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More Hollywood writers do end-run around studio system

The strike is over, but some top writers are still exploring ways to turn the Internet into a new business model.

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The searchlights, red-carpet couture, and teary-eyed thank-yous will be back in place this Sunday for ABC's worldwide Oscar telecast. That's because the striking Hollywood writers came back to work just in the nick of time.

But behind the appearance of business-as-usual in the world of movies and TV is a shifting entertainment universe that is anything but. While the striking writers had their pens down and union hackles up, many were seeking creative new ways to rewrite the rules of engagement with the industry.

That means scores of adventurous, often-angry film and TV scribes reaching out to find new partners – venture capitalists, equity firms, advertisers – who can promise greater ownership, control, and independence within the new media world. The trend includes various ways to skirt studio bosses to reach consumers directly on the Web.

The trend was already percolating before the strike but exploded with new life during what became a contentious, three-month work stoppage. Now it is continuing with vigor as the 10,500-member-strong union returns to a dwindling number of studio jobs.

"A growing number of writers are trying to navigate from the prestrike world to the poststrike world by asking the question, 'How do we become smart and entrepreneurial on our own?' " says Tom Smuts, cofounder of the Berkman Center for the Internet and Society at Harvard Law School and a Writers Guild member. "They're asking how we can proceed with new models, new ideas, in a way that doesn't recreate the studio system we all complain about."


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