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Holly Sanders reports:
The clock is ticking for Hollywood producers hoping to avert a major writers' strike.
The union representing film and TV writers returned to the bargaining table for the first time since its members voted overwhelmingly to authorize a strike if a deal couldn't be reached.
With just eight days before the contract expires, the union began negotiations yesterday at the Los Angeles headquarters of the Writers Guild of America and were expected to continue well into the evening.
A spokeswoman for the writers' union said bargainers were meeting in smaller groups, a development that could foster more open discussion.
Talks between the writers' guild and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been deadlocked for most of the year with the two sides far apart on several key issues.
A major sticking point is how to compensate writers for content distributed over the Internet, cellphones and other new media. The guild is concerned about getting paid in the digital era, while the producers say they don't know enough about how these formats will play out to settle on a compensation formula.
The writers are also looking to substantially increase their cut from DVD sales.
Few industry observers believe the two sides will reach a deal before the contract expires Oct. 31.
Most expect the union bosses to continue talking for at least several weeks before calling a strike.
Some predicted that the writers would push back negotiations until next year to get in sync with the Screen Actors Guild, whose contract expires in June.
Based on rhetoric coming out of both camps, however, the writers' guild appears more likely to go it alone while it has leverage rather than wait.
More than 5,000 members of the guild cast their ballots last week, with 90 percent voting in favor of giving their union leaders the option to call a strike.
The guild, which includes both the East and West Coast branches, has a total of 12,000 members.
A writers' strike could prove more devastating than one in 1988, which lasted five months and cost the entertainment business an estimated $500 million.