LOS ANGELES - UNITED Artists, the film production house backed by Tom Cruise, broke with parent studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc on Monday to reach a deal enabling striking Hollywood writers to work on his company's movies.
UA becomes the first Hollywood movie company to clinch an independent accord with the Writers Guild of America since some 10,500 writers represented by the union went on strike against major film and TV studios on Nov 5.
Contract negotiations between the WGA and the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, broke down Dec 7, but the union has been pursuing separate talks with smaller, independent production companies.
No details of the UA agreement were disclosed, but the union and the film company called the deal 'comprehensive' and said it 'addresses the issues important to writers, including new media.' The main sticking point in the strike has been disagreement over how writers should be paid for their work when it is distributed over the Internet and other digital platforms.
The WGA-UA deal marked a symbolic victory for the union in a bitter labour dispute that has thrown the US television industry into disarray, derailed several high-profile film projects and overshadowed Hollywood's annual awards season.
MGM issued a statement saying it 'understands the desire of United Artists to resume its business activities but respectfully disagrees with its decision to sign an interim agreement with the WGA.'
MGM won't break ranks
MGM also vowed not to break ranks with other major studios, saying it 'remains committed to working with AMPTP member companies' to reach a deal with the Writers Guild.
The UA pact 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.
But unlike Worldwide Pants, UA is controlled by one of the major film distributors still at loggerheads with the union.
Industry sources said at least two other independent film companies, the Weinstein Co and Lionsgate Entertainment Co, were considering similar agreements with the WGA.
But one studio insider said he doubted that a flurry of independent deals would lead major studios to return to the bargaining table or settle the labour dispute any sooner.
UA was reorganised by MGM in Nov. 2006 as an independent film company run by Cruise and his longtime producing partner, Paula Wagner, who hold a combined 35 percent stake in United Artists, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.
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 UA's first film since the Cruise-Wagner deal, 'Lions for Lambs,' an antiwar drama directed by Robert Redford and starring Redford, Cruise and Meryl Streep, was a box-office flop.
UA's next film, 'Valkyrie,' a World War II drama that stars Cruise as a real-life German officer who led a failed plot to assassinate Hitler, is due for release this summer.-- REUTERS