PRODUCERS SENSE WRITERS STRIKE

Appearing to foreshadow a tough year ahead for labor relations in Hollywood, the head of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) said Monday that he had been "rebuked" by the Writers Guild of America, West after he proposed early contract negotiations. J. Nicholas Counter told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times that he had offered to begin negotiations in January, but that his proposal had been rejected by WGA Executive Director David Young, who proposed that the talks begin in September. The writers' contract expires on Oct. 31. Counter told today's (Tuesday) Los Angeles Times that the refusal raises the possibility of a strike and he suggested that it may cause the studios to accelerate production of films and stockpile scripts.

NEW LINE REBUFFED IN CHICAGO OVER NATIVITY FILM

New Line has agreed to remove video ads for its film The Nativity Story at Christkindlmarket, a downtown Chicago Christmas festival presented by the German American Chamber of Commerce, after the city expressed concern that the ads might offend non-Christians. In a statement, the city said, "Our guidance was that this very prominently placed advertisement would not only be insensitive to the many people of different faiths who come to enjoy the market for its food and unique gifts, but also it would be contrary to acceptable advertising standards." A New Line spokesman, Christina (sic) Kounelias, said it was the only such rejection it had received for the ads. She added, "One would assume that if [people] were to go to Christkindlmarket, they'd know it is about Christmas." The film is scheduled to open next weekend.

PENGUINS ARE EMPERORS

The penguins of Warner Bros.' Happy Feet remained the undisputed emperors of the box over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and as of Monday had taken in more than $100 million after less than two weeks. The Motley Fool financial website pointed out, however, that the film would not have achieved the success it has without the help of swollen ticket prices at 79 IMAX screens. The website also noted that the film is not likely to lift Time Warner's animation unit into the ranks of DreamWorks Animation and Disney's Pixar -- not after its previous flop, last summer's The Ant Bully. "The company still has a little consistency to muster before it can be crowned a contender," it said.

The top ten films over the weekend, according to final figures compiled by Exhibitor Relations (figures in parentheses represent total gross to date):

1. Happy Feet, Warner Bros., $37,038,046, 2 Wks. ($99,256,766); 2. Casino Royale, Sony, $30,785,874, 2 Wks. ($94,053,658); 3. Déjà Vu, Disney, $20,574,802, (New); 4. Deck the Halls, 20th Century Fox, $12,001,256, (New); 5. Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, 20th Century Fox, $10,304,802, 4 Wks. ($109,136,807); 6. The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause, Disney, $9,929,029, 4 Wks. ($67,073,095); 7. Flushed Away, Paramount, $5,756,455, 4 Wks. ($57,266,350); 8. Stranger Than Fiction, Sony, $5,726,536, 3 Wks. ($32,504,604); 9. Bobby, MGM, $4,857,736, 2 Wks. ($6,100,358); 10. The Fountain, Warner Bros., $3,768,702, (New).

PIRATES LOOT BRITISH VIDEO SHOPS

In its first week on the shelves of British retailers, Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest has sold a record 1.5 million copies. The film beat the previous record of 1.4 million set by Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. However, it failed to come close to the 2.2 million sales of both the DVD and VHS versions of Titanic in 1999. Disney said that it was shipping another 1 million copies to British retailers from its plant in Mexico. The DVD is due to be released one week from today (Tuesday) in the U.S.

Brian B.