Optimism in the air over writers' strike negotiations, Oscars

By Megan Gibb

The Hollywood writers' strike against the major studios that began in November could be nearing an end.

The Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers have been conducting informal discussions with a view to repair the almost three month battle.

Negotiations between the WGA and major studios on a new contract covering 10,500 striking film and TV writers broke down December 7. Dispute between writers and studios over royalties from DVD and internet sales is the primary point of contention.

The strike has forced studios to come to a stand still and TV schedules to be filled with reality shows. Without new substance, the movie calendar moving into 2009 could start looking rather slim.

The Golden Globes awards ceremony was canned earlier this month after the WGA could not agree on a deal. In addition to the estimated loss of US$100m from the Los Angeles economy over the cancellation, the entertainment sector is still in limbo during the current award ceremony season.

The need to reach an agreement is essential to an industry which has already lost over one billion US dollars due to the strike, as the cancellation of two ceremonies (the Globes and the forthcoming Academy Awards) could be financially catastrophic.

High profile films, such as The Da Vinci Code sequel Angels and Demons, have already been put on hold and as the February 24th Oscar ceremony approaches, economists predict it could cost the city an estimated US$130 million, if abandoned.

However, organisers are adamant the cancellation of the Globes does not mean next month's Academy Awards will not go ahead as originally planned.

"We're not panicking. We're preparing our show, and we're moving forward," Academy president Sid Ganis told the Associated Press.

"We're dealing with contingencies but we're thrusting ahead."

Gilbert Cates, producer of the awards telecast, told The Los Angeles Times the show will go on.

According to Cates, work is already underway with sets being designed and built and musicians and backstage personnel being hired. Cates says even without the stars, a glitzy show could be staged with vintage Oscar clips.

"There are enough clips in 80 years of Oscar history to make up a very entertaining show," Cates told The Times. "We'd have a lot of people on stage." He declined say more but added, "I just hope that the actors are there. I pray that the actors are there. I'm planning that the actors are there."

The Times reports many publicists, celebrities and studio executives are still booking hotel rooms and LA-bound flights, The Oscar-nominee luncheon is still set for Feb. 4 at the Beverly Hilton and Vanity Fair is moving ahead with plans for its famous Oscar-night party.

However, several high profile stars have been reported as saying they will not attend the awards ceremony while the strike is ongoing.

Best Actor nominee Viggo Mortensen has said he will not cross the picket line to attend the awards

"I have a feeling they'll solve it. I hope they do," Mortensen told the Boston Globe.

"I'm sure my mom would like to see me on TV and so forth, but if there's a strike I'm not crossing the line."

Comedian Jon Stewart, who is due to reprise his gig as Oscar host,is also unlikely to cross the WGA picket line.

Stewart has been a strong supporter of the writers strike.

- Additional reporting: Agencies

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