In just a few minutes, the WGA contract will expire.
And then, I’m afraid, it’s likely the WGA will go on strike.
Well, I’m tempted to respond “Who cares?” because, you know, who cares?
Once we hit the bricks, does it matter why?
Yeah, it does. Maybe someone ten years from now will wonder how things got this way, and maybe then they’ll avoid it.
Today, on the last day of the contract, the AMPTP made a proposal that should have been their opening, discardable volley months ago.
And today, on the last of the contract, the WGA continued to plant its flag over issues that should have been part of their opening, discardable volley months ago.
Well, no one’s discarding much.
The AMPTP finally got around to offering us the DVD rate for internet sales, which Disney had already offered us over a year ago when iTunes started selling movies.
[Hey, Craig. Never done this before, but a small clarification: the AMPTP offered to "continue" to pay residuals on "electronic sell-through" at the DVD rate in their limited proposal from July 16, first day of negotiations. - Ted]
And the WGA finally got around to…well…not much. They’re still insisting on doubling the home video rate and getting jurisdiction over reality, animation, new media and, I think, some emerging industries on the Moon or something.
Watching this “negotiation” develop has been awful. Both sides have been pulling teeth for months, and now they’re both standing there with bloody mouths and nothing to show for it.
What a failure of imagination on the part of the AMPTP and the Guild.
Yes, the Guild too.
I once heard a very smart man say “A strike is a failure.”
That man is Doug Allen, the Executive Director of SAG.
A strike is a failure. I’m sure that Patric Verrone and the current Guild leadership agree to some extent. They ran on a platform promising membership an alternative to the “old choice of strike or cave.”
And everyone said “Sounds great!”
Except a few of us who said, “Here comes a picket line.”
In my opinion, what we’re seeing now isn’t the product of cold rationalists silently calculating that a strike outweighs the alternatives.
What we’re seeing now is the result of acrimony. The Guild decided to throw some punches at the Big Bully’s face, mostly because they felt like they hadn’t thrown any punches in a while, and that makes a guy look like a weeny.
The Big Bully, as it turns out, is a jerk who needs to then punish the Weeny for daring to throw those punches…even though they didn’t connect.
This last year could be described as The Rise Of The Adolescent.
Month after month, we saw little more than lashing out. Patric Verrone said “If the companies think a strike is the worst that can happen, they don’t know what the worst is.”
Ooooooh. Scary, albeit meaningless and, as it turns out, factually incorrect.
Then Nick Counter took out a full page ad in Variety telling the WGA membership that their leadership was insane and AMPTP-WGA relations were at an all time low.
Ooooooooh. Terrifying, albeit meaningless and, as it turns out, factually incorrect.
And so the teeth have been pulled since then, one by one, until we find ourselves here, on the verge of disaster.
Still trying to gut separated rights. Still trying to rollback the writers.
Still trying to refight a DVD battle that was lost 20 years ago. Still trying to rescue a disastrous attempt to organize reality television.
………it’s not over until it’s over.
When you look past all the whining and posturing and Kool-Aidy yammering from both sides, here’s one unemotional, inarguable, immutable fact.
There’s got to be a number between .3 and 2.5 that will satisfy both sides.
Has to be.
If they’re saying “We don’t want to give more than .3″ and we’re saying “We don’t want to take less than 2.5″ then everyone in the world knows what that really means is:
“We’re starting at .3″
“We’re starting at 2.5″
So here are three possibilities.
First possibility: the AMPTP has already internally decided what their bottom line number is, and they will let the WGA and anyone else strike until they turn blue, but they’re not budging. If that’s their decision, then the die is cast here. Nothing left to do but go limp and enjoy the car crash.
Second possibility: the AMPTP is no longer interesting in bargaining with us (pick a reason, any reason). They’ll let us walk and turn to the DGA in order to find that magical number between .3 and 2.5. They’ll set the rate with the DGA, and then that will be that.
Third possibility: the AMPTP wants to bargain with us, but they want to soften us up a bit with a strike. Get us out on a line, then reel us back in with an offer that’s better than .3…..but not as good as we’d like. Much harder to walk away from money on the table, goes the theory.
I say three possibilities…there are certainly more…but those are the ones that come to mind right now.
Either way, I think a strike is in the cards. Nothing will change my mind about this: we didn’t have to be here. There was a way to play this game that would have avoided a strike and gotten us a deal. We didn’t play it right, and they didn’t play it right.
Both sides failed.
I’m angry at both of them.
Twenty-nine minutes to go.
Does either side even have the will to try anymore?
Don’t hold your breath.
On the AMPTP website, Nick Counter has a long statement that essentially boils down to this: if the WGA drops its DVD demands, they’re willing to talk turkey on internet download residuals.
“Great,” thought I.
And then I read this.
…no further movement is possible to close the gap between us so long as your DVD proposal remains on the table. In referring to DVDs, we include not only traditional DVDs, but also electronic sell-through — i.e., permanent downloads. As you know, we believe that electronic sell-through is synonymous with DVD.
Electronic sell-through is synonymous with DVD?
DVD stands for Digital Video Disc (I think it was originally Digital Versatile Disc, but whatever).
That’s Digital Video Disc.
You buy a DISC.
When you download a movie, you do not buy a disc.
You do not buy the package for the disc.
You do not pay for the manufacture of the disc.
Nor do you own a disc.
You buy digital information. Ones and zeroes.
Internet sell-through is NOT DVD, it is NOT home video, and if that’s the game the AMPTP is playing on internet downloads, this is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.
Got a nice email today from a Contract Captain (those are the people we’ll call Strike Captains should a labor action occur) named Kate Purdy.
Dear Craig, Thanks for continuing to post about the negotiations. Your page is a great resource, even if it is only your opinion. Some of us Contract Captains have started a blog. Trying to get the word out, as well. We linked it to your blog – so people have multiple places to get information. It’s called unitedhollywood.com. The purpose is to get our perspective out to, and beyond our membership – to continue to build union solidarity.
Best, Kate Purdy
Sounds good to me. One of their bloggers, DJ, has a pretty smart piece up referencing NBC head Jeff Zucker’s recent comments about iTunes.
From his piece…
“Apple sold millions of dollars worth of hardware off the back of our content, and made a lot of money,” Zucker said. “They did not want to share in what they were making off the hardware or allow us to adjust pricing.”
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Writers, directors, and actors all want to share in the “millions of dollars” the AMPTP makes “off the back of our content”.
It sure does sound familiar.
Welcome to the blogosphere, United Hollywood. Glad you guys read my stuff here, and I’m looking forward to seeing what you run over there.
I wish I lived in a world where this was as obvious as I think it is, but I guess I don’t.
Some people out there seem to think that I either:
a) speak for the WGA, or
b) believe I speak for the WGA
I speak for myself.
I am one person, the articles I post on this website express my opinions, I hold no position on the WGAw Board of Directors, I am not on the Negotiating Committee, and I represent no organization.
Various new outlets contact me through the site, because they read it. They ask for quotes or interviews, which I occasionally grant, but just as often do not. I do not identify myself in any way other than as an individual. I am, for a lack of a better phrase, a “talking head.” A commentator. An independent analyst.
Oh, and a union member.
I do not pay for publicity, nor do I retain the services of a publicist.
Okay, disclaimer done. Back to the important stuff.
Thanks, Brothers!Well, I’m pretty sure one of our commenters broke some news yesterday…the Teamsters are going to (sort of) back a possible WGA strike.
This is big news.
The Teamsters union — representing about 4,000 Hollywood drivers, location managers and scouts, casting directors and animal wranglers — is giving the WGA’s strike plans a major boost with a show of solidarity that could seriously disrupt local production.
The leader of Teamsters Local 399 is advising members, as long as they’re acting as individuals, that they should honor WGA picket lines. The Writers Guild of America could go strike as early as Thursday; negotiations resume today at the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers.
In a message posted Monday, secretary-treasurer Leo Reed said Local 399 can’t strike, picket or boycott a producer while its contract is in effect but added that those restrictions don’t apply to individuals.
“As for me as an individual, I will not cross any picket line whether it is sanctioned or not because I firmly believe that Teamsters do not cross picket lines,” Reed said in the message.
What does that mean?
Well, the Teamsters can’t honor a picket line institutionally (so yeah, Mona was wrong). However, part of their deal is that if their council sanctions, or approves, of another union’s strike, then individual Teamsters cannot be disciplined for refusing to cross a picket line.
And in a not-so-subtle message on the Hollywood Teamsters’ home page, their Division Director, Leo Reed, announced that he would be one of those individuals who wouldn’t cross a line.
I was shooting on the backlot at Paramount today, and I heard that the studio is reassigning all trucks and deliveries to go off-lot, in case of a picket line. Could be rumor, could be true. Seems like smart planning to me…particularly if the companies are taking the Teamster announcement seriously, which they pretty much have to.
The strategic upshot?
This just might help avert a strike.
Finally, at long last, we’ve got a real way to enhance our strike threat. Organizing reality was an abortion, organizing animation was a boondoggle, the corporate campaigns fizzled, the attempt to disrupt product integration was naive and impotent…
…but this is for real.
The Teamsters can shut a company down faster and more completely than any other union in town.
Now that the companies have to worry about an instant shutdown if the WGA strikes, they’re going to have to do a better job of bargaining.
And if they do a better job of bargaining, our side might actually get something to work with in negotiations.
Look, if Verrone is hell-bent on striking, then none of this matters. We’re all screwed, and there’s a bad deal in our future.
But if he’s not…and all I can do is hope that he’s not…this is a terrific strategic gain. We just amped up their fear level and made the threat of a strike far more potent.
And like any supporter of gun rights, I believe that showing you have a loaded gun is a good way to avoid having to shoot a loaded gun.
Well done, leadership. This was a huge step closer to your promise of an alternative to “strike or cave.”
Some of you have wondered how I manage to do all of this while directing a movie.
Well, last week, I didn’t really manage to do this while directing a movie. And this weekend, I was just too tired to even think about blogging.
So I’m doing it now, on the way in to work (my excellent Teamster driver Fred is at the wheel while I type this on the Glendale Freeway at 6:35 AM).
What’s the latest?
I won’t bother talking about the stupid (the fight over chairs???). Instead, I’ll give you my analysis of where we are.
It’s actually not bad.
Or at least, could be worse.
The companies continued to signal a desire to avoid a strike, if not a willingness to bargain. They took some more of their regressive rollbacks off the table, although they apparently attached some unacceptable strings. Meanwhile, the WGA hasn’t officially altered their proposal at all…
…although they kind of did.
Variety published an article proclaiming that the WGA was pulling its reality demands off the table, and they included a quote from the WGA General Counsel, Tony Segall.
The WGA quickly issued a statement denying this.
One of two possibilities on that one.
First, the WGA decided internally that they were going to pull reality off the table, Tony jumped the gun by talking publicly, and the guild moved to cover their ass.
Second, the entire two-step was planned, in order to signal a possible concession to the AMPTP without actualy making it.
Either way, our demand for reality is an empty, posed one. We know they don’t even have to discuss it with us, much less grant it, and we also know they’re not going to grant it…or at least, they won’t grant it in any way that’s good for us (they could use it as a Monkey’s Paw that costs us internet residuals, for instance).
So consider reality off the table…if not already, then soon enough. If Tony really was just talking out of his butt (which would be highly uncharacteristic), and the WGA leadership really thinks we should all strike over reality, then they’re high.
It’s an interesting scenario. We strike over reality…while the work that continues to undermine our strike is performed by…why…reality employees! Neat trick. Ain’t gonna happen.
Still, I said things could be worse. The two sides are talking now. I hear sidebars and huddled discussions are picking up, which is great news. The presence of a federal mediator is pretty much a “who cares?”, as it’s a perfunctory development when things get as dicey as they are now.
It’s possible…not probable at this point, but certainly possible…that over the next two days, both sides shed all of their fat demands and get down to arguing over the meat and potatoes.
The problem for the WGA is that the AMPTP’s proposals are all fat. The companies’ single biggest failure in negotiations to date has been their refusal to provide anything real. They’re going to have to get serious and offer substance before the WGA backs off their empty proposals like DVD hikes and animation jurisdiction (as if that were something the AMPTP hadn’t already conceded to another union).
Both sides are working under their own Sword of Damocles.
The AMPTP is facing the prospect of the November 1 strike (or November 15…or pick a date…it will hurt them either way).
The WGA is facing the prospect of an early deal by the DGA.
I recently reported on the very supportive letter SAG issued to its membership (of which I’m about to become a part).
I got a much different letter from the DGA.
The DGA made it very clear to their members that if they have a valid contract, they must show up to work, regardless of a potential WGA picket line. They made it just as clear that if you did not have a writing contract at the time of the strike, you were free to perform A-H exceptions (that ought to definitively settle an argument that was brewing in the comments section). Then they said that if you were a WGA and DGA member, and the WGA disciplined you for crossing a line to perform your DGA duties, the companies had to indemnify you per the DGA agreement.
As far as letters go, it was as hostile to the WGA as it could have been…without being hostile, if you dig.
Lastly, the DGA signalled that they are ready and willing to negotiate right now.
They’re going to wait until this WGA-AMPTP story comes to a resolution. They won’t stop us from bargaining, but if we strike, I expect them to jump in.
Okay…almost at work.
So one last thought.
Some people have been wondering why I’m doing this (and Patric Verrone’s recent letter to the WGA membership takes a swipe at “blogs”).
I’m doing it because I love my union. I’m doing it because I believe that leadership should be held accountable. I’m doing it because I believe that free exchange of information is a good thing. And I’m doing it because no matter how good the intentions of powerful people who lead institutions are, when they have total control of the message, they tend to abuse the control.
Call it the libertarian in me. I just can’t stand it when the ministers of information tell me to just trust them and not listen to anyone else…particularly when they’re predictably delivering stale, canned, guarded form letters.
The Guild, like the government, has the right to confidentiality in order to get things done. What they don’t have the right to is impunity from criticism or critique or accountability.
Neither does the AMPTP.
People can judge for themselves.
I take a pretty good beating in the comments. Good. All part of the free market of ideas here. My opinion is only as good as you think it is.
But for those of you wondering what my motive is, I’ll try and be clear.
I want the Guild to do better.
If you don’t believe me, well…you know what to do.
Hang around and criticize me.
Works for me.
Could work for you.
How it must end…in the endFor the last week, I’ve been getting what I’ve begun to dub “The Call.” It comes from a producer, then an agent, then a studio executive, then a studio chairman, the president of production here, a fellow writer, a director…
“So…are you guys gonna strike or what?”
And of course, I have to say “I don’t know.”
But since everyone’s asked, I suppose I could offer my plan for avoiding a strike.
I had hoped that my union would have acted smartly by now and responded to last week’s signal from the AMPTP. The removal of their regressive residuals proposal wasn’t just an empty gesture. Think of it as the equivalent of Senator Craig tapping his foot under that bathroom stall.
It was a question.
The WGA’s silence has been deafening and no doubt has confirmed for the AMPTP that we do not want to negotiate, but are instead hell bent on a strike.
And yet…I don’t think that’s true.
I just think the WGA is bad at playing the signals game (and at this point, we must leave the Senator Craig analogy behind, before the rest of this article devolves into hand-waving and anonymous man-on-man bathroom action, Minneapolis style).
So I turn to you men and women of the AMPTP.
Wanna avoid a strike?
Here’s what you do.
Drop your proposals to gut separated rights. Drop your proposals to drop publicity for credited writers. Drop your proposals to apply residuals against other payments. Indeed, drop all of your rollback proposals, because they’re regressive and punitive.
And who are you punishing?
Hey, go for it. Smart guy, but definitely a bit nuts, and I can’t blame you for feeling frustrated.
On the other hand, Patric Verrone’s not the one you’re talking about here. Hell, Patric usually works in animation, which doesn’t have most of the stuff you’re talking about rolling back anyway!
You’re punishing me. Your proposals are a gut-shot to the working screen and television writers who supply you with hit movies and hit hour-longs and hit half-hours.
So give us a break.
Take that crap off the table. We all know you don’t mean it anyway.
It’s payback, right? You’re still pissed at the WGA for that flop of a reality campaign. Granted, you found it obnoxious and meddlesome…but guys…you won, okay? The campaign failed. It failed big.
Or maybe you’re pissed at the WGA for asking for more DVD money. But look…we’ve asked for more DVD money every three frickin’ years since 1985. Why should this year be any different? And let’s face it…the result won’t be any different either.
So get over it. Okay? Get over the shot to your pride, get over Patric (who is just one of a lot of people in that room, many…if not most…of whom are more moderate than he), get over David Young, get over the public insults and the immoderate speeches.
You think writers are children?
Then act like the adults you think you are.
The children are obviously holding their breath right now, but if your kids turn blue, you’re going to suffer as well.
To avoid a strike, take away all the rollbacks and offer to bargain seriously over a rate for internet downloads.
If the Guild fails to respond, then you’ll finally know that Patric would have gone on strike no matter what…for guts or glory or God-knows-what…and you can sleep well knowing that you honestly tried.
Of course, if you’re not interested in avoiding a strike, then stick with the current plan. It’s working.
Either way, it looks like you have the burden of adulthood.
Be smart, AMPTP. Please. There’s still a way out.
Quick newsflash in between setups over here.
SAG has sent a mass email out to its membership regarding the possibility of an upcoming WGA strike. They write:
Negotiations between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers are ongoing, and the expiration of their contract is not until October 31. We continue to be hopeful that an amicable and equitable conclusion to their negotiations will occur. However, now that the results of the WGA Strike Authorization ballot are in and an overwhelming majority of the WGA membership has voted the authority to call a strike if the talks fail to produce a deal, it is appropriate that we discuss with you what the ramifications of a work stoppage would mean to you, the members of Screen Actors Guild, and your continuing to work if a strike becomes a reality. In the event of a strike by the Writers Guild of America it is important to remember that the Screen Actors Guild’s support of the Writers Guild is steadfast and will remain so. That said, it is also important for you as a member to understand what you can and cannot do in regard to working under our contracts and supporting the WGA during a strike. If you are contracted to work on a show that continues to produce episodes you are obligated by your personal service agreement and the “No Strike” clause in our collective bargaining agreements to go to work. You can continue to audition for work. We encourage you, on your own time, to walk any picket line that has been set up by the Writers Guild to show your support of their effort. You will continue to get updates from Screen Actors Guild on any job action that the WGA has undertaken. You should also visit the WGA website for the latest updates and information.
This is a good message for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s responsible. Unlike some people (including a few of my more cockeyed commenters), SAG gets that you can’t choose to “not cross a picket line” simply because you feel like honoring a strike. If you have a contract, you have to work, and the union can’t support any action preventing you from working.
Second, the tone is very friendly to the WGA. The inroads that have been made between the two unions is a good thing. I’m not sure it will matter much in the long run if the WGA strikes now, because SAG can’t flex its considerable muscle for us until the summer. That’s one reason I hate the idea of an early strike…when it comes to SAG and the WGA, our strike threat is weaker, simply because we can’t shut production down instantly, and maybe also because we don’t have a collection of the most famous faces in America to help promote our position.
Nonetheless, SAG sounds very supportive, and that’s something to be thankful for. I give current leadership credit for creating a relationship there when there was almost none to speak of before
Someone sent me a link to a site called Writers Bloc Comix, which is dedicated to “The Strength and Solidarity of the WGA.”
Well, that’s cool, except it’s pretty lame.
And kind of insulting to actors, who we sort of need to support us in a huge way right now.
These things don’t upset me in any real way. Obviously, the creators of the site have their hearts in the right place. My reaction is more one of embarrassment.
Putting relative issues of quality aside (although honestly, shouldn’t we be going to our best and brightest for the creation of propaganda?), I think what this type of stuff tweaks in me is my general distaste for organized religion.
I’m an agnostic (I think…I can’t prove God’s not real, but I’m pretty certain that knowledge of anything even approaching the description of “God” is far beyond the grasp of humans). More importantly, I detest group think. I hate rallying cries, I don’t like slogans or buzzwords, I get sweaty around culty thinking or “movements,” and in general, I get rashy around mobs, be they literate or otherwise.
I don’t march.
There are no parades for guys like me.
So when I see this sort of stuff, which is marked more by a naive sense of jingoism than any real critical thinking, I get squeamish. It’s not that it’s bad. I think stuff like this is probably useful (perhaps moreso if done better).
On the other hand, if it all feels empty and cultish, then I don’t think it should be out there at all. Writers may be stereotyped in negative ways by some, but everyone probably agrees that we’re pretty good at sniffing out bullshit.
This stuff feels like bullshit.
I guess what I’m saying is…it’s not that we need less propaganda at a time like this.
We just need better propaganda at a time like this.