The WGA is preparing to bar prolific TV movie producer Larry Levinson from ever using guild writers again unless he pays up on millions he allegedly owes in unpaid residuals. In the past 20 years, Larry Levinson Productions has produced nearly 200 family-oriented TV movies, most of which were made for the Hallmark Channel or in association with Hallmark Entertainment. The guild is currently pursuing arbitration claims against Levinson’s various production entities for unpaid residuals and interest owed on 38 of those TV movies. In a recent letter to a group of writers who Levinson allegedly stiffed, the guild stated that “Levinson continues to demonstrate an egregious, ongoing failure to pay residuals.” An arbitration hearing is set for August 14.
In its notice of arbitration (read it here), the WGA claimed that two of Levinson’s companies, Hardstone Entertainment and Branwen Productions, violated the guild’s contract by failing to pay residuals on dozens of TV movies; by failing to report the gross receipts of the movies and how often they were rerun on television; and by failing to make pension and health contributions on those unpaid residuals.
Hallmark’s parent company Crown Media Holdings is also named as a respondent in the notice, which claimed that Crown Media was “at all material times signatory to or otherwise bound” by the guild’s contract. In a statement to Deadline, Crown Media said: “It is common when the WGA files an action to compel payment of residuals to take the position that the exhibitors, along with the producer(s), are jointly and severally liable. Crown Media, however, is current in all its obligations for residual payments to WGA members associated with the films at issue in this case.”
The guild’s current contract expires May 1. If Levinson doesn’t pay up, the guild says, it won’t let him sign a new deal, which would keep him from hiring WGA writers. In a letter dated March 19, WGA West secretary-treasurer Carl Gottlieb, writing on behalf of the guild’s board of directors, told the Levinson writers that “the guild will not enter into an agreement with any Levinson company until it fully complies with its past residuals obligations — including accrued interest — and provides assurances that its scofflaw behavior will not continue in the future. If, after May 1, Levinson does not sign the new minimum basic agreement (MBA) under conditions acceptable to the WGA, he will be thereafter barred from using WGA writers by operation of Working Rule 8.” The guild’s Working Rule 8 provides that “no member shall accept employment with, nor option or sell literary material to, any person, firm or corporation who is not signatory to the applicable MBAs.”
Levinson did not return several phone calls to his office. A source involved in the current dispute said Levinson told the guild that he has met all of his residuals obligations and doesn’t owe his writers anything.
A letter sent to the guild in January by nine of Levinson’s writers stated that his alleged failure to pay the residuals he owes has created severe financial problems for them. “Many of us,” they wrote, “are facing overdue bills, late rents, lost health insurance, slimmer retirement funds, and general instability.” The amount Levinson owes in unpaid residuals, late fees and interest, they told the guild, “has now reached into the millions of dollars, perhaps exceeding the recent debacle with Nickelodeon.” Last year, the guild demanded that Nickelodeon post a $3 million bond to cover future residuals and threatened to pull all of its writers off of Nickelodeon shows unless it resolved a dispute over unpaid residuals. In October, Nickelodeon paid up on more than $10 million in unpaid residuals and nearly $1 million in interest.
This isn’t Levinson’s first brush with labor troubles. In 2009, about 50 IATSE members – many of whom had been replaced on his shows by non-union workers – picketed the Hallmark Channel’s office in Studio City to protest its longtime and ongoing association with Larry Levinson Prods.