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(Keep refreshing for the latest updates…)

SATURDAY UPDATE: I’ve just been told that the Hollywood/Big Media CEOs who belong to the AMPTP are furious at MGM chairman Harry Sloan for ”allowing” this WGA-United Artists deal to go through.

FRIDAY NIGHT: This is big. This is BIG! Because WGA sources just told me that the guild has clinched an “Independent Agreement” with Tom Cruise’s and Paula Wagner’s re-started United Artists. This now means that small and struggling UA has a leg up on every other Hollywood studio because it will be able to hire the striking writers. wga.bmpThis is to date the first so-called side deal cut by the WGA with a movie studio since the strike began on November 3rd as part of the guild’s newly articulated “divide and conquer” strategy. The WGA’s first side deal with a production company was an “interim agreement” with David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants which owns both The Late Show and the Late Late Show airing on CBS. Granted, given how tiny UA is — only six executives — and how limited their movie development can be, this is more of a symbolic than a significant development in the ongoing WGA strike.

uasmaller.jpgI’m told that, like Letterman’s company, UA has accepted the very same proposals that the WGA presented to the media conglomerates when the Alliance Of Motion Picture & Television Producers walked out of contract negotiations back on December 7th. ”It’s the same kind of agreement that the guild made with [David Letterman's] Worldwide Pants. But ‘interim agreement’ is not the right word,” a WGA insider explained to me. “At the end of the day, once an overall agreement is done between the WGA and AMPTP, if the terms and conditions of that agreement are more favorable to UA, they will be able to enjoy that. This essentially means that UA has the ability to be in business with the WGA.”

strikeillust1000.jpgThe official announcement will be made on Sunday in order to get maximum media coverage on Monday, I understand. My sources had no information about which UA movies stalled because of the strike might get re-started. Cruise’s movies-only studio is partnered with MGM, which knew about the negotiations underway, I’ve learned.

I’m told the deal was hammered out under the utmost secrecy by UA’s Paula Wagner, who has long been Cruise’s producing partner, and WGA leaders Dave Young and Patric Verrone. Guild sources said it definitely helped during negotiations that Cruise is a longtime SAG member and Wagner also started out as an actress before she became an agent then producer and then UA studio mogul. ”They said, ‘All we want to do is make movies. And we know that you can’t do that without the artists, especially the ones that create the stories. And those are the writers.’ ”

Of course, UA was originally founded some 86 years ago by movie greats Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford and D.W. Griffith who wanted to get out from under the moguls’ control and start an artists-friendly studio. After a long time when the studio was essentially dormant, Cruise and Wagner announced the rebirth of UA in November 2006. They followed that up about 9 months later with the news that Merrill Lynch set up a $500 million revolving credit to finance UA’s film production.

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