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Screen Grabs: The Art of Negotiation

To the relief of all, the writers strike came to an end, while the Screen Actors Guild was preparing for negotiations of its own. Plus, new projects for the Coen brothers, Nicole Kidman, Marisa Tomei, Ellen Page, Ashton Kutcher, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and the deals in Berlin.

“Start out with an ideal and end up with a deal,” the German billionaire Karl Albrecht once said about the art of negotiation. The comment aptly describes the conclusion of the 14-week writers' strike, which allowed Writers Guild of America members to return to work after costing the industry around $3.5 billion dollars. While WGA union leaders were quick to declare a "huge victory," the general consensus was that there were no winners—except, perhaps, audiences. While the writers can claim moral victory, and did gain some concessions on new media, the strike is also likely to result in some hard times for many workaday writers over the coming years. And there are those who think that the numbers won't add up, because the present-day cost of the strike has been so high. Still, whatever the long-term consequences, the end of the strike brought a collective "day of relief"—not least for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which can now move full speed ahead on an Oscar ceremony—even as humorists from Funny or Die to Triumph the Insult Comic Dog had already begun lampooning the entire process.

Not so fast, though. While TV junkies were checking the status of their favorite shows, the members of the Screen Actors Guild were preparing for a negotiation of their own. SAG's contract with the studios expires at the end of June, and it's possible the actors could follow the WGA's example and stop work this summer. With prominent members such as George Clooney, Tom Hanks, Meryl Streep, and Robert De Niro calling for negotiations to begin as soon as possible, the SAG board called an emergency meeting on February 9. Afterwards, it made amends with its more accommodating sibling organization, the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, with whom it had been at odds, thus paving the way for the two groups to negotiate jointly with the studios as they have historically done. The rapprochement decreases the likelihood of an actors' strike. However, an internal battle was brewing within the SAG ranks, between the haves and the have-nots: Actors such as Sally Field, Ben Affleck, Teri Hatcher, and Charlie Sheen were backing a petition that would impose an earnings requirement for members to vote on whether the Guild strikes. (Two-thirds of SAG's 120,000 members earn less than $1,000 a year.)

The accord between the writers and the studios seemed to put everyone in a mood to negotiate, as a remarkable number of big deals were struck last week: Joel and Ethan Cohen, current Oscar faves for their adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, will tackle the work of another Pulitzer Prize winner in Michael Chabon's best-selling counter-history The Yiddish Policeman's Union; Nicole Kidman was set to portray outed CIA agent Valerie Plame in a biopic to be directed by Doug Liman; Marisa Tomei apparently so enjoyed baring all in Sidney Lumet's Before the Devil Knows You're Dead that she's agreed to play a stripper opposite Mickey Rourke in Darren Aronofsky's upcoming The Wrestler; Juno star Ellen Page will go to the dark side, starring in Drag Me to Hell, Spider-Man director Sam Raimi's return to the horror genre; And finally, in an intriguingly unlikely pairing, Ashton Kutcher and Jennifer Jason Leigh have agreed to co-star in an indie sex satire, the provocatively titled Spread.

With all the strike-related news, you'd be excused for forgetting that one of the world's major film festivals, the Berlinale, was in full swing, and naturally, plenty of fevered negotiations were happening there too. While Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones documentary Shine a Light got all the attention as the festival opener, buyers were in a tizzy over the legendary director's un-shot, untitled Bob Marley doc, set to be released on February 2, 2010, which would have been the singer's 65th birthday. A variety of films made a splash, but music docs were the rage, with Neil Young's CSNY Deja Vu (directed under the pseudonym Bernard Shakey) and Julian Schnabel's Lou Reed's Berlin also scoring deals. With the festival running through the weekend, the negotiations continue.


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