, said they also would seek talks with the WGA for an interim deal.
The WGA also is refusing to grant the Oscars the right to use movie clips from past shows without paying residual fees.
A WGA spokeswoman said the guild had not decided whether to picket the shows, which could be a key factor in whether actors and others attend or stay home in solidarity with writers.
Actor James McAvoy was among several Golden Globe nominees quoted recently as saying they would not cross picket lines. “I wouldn’t want to go against people standing up for what they believe in,” the Scottish actor told the Los Angeles Times.
Also unclear was whether WGA writers, including nominees for screenplay awards, might attend, or whether Oscar host Jon Stewart, a WGA member, would be allowed to write his material.
A spokesman for the comedian, who stars on the Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” declined comment.
In a statement explaining its decision, WGA West President Patric Verrone said the stakes in the union’s dispute with the major studios were too high to exempt the shows.
The main sticking point in contract talks that broke off again on December 7, with no further negotiations scheduled, is payment to writers for work distributed over the Internet.
The industry’s bargaining arm, the Alliance of Motion Picture of Motion Picture and Television Producers, issued a statement condemning the union’s latest move: “In the category of worst supporting union, the nominee is the WGA.”
Hollywood labor strife has dampened awards shows in the past. During a 1980 Screen Actors Guild strike, all but one of the 52 TV performers nominated for an Emmy Award that year boycotted the ceremony, according to the Los Angeles Times.
During a 1985 WGA strike, the guild granted a waiver allowing “M*A*S*H” writer Larry Gelbart to work on that year’s Oscar show, but the waiver was condemned by some guild members and Gelbart quit the ceremony, the Times said. The show’s script was ultimately written by academy executives.
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and Eric Beech