Archived posts from this Category
Archived posts from this Category
Recently, Amazon launched “Amazon Studios,” a strange mashup of contest/development/crowd-sourcing designed to help filmmakers “break in” by getting noticed, winning money and even having their movies released by Warner Brothers.
It’s a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad deal.
Well, let me amend that.
It’s a GREAT deal if your script stinks and your movie shouldn’t get made. Under those circumstances, someone’s reading your crap, maybe even helping you with your crap, and perhaps as a result of human fallibility, you might even get some money for your crap.
But if your script is GOOD? If you’re actually talented? If you have real potential as a writer, director or filmmaker?
Bad, bad, bad, bad deal.
How is it bad? Let us count the ways.
I can’t say it better than John August did, so I’ll just summarize. Works of authorship are special because they’re not crowd-sourced. It’s a ridiculous misapplication of new thinking. I like progress, but crowd-sourcing is a tool, and you need the right tool for the right job.
Here’s where Amazon kind of disgusts me. They put this whole “Hollywood is old and lame, and we’re the new hotness” vibe out there. In their intro video, their hip spokesman with the spiky haircut is an inclusive, welcoming voice. Hollywood is represented by a fat old Jew at a desk.
Funny thing, though. The actual terms of Amazon’s “studio” are so much worse than those offered by Hollywood studios, it’s grotesque.
First off, forget about unions. Amazon ain’t into it. Not the WGA, not the DGA.
Next, let’s talk about their option. When you submit material to Amazon–say, a script–they have an exclusive option on the script for 18 months. During that 18 months, they can do whatever they want with your script. They can change it, smash it together with other scripts… and of course, make a movie from it, or commission a book, or any other derivative work.
You know what else they get to do? They get to sell your material. They can sell your script to customers. If you submit a movie, they can sell that too. Oh, but that’s not just for 18 months.
That’s FOREVER. They have a permanent right to sell that stuff. After 18 months it’s not an exclusive right, but good luck competing with Amazon, friend-o.
And if you’re not American, you have to waive your droit moral anyway, so don’t think about gettin’ fancy with copyright, foreigners!
But okay… what do you GET for all of this?
You get nothing. The option is frickin’ FREE, and the upside is capped. In Hollywood, if you option a script, it’s hopefully for something. Even a dollar. But the good news is that if the script sells to a studio, the marketplace sets the ceiling. You could get a hundred grand… or four million dollars.
Not in Amazon-ville. In Amazon-ville, you option your script for NOTHING, and the option buy-out is $200K. And when you get that 200K, my brothers and sisters, Amazon owns that script lock-stock-and-barrel for ever, just the way a studio would.
Okay, okay, but what if they make the movie?
NO GUARANTEES. Not a dime. In fact, the only way you get a penny more is if the film grosses $60M in the U.S. (not North America, btw, which is standard for domestic B.O. calcuations). If it hits $60M, you get a bonus of $400K.
Let me put this as plainly as I can: if your screenplay was good enough to be distributed by Warner Brothers and subsequently sell enough tickets to hit $60M at the box office, YOU DID NOT NEED AMAZON, and YOU SHOULD HAVE MADE MORE THAN $600K.
But wait. It’s even worse than that.
CREDITS AND RESIDUALS AND HEALTH CARE AND PENSION
Zero, zero, zero and zero. Here’s what Amazon says about credits.
We will determine in our sole discretion your credit, if any, in any film or other work we develop or produce that arises out of the Property, taking into account the guidelines set forth in the WGA Basic Agreement. Our determinations of credit will be final. Notwithstanding the foregoing, the WGA Basic Agreement does not apply to this Option Agreement. We are not a signatory to the WGA Basic Agreement.In other words, we’ll tell YOU what the credits are gonna be, bub. Now piss off.
Residuals? None provided. Health care? Pension? None provided.
Bottom line? This deal is unfair to writers, and it’s an obvious end-run around the basic union protections we have in place for professionals in this business. If you take this deal, you are a sucker. Amazon may want to present themselves as a cool alternative to the closed-off crusty, regressive Hollywood model, but this is the movie business, folks.
Things aren’t what they seem.
If someone at Amazon reads this and thinks I’ve gotten the facts wrong, I’m more than happy to host a back-and-forth with them here. From where I’m sitting, the deal they’re offering looks awful.
One more thing.
Some of you might think, “Hey, another Hollywood jerk badmouthing one of the few alternative ways in that we have.” First, I maintain that if you’re good enough to succeed with Amazon Studios, you’re good enough to succeed without them.
Secondly, the “access” that Amazon is dangling in front of people isn’t free, or even cheap. It comes at the cost of a fair market price for your work, credit protections and residuals. It hollows out the core benefits that the WGA has fought for and won over the course of decades, and it does so glibly, as if a pension or credit for your work are old-school shizz that cool kids don’t bother with.
Amazon isn’t doing this because they give a damn about you or your access.
They’re doing it because it affords them unlimited upside with very limited downside. Perfect situation for a corporation.
Perfect situation to avoid for a writer.
Did I say “early August?”
Yikes. Sorry. It’s been a little nuts. But I’m back, and I’m going to start blogging regularly again. I’ll kick things off with this short but sweet post.
If you’re a member in good standing of the WGAw, you have received your ballot for the upcoming Board election.
Here are the candidates I strongly suggest you vote for.
CHERYL HEUTON – the brilliant co-creator of “Numb3rs.” Cheryl is an absolute expert on the state of the art of network television. We are beyond lucky that she’s running. Please vote for her. She’s fantastic.
MARK GUNN – Mark has been serving the Guild for a number of years now, and he’s a real union guy (I believe he started out as one of the early proponents of organizing). He’s also thoughtful, rational, pragmatic and really smart. He’s not afraid to challenge leadership either (any leadership…militant or moderate). We need him back.
CHRISTOPER KEYSER – Wouldn’t it be great if we had someone on the Board who created a hit network television show? And who won a Humanitas Prize for his writing? But who was also a Harvard Law grad with a penetrating mind for business, contracts and negotiation? Well, you got him. No one on the Board right now has his kind of qualifications. He would be a tremendous asset for all of us.
MICK BETANCOURT – I met Mick last year, and I was really impressed. Another working writer, a strike captain and a Teamster to boot, Mick is my kind of union guy. He’s tough, he’s union all the way, but he puts “do what works” above “do what sounds good.” He’s all about getting results, and he ain’t shy about it either. I love him.
AARON MENDELSOHN – Aaron has a wealth of experience on the Board and NegCom, and he brings a level-headed approach to governance. That’s probably why so many politically diverse people are all supporting him. You should too. We can’t afford to lose guys like Aaron…they’re the ones who do the work behind the scenes.
And that’s it.
Just those five.
“Hey, we’re supposed to vote for eight.” No…you can vote for up to eight. You don’t have to vote for eight. Indeed, if you really want these five to be elected, just vote for these five.
Why? It’s not that other candidates aren’t good people. Some of them are my friends. But many of them are ahead of the vote-gathering game. They don’t need more help. And these five–diverse as they are–are the ones that I believe will be most likely to help us get the best possible contract. I also think they’re the ones who will be most likely to improve the general affairs of our union.
Whether you agree with me or not, please vote. The companies study our turnout. Honestly. They really do. The higher the turnout, the more serious they take us. You may not think this stuff matters, but as someone who served on the Board, I honestly and sincerely assure you…
…it definitely, definitely does.
This thing is fresh from its vote, and I’m presuming that it will be signed into law, although there might be some additional drama in the Senate.
What does it mean for us?
Well, for those of us already covered under the WGA-Industry Health Plan, there seem to be three specific areas to note.
First, the bill indicates that dependents living at home must now be eligible for coverage until the age of 26 (the current cut off age in our plan is 19…or 23 if the child is a student).
Second, the bill disallows limits on lifetime benefits. Currently, our plan limits total lifetime benefits to $5,000,000 (I think to the insured, including his or her dependents…not $5M per family member).
Third, and most significantly, there is a tax on “Cadillac plans,” i.e health plans with high premiums (presumably for better benefits or service). From CNN…
So-called “Cadillac” plans costing more than $10,200 a year for individuals or $27,500 for family coverage (not counting dental and vision plans) will be subject to a 40% tax on the portion of the cost that exceeds the limit. Though the tax would actually be paid by insurers, it’s expected that it would be passed along to plan holders in the form of higher premiums.I’m pretty certain all of the major entertainment union plans will be considered Cadillac plans. Currently, the cost of these plans is borne primarily by our employers. Apart from our small yearly deductibles, the companies make all of the contributions to the plan (as a percentage of a portion of our salaries), and those contributions are determined by our collective bargaining agreements.
The last sentence from CNN quoted above is the obviously the key one; most employers don’t live in a world where they have to suffer this new financial burden on their own. And the increase on dependent age and the eliminate of lifetime benefit maximums will also serve to increase the amount of money the WGA plan will need to maintain its current service.
So what’s going to happen? Will our deductibles and premiums go up? Will our coverage decrease? Will eligibility tighten?
Or will we duck it all somehow?
The truth is that we’ve always had to fight hard during negotiations to keep our plan where it is (which is among the best in the nation). Happily, we’ve succeeded. The 2004 deal was entirely about that, and it’s done the trick for six years now.
But if the Cadillac Tax goes into effect, that fight will get harder, and the total war of negotiation gets a little tougher with every new front we have to manage.
Even so, I’m hopeful that we can see our way through this without ending up with a health insurance plan that’s worse than we had before this vote. No doubt it’s going to be a pivotal issue in 2011.
Comments welcome, but only on the boring specifics of how this affects our WGA plan. No political debates, please.
Carleton Eastlake, a current member of the WGAw board, has some thoughts on net neutrality, and he asked me to clarify mine. Here goes, with my responses in context…
There are two kinds of piracy that impact our (writers, that is) bottom line. The first is physical piracy: a factory in China duping DVDs of a handheld video recording of a theatrical screening of Avatar, for instance. The second is electronic piracy, in which legitimate DVDs are ripped and illegally distributed over the internet, almost exclusively via peer-to-peer channels.
Craig – I’m not sure I follow how piracy issues and genuine net neutrality issues are linked. I don’t mean this rhetorically, I’d really like to hear the expanded, not soundbite argument of how the sort of net neutrality the WGA or responsible Internet interest groups advocate precludes successful anti-piracy measures. Your post doesn’t give any concrete illustrations of what the problem might be. And on reflection, I’ve never actually seen a concrete description of the problem in the media or the tech magazines – just sloganeering.
I’m a little surprised by your admission that you don’t follow how piracy issues and genuine net neutrality are linked, because they’re so closely and clearly linked. I’m hardly the first person to point this out. The fundamental principle of net neutrality is that all information distributed over the internet be treated equally, i.e. internet service providers ought not censor, throttle or favor the transmission of any particularly web site or channel.
However, if we do not have net neutrality, it’s quite easy to see how the major ISP’s could, as part of content provision deals with the studios, throttle or completely block out the major P2P channels. In fact, the efficacy with which this could be accomplished is one of the battle cries for net neutrality by those who support it. This isn’t a question of conjecture.
You argue in one of your replies to Jeff Lowell that pirates won’t mind waiting long times for their theft. I disagree. If the time to download a DVD went from one hour to two days, it would have a massive negative impact on piracy, and hopefully a positive impact on our bottom line as writers.
I’m a big believer in free speech on the internet. However, let’s be honest about P2P networks. They exist almost primarily to circumvent licensing agreements on software, music and video. And they’re stealing money from writers every day. What an odd institution for the WGA to be defending…
Yes, to be sure, if the Internet were entirely privatized and a handful of companies allowed to monopolize its content, there would be no piracy. But there would also be no private email (email attachments would have to be scanned to be sure they weren’t communicating pirated content), etc. I know you’re not advocating that, but short of that, how concretely does piracy and equal access by non-criminal users on the Web interact?I don’t think you quite understand what net neutrality is, Carleton. No one can “own” or monopolize the internet. The internet is nothing more than a connection of gazillions of individually-owned websites. And, of course, we still live in a free market. If I don’t like the way AT&T is delivering the content located on all of those individually-owned websites, I can opt for Charter or satellite service or WiMax from Clear…and that list is only going to grow.
If we do not have net neutrality, here’s what it means. ISP’s can tier their service so that some web sites deliver information faster to the end users than others…or slower to their end users than others. That’s the bottom line. Net non-neutrality doesn’t mean that your ISP will own your content, rifle through your email or sleep with your wife.
What is means is that I could theoretically pay a base fee of $20 a month for standard service, and $40 for standard service plus access to superfast downloadable movies. That extra twenty bucks would get split between the ISP and the content providers, and we…as writers…would get a piece of the content providers’ ten bucks per subscriber. That’s a simplified vision of how it could work, but all I can tell you is this: it’s vastly preferable to the current model of, say, streaming network shows for frickin’ FREE…supported by “ads” that no one watches, and which do not add a dime to our residuals base.
As for maximizing the revenue of the surviving major media companies on the net by allowing a degree of monopolization, that’s a point I’m ready to debate. I agree that no one should want out of spite to reduce the revenue pool that writers and other talent share in from the major companies. But I’d much rather see independent and specialty production and distribution companies also thrive on the Net. Having worked for several years at Cannell, a successful writer-owned TV production and distribution company that expired along with fin-syn “broadcast neutrality”, to coin an analogy, I’ve directly experienced the model of how net neutrality can restore an era of independent production that creates enormous opportunity -and revenue – for writers.This is kind of shocking, coming from a board member of the WGAw. Let me get this straight. You favor the economic prospects of individual EMPLOYERS over the economic prospects of individual EMPLOYEES? Cannell the man was a writer. Cannell the company was an employer. As union members, our interests have to first run to the employees, Carleton. I, for instance, write movies for studios. My salary generates dues and P&H contributions to the union. Are you honestly saying that my financial bottom line is less important than the financial bottom line of a company hiring writers for an internet show?
See, the thing is, we’re writers until we’re not writers. The day I create The Mazin Internet Studio and launch a web show and hire writers to write on that web show, I’m an employer. I’m on the other side of the table. That’s not to say that I can’t be a good guy. However, it is to say that my interests as an employer shouldn’t be anywhere in the same galaxy of concern for the WGA as the interests of my employees.
In short, while I think it’s nice that writers can be as entrepreneurial on the web as they wish, the Writers Guild of America has to serve its primary function, which is to protect my interests as an employee. That’s what it’s federally chartered to do. That’s what all labor unions do. It’s fine for the WGA to help its employees grow into businesspeople, but not at the expense of the writers who still get hired to write.
Yes, we want to make sure that there are lots of employers for our services, and in that regard, I understand the desire to avoid anything that feels like it will throttle competition between the employers. But let’s be real…the companies that will challenge Fox, Disney, Sony, Universal, Paramount and Warner Brothers aren’t internet shops set up by individual writers. It’s the other big monsters out there like Microsoft, Google, Clear Channel, etc.
Why? Unlike print media, which…on the internet at least…has the potential for very low-cost production, movies and television shows tend to require serious capital investment.
If you think the future of the Internet is 5 minute webisodes, sure, there’s no point in paying it any attention. If you think in the next 5 or 10 years Netflix-like streaming or rapid mail delivery services are going to continue to grow in market share, and that independent producers may produce directly for these services and by-pass the studios, then you may care much more about Net issues, and really not want to encourage economic concentration on the Net.Carleton, it’s precisely because I think the delivery system is going to get better and better that I worry about the impact of net neutrality. We will be able to download a feature film or television episode in HD in five minutes or less. At that point, why on God’s green earth would we want to limit the ability of the studios to monetize that speed and convenience? That’s our money too!
As another example, about the time Farscape was canceled by Sci-Fi, we made the simple calculation that if our hard-core fans made a micro-payment of 25 or even 50 cents an episode and there was a way to distribute it to them…we’d be in profit on the first day of release…and without broadcasters or cable services taking a share, giving notes… or canceling us. This wasn’t a daydream about writers owning the company or cooking up something in their basement, it meant that six sound stages in Australia and offices in the US and Britain, etc., originally founded by Jim Henson would be producing the same show with the same values and same budget…and that the same numbers watching us just in the US – not even the rest of the world – coughed up a direct tiny payment.This is important. If I stipulate that your math is correct, then the obvious question is: why didn’t you do it? Profit on the first day of release without any middlemen or creative meddlers…surely you didn’t walk away from the holy Grail of television writing without good reason?
Of course you didn’t. Farscape didn’t become a web series because you (meaning the writers) didn’t have the money to deficit finance the show until the episodes were ready to air.
That said, you would have also been the first show of its kind to prove that lots of micropayments could support a series with a cable or network level budget.
I’m not saying that it’s impossible. Who knows? Maybe one day it will happen. But in the meantime, there’s that saying about the bird in hand. We have a pretty big bird in hand. I question the wisdom of mortgaging the health of our traditional, dominant revenue stream in pursuit of a maybe-one day-no one yet, but who knows and wouldn’t it be cool? revenue stream.
Some of this makes me wonder if your perspective as a tent-pole feature writer may differ from the perspective of a TV writer or feature writers who want to work on smaller budget, independent films. Sure, to make a big-budget feature film, it’s handy to have very big studios around to finance them. But i think you may be underestimating the negative impact on every other category of production.First off, thanks for “tent pole,” although I don’t quite think I’ve earned that.
I actually think it’s television writers who stand to lose the most from net neutrality. As a feature writer, I know that while the DVD market is dwindling, there’s a real chance that the internet rental market (iTunes, essentially) will take off, and our internet rental rate is an outstanding 1.2% of gross. That’s five times the DVD rate.
Television, though…yikes. Right now, the traditional rerun system has gone bye-bye. In its place, the networks stream reruns on the web, and they basically do it for free. That’s no kind of model. Television writers really need a system in which their network and cable shows are generating legitimate license fee revenue. Net neutrality limits the companies’ ability to maximize that revenue, IMO.
In general, extreme concentration isn’t a good thing for an economy. We’ve all seen what banking and investment concentration, defense industry concentration, even concentration of seed production for farmers (see this week’s LA Times) has done. The ultimate concentration, after all, is state central planning like in the good old Soviet Onion. Perfect capitalism requires a perfectly efficient marketplace with an infinite number of sellers and buyers with perfect knowledge – a neutral Internet is just about the most perfect capitalistic marketplace one can conceive. I really think we ought to give it a chance.That does sound scary, but I don’t think it’s accurate. First, we have about the same number of major and minor studios as we’ve always had, going back to the 20′s. Second, the studios all hate each other and compete viciously for every dollar out there.
You view the studio system in too dystopian a fashion, and the internet in too utopian a manner. But in the end, I don’t really care whether or not the internet is a worker’s paradise.
Here’s what I care about.
My union has a contract with a number of companies. That contract pays me money as a percentage of their revenue. That revenue accounts for 100% of my income. It accounts for essentialy 100% of every WGA members’ income. The higher their applicable revenue goes, the more money I make.
If I’m going to support anything that negatively impacts or otherwise limits the growth of that revenue, it has to be really clear that I will net out positively.
In short, I think it’s unreasonable for the WGA to ask its members working in traditional media to subsidize the dreams of its members trying to strike it rich on the internet…particularly when it’s been years now, and web content creators haven’t really come close to duplicating the kind of income traditional media affords us.
My daughter loves iCarly. For those of you without young children, iCarly is a sitcom on Nickelodeon about three middle-schoolers who create and webcast their own show on the internet. The webcast is extremely popular, and it gets them into all sorts of hijinks. How popular? In one recent episode, a Howard Hughes-ish billionaire invites the kids from iCarly to travel into space and do their web show in orbit.
Now that you’re up to speed on what my preschooler watches, let me whiplash segue to the WGA.
For a while now, the WGAw has been deeply enamored of New Media. Part of its interest has centered around proper residuals formula for the creation and exploitation of works by the companies. That’s largely what we struck over.
However, it’s just as fascinated with the creation of independent internet content by WGA members. At first blush, it all makes sense. Writers have always (and properly) insisted that we are the prime originators of motion picture entertainment. Why shouldn’t the WGA promote a brave new world in which WGA members own their own product…a world that eliminates the need for the rapacious companies? The internet kills the middle man! The stronger we are on the internet, the weaker the companies’ hand is during negotiations.
These are all reasons why, for instance, the WGA has taken a position in favor of net neutrality; the union wants to make sure there’s an even playing field for its own members as they create the new Foxes and Warner Brothers of the great cyber future.
There’s just one problem with all of that.
We don’t need the WGA to help us put material on the internet any more than we need the companies. That’s the point of the internet. Middlemen be damned. If I have an idea for a great web show, and I get it on the internet, and it becomes a real life iCarly that people visit in droves, then I certainly don’t require the assistance of a labor union. The WGA exists to represent employees of a cartel, for lack of a better word.
And, of course, the folks running the union understand this. So why all this evangelism of “stop being an employee” from an institution that does nothing but service the needs of employees?
Sometimes, the WGA goes after the companies because it wants more for its members. Thank God it does. Credit determination, residuals, health care, pension, creative rights, separated rights, minimums, parity in advertising…these are just a few of the benefits we enjoy because the union (i.e. leadership and membership together) did its job and did it well.
Sometimes, however (and more and more since 2005), the WGA goes after the companies because it just presumes that “if it’s bad for the companies, it’s good for us.”
Usually that’s true. But not always. And not this time.
It’s fun to promote a vision of the future where sisters are doin’ it for themselves. “Screw the fat cats! We don’t need them anymore!” is a great chunk of red meat to throw to a group of people who are understandably aggrieved. Unfortunately, and perhaps counterintuitively, we’re probably just making things worse.
How? Well, consider the paradox of iCarly. It’s a show about a really, really popular internet webcast. That part, of course, is an absurd bit of fiction. There is no such thing as an independent variety show on the web as popular as iCarly is implied to be. There are blogs like this one, there are podcasts that occasionally light up in exciting ways (Kevin Smith of late), but an actual show that people watch episodes of for entertainment? The web just isn’t very good at that kind of persistent viewing experience. It’s great for sketches, bits, one-offs…but a show with consistent characters working over the course of multiple episodes, season after season?
Not really. There have been some (I enjoyed Red vs. Blue for a while), but did any of them actually make it out there in the way that a hit TV show does?
And there’s the paradox. iCarly, a show about the cutting edge world of cyberentertainment, is actually incredibly old school. It’s a half-hour sitcom. Running on a cable network.
And because it’s a sitcom running on a cable network, it is vastly…and I mean VASTLY…more popular than any webcast out there.
As exciting and empowering as the web suggests it can be, there’s still no real money out there for us. It’s not like people haven’t tried, but the exceptions seem to prove the rule. Dr. Horrible was an internet hit and pretty much the best thing anyone’s done for the web (IMHO), but any given episode of Buffy was probably seen by more people.
Remember Strike TV? Well, that was WGAers doin’ it for themselves…but the bright future seems to still be in the future.
The lesson of iCarly is simple, to me. The idea of internet programming is cool and interesting and fresh. The reality is that traditional programming still dominates the culture. It’s fine for the WGA to find and use wedges against the companies, but let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot. iCarly, which I believe is covered under the guild, generates so much more for its writers than any web show ever has.
So shouldn’t we be concerned primarily with protecting the actual writers of iCarly, as opposed to the theoretical writers of internet shows like the one portrayed on iCarly?
If net neutrality reduces the companies’ ability to monetize their programming on the internet, it reduces the basis upon which we draw residuals from internet reuse…which was the thing we all struck over back in ’07/’08. Is that really what we want?
When it comes to negotiating the formula, what’s good for us is bad for them. It’s a purely adversarial relationship that must be negotiated, and occasionally resolved on the field of battle.
But when it comes to protecting the revenue on which those formulas apply…what’s good for us is what’s good for them, and we can’t let our resentment get in the way of that.
I love the internet (obviously). Still, the WGA needs to carefully evaluate its approach to New Media. The kids on iCarly are actors, and their webcast is make-believe.
But the men and women sitting in a room writing the cable program about that make-believe?
They’re real. They’re employees. They’re supporting our membership with real dues and real P&H contributions.
And they should come first.
If you’re a WGAw screenwriter, you should have just received an email from the guild inviting you to take an online survey. While I can’t print the link (the survey is for Guild members only…each of you gets your own link…), I can strongly urge you to take the five or ten minutes necessary to fill it out.
Online, of course.
The survey centers around economic and employment issues. Is it easier or harder getting work now? More hoops to jump through? Are you still getting paid your quote? Are producers demanding more free writing? How about one-step deals?
Here’s why it’s important that you respond (you can do it anonymously if you so desire, and it’s done through a secure website). Even though screenwriters kick in a disproportionately large amount of dues dollars, we are often underrepresented when it’s time for negotiations. It’s easier for the guild to do outreaches to rooms of TV writers at a time, and it’s the threat of shows going dark that drives a strike. All that adds up to a screenwriting constituency that is all too often ignored.
That’s why it’s crucial that we make our voices heard within our own union. If you’re a screenwriter, I don’t have to tell you that the town has changed over the last year. Let’s arm our leadership and staff with as much of our feedback on this situation as we can give.
Sarah Singer at the WGA did a really nice job putting this survey together, and she reached out to a number of writers for input on the kinds of questions that needed asking.
So fill it out, wouldja? Think of it as a prerequisite for complaining months from now! See? Now you’re interested…
Once you’re done, if you want to come back here and praise it or critique it (constructively, please), then leave a comment. I’m sure Sarah and the Guild will be watching this page.
Can’t really write much of an entry now (all will be explained later next week), but I wanted to take a quick moment to congratulate all of the winners of the WGAw election.
While I was disappointed that some of the candidates I admire (like Howard Michael Gould, Chris Keyser, Jeff Lowell and Mick Betancourt) didn’t win, the end result is very encouraging.
First, I believe strongly that John Wells is our best chance at a good contract.
Second, I believe our high turnout sent a firm message to the AMPTP.
Third, and most importantly, I don’t have much interest in one slate dominating another. For the last 5 years, our Guild has been a one-party system, and that’s changed in a huge way. Let the Board Room once again feature the kind of healthy discourse and debate that results only from philosophical diversity.
The issue surrounding the acquittal of Leno comes down to a clause in the WGA MBA known as the “AFTRA” exception. The trial committee that exonerated Leno has interpreted the clause one way, and David Young is interpreting it another way. I’m going to publish the clause here, and then offer my own explanation for why the trial committee has to be correct.
The clause, for those of you who really love reading the MBA, is in Appendix A, Article 1.A.5.d. Here it is, with my emphasis added:
Article 1.A.5. The first sentence defining the term “literary material” shall include “telescripts,” and the following shall be added: Notwithstanding the foregoing, the following shall be excluded from the definition of literary material:Okay, let’s go through it. What the Guild represents, and what the Guild restrains during a strike, is literary material.
d. material written by the person who delivers it on the air unless such person has written material for delivery by another person as well as by himself/herself on that particular program; provided that, unless elsewhere herein excluded, the following shall not be excluded: Such material written for any dramatic programs, and such material written for comedy-variety programs broadcast in prime time on a basis of once-a-week or less unless the material was completely written for another purpose prior to such person’s engagement.
If someone…say Jay Leno…writes material and then delivers only that material on air, it’s not literary material. We don’t cover it. We don’t restrain it (as long as the show is broadcast more than once a week).
However, let’s say Jay Leno writes some material and then I write some material and someone faxes some material in. At that point, the monologue is no longer purely written by the performer (Leno), and so it is considered literary material. That makes sense.
So what’s the problem? Well, the clause is excusing self-written performance material on that particular program.
Two ways of interpreting that, as far as I can tell. There’s what appears to be the trial committee’s way, which is to say “on that particular program” means on that specific episode. If Jay and I collaborate on Monday’s monologue, it’s literary material. If Jay is the sole writer of Tuesday’s monologue, it’s not.
Then there’s what appears to be David Young’s interpretation, which is to say “on that particular program” means “on The Tonight Show in its totality.”
Here’s why that’s insane…although I’m sure you already get why.
The Tonight Show has been running since 1954. Is David Young really suggesting that if one guy one time wrote one joke for Steve Allen during the Eisenhower Administration…and no other writer save the hosts ever wrote a single joke again…that Jay Leno would still be creating literary material with his entirely self-written monologues in 2008?
That interpretation turns the AFTRA exception into a this-can-never-apply contract term, and that’s a good enough reason to reject it as absurd. Besides, the clause uses the phrase “particular program” in one spot and “program” in another. Obviously, “particular” was meant to imply “an instance of” or “single airing” or “individual show of” or “episode.”
The trial committee wisely rejected David Young’s point of view, and so too should the rest of us.
One of the strangest events of the WGA strike centered around Jay Leno. I wrote about it back then, but to bring you all up to speed, here’s basically what happened.
(Ed. Note: Nikki Finke is all over this.)
Jay Leno was, by all accounts, one of the good guys. When the WGA went on strike, Jay supported his writers and staff. He visited his writers on the line, and he even paid his non-writing staff out of his own pocket for a couple of months.
So, what was his alleged crime?
He had to return to the airwaves. Like Letterman, he was bound by a performance contract. Unlike Letterman, he didn’t own his own show, so he couldn’t sign an interim agreement.
As such, when he went back, he went back without writers. Well, almost without, and that’s where the dispute began. There’s a good article about this at Variety, and I’m deeply disturbed by the implications contained within.
Jay Leno wrote his own monologue material. This is not against the rules, as far as I can tell. Writing material for one’s own performance is covered by AFTRA, it seems to be allowed by our own MBA, and it wasn’t just me who thought that this was acceptable.
Apparently, Patric Verrone said as much to Jay.
So Jay went back to work and wrote his own monologue.
Now…watch what happens.
First, Verrone allegedly catches a boatload of crap from militants within the Guild who believe that Jay returning to work and writing his own monologue is heretical, and they begin warming up the stake. Doesn’t matter what the law or contracts say. Patric, feeling the heat, calls Leno up a few days later and tells him that he’s changed his mind, and Leno can’t write the monologue.
But wait. There’s more.
Verrone and Young also told Leno that he didn’t have to worry about the WGA making an interim deal with Letterman.
Then Verrone and Young did exactly that.
But wait. There’s more.
Verrone promises Peter Chernin, Bob Iger and Carol Lombardini that the Guild will not press scab charges against Leno.
Then the Guild goes ahead and presses scab charges against Leno. Verrone fails to convey his promise to either the Board of Directors or the Strike Rules Committee.
But wait. There’s more.
The Strike Rules Committee refers this case to a jury of writers…which is the source of all the stuff I’m reporting to you now…a jury made up of rank and file members like you and me…and they find that Leno is innocent. In the aftermath, the jury writes a report stating that the leadership had allowed Leno to be mistreated and smeared to the point where the Guild owes him a frickin’ apology.
(Ed. Note: One of the members of that jury, Bill Taub, has a comment up on Nikki’s site backing his position up…scroll down to find it)
And the Guild’s response? David Young, our employee, says we don’t owe Jay dick.
Actually, it’s a bit worse. David’s comment leads, bizarrely enough, with the point that Jay doesn’t owe us an apology, and “vice-versa.”
Okay. Cue Yakety Sax, because this is the most screwed up thing I’ve seen yet. I thought the fi-core “puny” blacklist letter was bad. I thought the ANTM debacle was bad. I thought the deficit, the $30 million in undistributed foreign levies, the lies about not knowing Wells was talking to the DGA, the Sit Down Shut Up smear…I thought all of that was bad.
Apparently, Verrone was just getting warmed up.
Frankly, if his term weren’t almost up, I’d start a recall. This is the stuff of resignations. The President of the WGAw makes a promise to the AMPTP he’s not authorized to make to not prosecute strike rules against a guy he can’t prosecute anyway and then doesn’t tell the Board or the committee he’s promised to stop?
The President of the WGAw tells the host of The Tonight Show that he can write his own monologue, and then changes his mind and says he can’t?
The President of the WGAw sits by silently as his hand-picked Executive Director throws the jury of writers under the bus by claiming that they just don’t understand the rules? Really?
And who does understand the rules? David Young?
From the article:
Asked why Leno received the conflicting guidance during that period, Young responded, “At the time when we first discussed the matter with Jay on New Year’s Eve, I was not entirely certain how to advise him. A few days later, after the New Year’s holiday, I made the guild’s position clear.”Weasel words. Flat out.
From the Variety article, and from the words of the jury itself, I don’t know how one can conclude that Verrone didn’t lie repeatedly.
I don’t know how one can conclude that Young didn’t lie repeatedly.
I don’t know how many more lies we’re supposed to swallow.
All I know is this: if the blacklisted ficoristas, ANTM writers and Sit Down Shut Up writers didn’t get an apology, I’d advise Jay Leno not to hold his breath. These guys aren’t going to admit what they’ve done no matter how red their hands.
The following joint statement was read by John Wells and John Bowman last night at the Guild. I’m publishing it here unabridged.
John Wells: One of the great achievements of the strike and of Guild leadership during the strike was that we began and ended with a united Guild. I think I can speak for all of the candidates you’ll be hearing from tonight when I say we’re all committed to carrying that unity forward.
John Bowman: Of course we knew that John was talking to member of the DGA. I asked him to. But we thought his talks with members of the DGA were limited to A, B, and C. We did not know he would be talking to them about A, B, C, and D … with “D” being the agreement John made to endorse the deal if they were able to reach certain thresholds. Having talked to John about this in the past few days, I understand that he believes he had communicated this to us and to members of the Negotiating Committee. And I believe he acted in what he thought was the best interest of the guild. John and I may disagree as to whether or not that part of his talks was a good thing. But he is still my friend, I still like and respect him, and I hope everyone else can accept that this is an honest misunderstanding between friends that we hope is now behind us.
John Wells: I agree with John’s statement of the facts. He and Patric were well aware that I was talking to members of the DGA … I understand now that we have differing interpretations as to what my mandate was and I appreciate John’s affirmation of my good intentions. I too have nothing but friendship and respect for him and Patric. They have both provided extraordinary service to the Guild and I sincerely hope they will continue to for many years in the future. We have all been through too much together to let one misunderstanding get in the way of that, and I would ask all of those on both sides who have entered into this fray to lay down your weapons – there are no villains here – there are just writers who care passionately about the Guild. It’s time to lower the temperature, accept that each side made mistakes, but each side was honest, and for the good of the Guild we all need to let this go.