WGA SIGNS DEAL WITH ANOTHER STUDIO, BUT WILL IT BACKFIRE?

Following its deals with United Artists, and The Weinstein Co., the Writers Guild of America West has announced that it has signed a deal with a fourth production company, Spyglass Entertainment. Spyglass, whose films have included Bruce Almighty and Seabiscuit, has distribution deals with a number of studios. All of which raises the possibility that the companies that have signed separate deals may be used to fill the pipelines of the studios that have been struck and could be used also as surrogates where scripts are developed while the strike continues, then "sold" to the majors with which they are partnered when it is settled. Meanwhile, Warner Bros. announced Wednesday that it had sent pink slips to about three dozen employees, citing the writers' strike. The small number surprised media journalists who had been predicting massive layoffs at the studio (which referred to the predictions as "misinformation").

SUNDANCE OPENS IN UTAH AND ONLINE

The Sundance Film Festival announced Wednesday that its program of 45 short films -- which are rarely seen outside the festival circuit -- will be available for free viewing on the Sundance website -- one film each day -- and will be sold on iTunes and Xbox Live Marketplace for $1.99 for all 45 films. In addition Netflix subscribers may watch them online through the Instant Watching feature. The festival opens tonight (Thursday) with a screening of playwright Martin McDonagh's first feature, In Bruges, and continues through January 27.

IMDB ACQUIRES SITE LINKING INDIE FILMMAKERS WITH FESTIVALS

The Amazon-owned website Internet Movie Database (IMDb) has agreed to acquire Without a Box, which helps aspiring filmmakers find outlets for their films at film festivals and provides them with tools to promote them. It also helps the festivals promote themselves. The deal -- terms of which were not disclosed -- will presumably allow IMDb to offer some of those films via its website, although details of how that might be accomplished were not included in the initial announcement.

DEA AGENTS SUE UNIVERSAL FOR DEFAMATION OVER AMERICAN GANGSTER

Claiming that Universal Pictures falsely claimed in the text appearing at the end of American Gangster that the events depicted in the movie "led to the convictions of three-quarters of New York City's Drug Enforcement Agency," three DEA agents filed a $55 million lawsuit against the studio Wednesday. "With this utterly false and defamatory statement, the defendant has ruined and impugned the reputations of these honest and courageous public servants in the eyes of millions of people," the lawsuit said. The agents are seeking class-action status with the suit and claim that no law enforcement officer was convicted of any crime related to the events depicted in the movie. They also say the film falsely depicted New Jersey detective Richard Roberts portrayed by Russell Crowe in the movie. Universal denied the accusations, pointing out that the movie does not defame any federal agents and that the text specifically mentions only the New York City agency.

WARNER BROS. NOT LETTING GO OF HD DVD FOR A WHILE

Warner Bros., which announced last week that it is abandoning Toshiba's HD DVD format and going exclusively with Sony's Blu-ray, is not dumping HD DVD any time soon, it would appear. The website High-Def Disc News reported Wednesday that Warner's home video unit has shipped promotional materials to retailers indicating that it will release the Will Smith hit I Am Legend on Blu-ray on March 18 and on HD DVD April 8. Both releases, the website said, will include the theatrical version and an unrated one that provides a completely different ending.

3:10 TO YUMA HAS MUCH TO CROWE ABOUT

Facing little competition on the home-video front, Lionsgate's 3:10 to Yuma starring Russell Crowe shot to the top of both the video sales and rental charts last week. It was also the top seller on the Blu-ray high-definition format chart. In addition,Home Media magazine noted that Yuma earned $10.8 million in rentals or about 20 percent of its $53.6 million theatrical gross.

IMAX'S BLOW-UPS BLOW UP PROFITS, TOO

Blowing up conventional movies to the giant screen generated giant profits for IMAX last year as its net soared 56 percent above 2006, the company said Wednesday. Leading the pack, it said, were 300, Spider-Man 3, Harry Potter and the Order of Phoenix, Transformers, Beowulf and I Am Legend

Brian B.