I’ve been very reluctant to talk at length about the SAG situation. I’m not in SAG (despite my virtuosic turns as both the voice of a puppet and a frightened janitor), and unlike many people on the intertubes, I have this little quirk about not banging a drum about unions to which I do not belong.
Throw in some laziness, and you’ve got the bulk of the reason for my silence. SAG’s situation is complicated. You’ve got the AFTRA issue, which goes back many years, you have the fractured nature of SAG’s governance, which is seriously divided both geographically and philosophically, you have the the relationship between SAG President Alan Rosenberg and WGAw President Patric Verrone, and you have the ongoing stalemate between the AMPTP and SAG.
I have thought about all of that stuff, but it’s far better that you hear from people with more skin in that game.
Now, I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that one group is the militant crazies and one group is the reasonable thinkers…or one group is the aggressive fighters and one group is the craven cavers. That’s how the extremists see things, and that’s not me. However, I admire Unite For Strength for being willing to take on the majority leadership in their union at a difficult time, and I particularly admire them for doing it in the face of some odious (and familiar) rhetoric.
The Unite For Strength candidates are a pretty credible group of actors, many of whom we all know: Adam Arkin, Amy Brenneman, Marcia Wallace2 and others.
Oh, and they’re supported by Sally Field.
Norma Rae herself!
They’re running for a number reasons, but it appears the main one is to help get SAG back on a more productive negotiations course for its membership.
This requires, of course, criticizing SAG leadership.
And that, apparently, is as popular with SAG leadership as I am with WGA leadership.
You can listen to a KPCC interview on their site where one of their candidates, Ned Vaughn, talks candidly about why they’re running. He doesn’t make personal attacks, he doesn’t sink to ad hominem critiques. He criticizes the substance of the majority’s philosophy and the facts of their results.
In response, Alan Rosenberg pays some brief lip service to democracy, and then in a bit of a stunner, announces that this isn’t really the time for criticism, and criticizing him and the SAG NegCom during negotiations is shameful.
Look, I get it. This is a very hard thing for anyone to do, it’s really hard when things aren’t going well, it must be triply hard to get criticized for it while you’re trying so hard, but folks…people in power…listen up.
This is the price you pay for the authority you wield. You must be accountable to the people whose lives you are impacting on a daily basis. You must be. You MUST be open to criticism. Welcome it. Don’t tar it as shameful or dangerous or traitorous. It’s almost cliche to fall into that trap, right?
Yes, I’m sure leaders would prefer if their citizens would kindly keep their mouths shut during a time of war. It would certainly make democracy a lot easier for them.
But that’s not much of a democracy. And, frankly, it’s not much of a strategy for success either.
Yes, it’s tempting to think that if everyone shuts the hell up and pretends that the charge of the light brigade will work…it will actually work! But that’s not reality. That’s the fiction that we’re so good at writing and the actors are so good at bringing to life.
In reality, a poor strategy is a poor strategy no matter how quiet and obedient the masses are. At that point, it is your duty as a member of a movement to stand up and say “I think this is a bad idea.” You can do it quietly if you want. You can do it when it doesn’t matter. Or you can just tell people that you know agree.
But it’s better to yell it as loudly as you damned can when the stakes are at their highest.
If you’re wrong, then no one listens.
If you’re right, then everyone will coalesce around a new strategy. A better strategy.
If you’re maybe right, then leadership will be forced to respond, answer questions and be accountable. That’s a good thing.
Alan Rosenberg may have all the answers for SAG. He may not. Unite For Strength may be the saviors. They may not.
But there is no shame in dissent, and damn anyone who dares say there is.
Yours truly took a massive quantity of shit during the strike. Why? Because I went fi-core? No. Because I scabbed? No (although there was an attempt to accuse me of that, followed by a meek apology, but that’s a story for another day, I suppose). Because I broke strike rules? No.
Because I dared to disagree. I disagreed with much of what our leaders did and said, and I still do. I dared to disagree publicly, which some people still think was akin to driving a knife into our collective hearts.
Didn’t happen. Shocker.
What’s fascinating, though, is that since then, other people have disagreed. People who fit the “good soldier” mold far better than I…and they’ve still gotten the “you’re a traitorous weasel!” treatment.
More and more, writers in my union are realizing that when you’re criticized for dissent, it’s not because you’ve done something wrong.
It’s because the world will always contain a certain amount of zealous, self-righteous prigs across every part of the political spectrum who fearfully believe that certain kinds of thought and speech are dangerous.
And those people will use war, strikes, campaigns, negotiations, natural disasters, a cloudy day or a fly in their soup as an excuse to intimidate you into shutting up.
To the actors of Unite For Strength, all I can offer you is this: run hard, speak your minds, feel no shame, and do whatever you feel is best to help your fellow actors. If that’s your motivation, and I suspect it is, you have all the reason you need to hold your heads high.
To the current leaders of SAG, all I can offer you is this: you can’t be hurt by dissent, only by your own efforts to quash it. Let the other voices in, and let the voters speak their minds. Who knows? You might learn something and stay in power.
Either way, I wish all of SAG’s leadership, staff and membership the best of luck in the coming weeks ahead. I’m pulling for you guys. We all are. Here’s hoping the resolution is a happy one.
Just a remind to vote YES, please, on all three proposals. All the cool kids are doing it. Do it today!
And maybe some of you have wondered the same.
Because, and I’m just going on anecdotal evidence here, it appears that some people are talking about it. Let’s consider this an insignificant ripple in the big Lake of Rumors this town drinks from, but since there are certain people in my own union who do enjoy insinuating certain things about a certain me that aren’t certainly true, I figured I’d use my bully pulpit to set the record straight.
This way, if you’re inclined to dislike me you can do so with complete accuracy.
Unlike the great majority of writers, actors, directors, agents, and members of the AMPTP, I am, indeed, a registered Republican.
My conversion to the conservative side of the political spectrum is fairly recent. I voted for Gore and Kerry, for instance. And as far as Republicans go, I’m a moderate.
The short summary is that I used to be slightly left of center, and now I’m slightly right of center, although mostly I’m a libertarian, I think.
So, for those of you who’ve heard that Mazin is some kind of kooky right wing nut, I’ll lay it all out for you.
I think government spending is out of control and very often thoroughly ineffective.
I think everyone’s taxes are too high, and yes, that includes the wealthy.
I’m an atheist. I believe in the division of church and state and I am against school prayer.
I support an individual’s right to bear arms.
I am pro-choice.
I am a foreign policy hawk, and yes, I think sometimes War Is The Answer.
I am pro gay marriage.
I am pro school vouchers.
I am against affirmative action.
I am pro legalization of marijuana, although my personal drug of choice is the occasional single malt, or in my weaker moments, Doritos.
I am pro death penalty.
So, there you have it. Now if you hear the rumor, you can set people straight. I’m a God-hating, joint-smoking, baby-killing friend of the gays. Or a racist, neo-con, prisoner-killing gun nut.
Whatever floats your boat.
And then reload the page. That should clear up any format problems.
The writers of Sit Down Shut Up are going back to work. Well, most of them, at least.
Nine of the eleven writers who walked agreed to a compromise deal with Sony. First, I’m going to talk about the deal they got and why their actions and achievements here are courageous and deserving of all of our applause.
And then I’m going to talk about how disgusting the latest WGAw press release is, as well as the irrational dogma behind it.
First, a quick sum-up. Sit Down Shut Up is an animated show produced by Sony. The writing staff wanted to work under a WGA contract, but Sony’s television animation arm is signatory to The Animation Guild Local 839 (IATSE). The IATSE contract is inferior to the WGA contract, so the writers walked.
When they did, I saluted them for their stand, and I wished them the best of luck, but I also pointed out that the legal ramifications of Sony’s deal with IATSE were such that it seemed nearly impossible that the show could even go WGA if Sony agreed. My hope was that the writers would get an IATSE deal on par with WGA standards.
After many weeks, 9 of the 11 are going back to work…yes, under an IA deal, but a vastly improved one.
The key concession from Sony?
Sony will pay them residuals as if it were a WGA show. They will not miss out on any residuals from reruns, New Media, DVD or any other form of applicable reuse.
Oh, wait. Sorry. Did I say that was the key concession? I was wrong.
Sony agreed to extend that offer to all WGA writers who come along to work for their television animation company.
(Correction: It’s actually better. They agreed to extend this offer to all writers who work for this particular show, and they essentially promised that all future Sony primetime animation would be under a WGA signatory company)
You see what these writers did?
They put their asses out on the line and made personal sacrifices, and they got something real and important not just for themselves, but for writers. All of us. If you get a job writing television animation for Sony next year, you’ll have them to thank. Each and every one of them.
They also worked out a deal where they would receive P&H through the WGA. Here’s how they did it: rather than get paid everything under the IA deal, they would receive less under IA, but then get that money back (and then some) via a blind script deal covered by the WGA. Pretty ingenious, actually.
Now, to be even more laudatory, it’s not like these writers were rookies at this sort of thing. These are decorated soldiers of the Jurisdiction Wars.
Two of the 11 walked off The Sarah Silverman Show on Comedy Central in order to win union coverage…and they did.
Another two walked off a former UPN show entitled Mission Hill, and they won as well.
Another one was one of the founders and principal editors of United Hollywood, the blog that did such a fantastic job selling our position to the public and the membership during the strike.
Two of them were the writers of the famous (or infamous, if you’re Nick Counter) AMPTP parody.
Back when the writers of The Father of the Pride walked out for only three days under a similar circumstance, only to return under an IA deal that’s not as good as this one, the WGA, under the leadership of Patric Verrone, granted those writers the Meltzer Award for “extraordinary courage shown in their efforts to advance animation organizing.”
So if these long-time organizing warriors put themselves on the line for five weeks at considerable personal risk, survived threats of legal retaliation and the very real chance that their show and salaries would disappear, and then extracted an excellent deal from Sony that locked in full WGA residuals for ALL writers that follow them, you’d think the WGAw would throw them a parade, right?
See, this is the new WGAw, where the motto is “Give me perfection or give me death.” The America’s Next Top Model writers got a good taste of it (and their jobs died), and now these courageous writers…heroes, frankly…are getting their bitter spoonful too.
Here’s the press release from the WGAw.
The fundamental issue here was WGA jurisdiction. Every primetime animated show currently on the air has been done under WGA jurisdiction with terms enforced by the WGA. Every single one. In the case of Sit Down, Shut Up! Sony insisted on hiring WGA writers, and Sony execs repeatedly assured them the show would be WGA. When the writers were told it would not be WGA, they walked out and demanded WGA coverage. For five weeks, they faced continuous ultimatums and illegal threats from Sony, while at the same time Sony offered enhanced economic terms. Finally, when Sony offered to pay ‘WGA equivalent residuals’ and to give each writer up to $200,000 in additional compensation through a blind script deal, most of the writers decided to accept. We understand why they did so but wish they hadn’t. Had they stuck together we believe that they would have won WGA coverage for Sit Down, Shut Up! Two WGA members refused the deal, and we and their fellow writers applaud them.
Well. Let’s go through this, shall we?
The fundamental issue here was WGA jurisdiction. Every primetime animated show currently on the air has been done under WGA jurisdiction with terms enforced by the WGA. Every single one.
True. And irrelevant. All of those shows are produced by Fox. This is produced by Sony. The WGAw knows full well that this is apples and oranges, and simply saying that we deserve jurisdiction isn’t going to make it happen, especially when another union came in to that shop ten years ago, ran an election and won jurisdiction fair and square.
So that’s stretched truth #1.
In the case of Sit Down, Shut Up! Sony insisted on hiring WGA writers, and Sony execs repeatedly assured them the show would be WGA.
Here’s the thing. We’re not “WGA writers.” They don’t own us. I’m a WGA writer and an 839 writer. Depends on who hires me. So let’s dispose of that bit. Yes, Sony completely screwed up. And again, Sony screwing up doesn’t eliminate IATSE’s jurisdiction. If I promise to rent you an apartment I’ve already rented to someone else, you can be angry at me and you can sue me if you’d like…but the one thing you can’t do is kick the current occupants out.
When the writers were told it would not be WGA, they walked out and demanded WGA coverage. For five weeks, they faced continuous ultimatums and illegal threats from Sony, while at the same time Sony offered enhanced economic terms.
The WGA apparently brought the NLRB in on this question of legality involving the breach letters, so that’s far from resolved. We’ll find out soon enough. However, it’s definitely true that for five weeks, the writers struggled under serious hardships in order to stand up for what they believed was right.
Finally, when Sony offered to pay ‘WGA equivalent residuals’ and to give each writer up to $200,000 in additional compensation through a blind script deal, most of the writers decided to accept.
Welcome to the smear.
The WGAw makes it sound like these writers got $200K added to their compensation.
They did not.
That money was in lieu of some IA compensation, and not every writer will get that much.
The WGAw makes it sound like these writers decided to go back to work because Sony threw some cash at them, and they greedily caved.
They did not.
The $200K portion of the offer had been made weeks earlier, and the writers still remained out because what they wanted was WGA residuals for themselves and future writers. They expressly did not agree to go back to work because of the $200K. The WGAw is spinning that one 180 degrees.
The WGAw puts quotes around WGA equivalent residuals as if to imply that they’re somehow less than.
They are not.
Smear, smear, smear.
We understand why they did so but wish they hadn’t. Had they stuck together we believe that they would have won WGA coverage for Sit Down, Shut Up! Two WGA members refused the deal, and we and their fellow writers applaud them.
And what’s the basis for this belief that they would have wrestled coverage away from the union that had clear precedent and obvious law on their side?
No basis other than religious faith, apparently.
Yes, two WGA members refused the deal. According to the WGA, they are the only writers deserving of our applause.
By the way, I have no problem with those two members not going back. They sacrificed, and they deserve equal credit for the compromise that got hammered out. And after all, it’s their career, it’s their lives, it’s their moral code, and they have every right to live by it. Deciding to go down swinging rather than compromise is a legitimate choice one can make for one’s self. In fact, one of the writers staying out is the partner of one of the writers going back. Goes to show you that even birds of a feather made different choices here.
But I’ll be damned if refusing compromise is the only choice we’re somehow authorized to applaud.
The WGAw needs to take a long look in the mirror. Our leadership loves to fight, no matter what the odds. And that’s nice if you’re a character in a movie. But when these quixotic battles use human beings as pawns, it’s time to stand up as members of this union and say “enough.”
Smearing writers who elected to go ficore apparently wasn’t a vulgar enough display of jingoism.
Now my union is spending dues money to smear full members…members who have made personal sacrifices for the rest of us…simply because they didn’t sacrifice to Patric Verrone and David Young’s liking.
And thus, if you wrote on Father of the Pride and Patric approves your return to work, you get a medal.
If you write on Sit Down Shut Up and Patric doesn‘t approve your return to work, then you get shit on in a Guild press release, beaten like a pinata on Nikki Finke’s site and falsely accused of petty greed.
That’s religious orthodoxy for ya.
But here’s the funny thing.
What the writers of Sit Down Shut Up (including the two who remain out) achieved for all animation writers–current and yet to come–is far more than Patric Verrone has achieved for animation writers since taking office.
So, apologies Patric, but I’m going to applaud them all.
Thank you Josh Weinstein, Bill Oakley, Rich Rinaldi, Aisha Muharrar, Alex Herschlag, Ken Keeler, Laura Gutin, Dan Fybel, Aaron Ehasz, Michael Colton and John Aboud.
You deserve better from your Guild. Maybe they’ll wake the hell up and give all of you guys the award you deserve.
Please vote YES on all three proposals. These proposals were unanimously approved by a diverse Credits Committee that included hyphenates, non-hyphenates, spec writers, rewriters…every kind of writer.
The best time to vote is right now, right away, get it done, no stamp required, stick it in the mail and be done with it.
Oh, and remember…no hanging chads!
If you haven’t received your voting materials within a few days, check with the Guild’s election and awards office, and they’ll get one out to you.
We cannot pass these proposals without you. Thanks for participating in the process.
In the past week, there’s been a good amount of coverage surrounding the yet-to-be-made animated show “Sit Down, Shut up.” The writing staff has walked off the show in protest over their contract, which is not a WGAw contract, but an IATSE 839 Animation Guild contract.
There’s quite a bit of misinformation floating around out there about this. Happily, the facts are starting to filter in. I’ll go through the circumstances surrounding this brouhaha, and then explain why this situation is indicative of a much larger problem that needs to be resolved.
When you work for a studio, it’s important to remember that you’re rarely actually working for that studio. You think you’re writing a movie for Paramount, but it’s probably for their employment company. Each studio has a company that exists solely to employ certain individuals according to certain union agreements.
In television, it gets a bit more complicated, because unlike films which are typically produced and distributed by the same parent company, television can be produced by one studio and broadcast by another studio’s network.
In the case of Shut Up, Sit Down, the network is the Fox Broadcasting Company. Because Shut Up, Sit Down is being aired during Fox Prime Time, there’s a natural expectation that the show be WGA. After all, all other FBC primetime animation is WGA.
However, all other FBC primetime animation is produced by Fox. The operating circumstance here is: who is making the show…and how are they employing the writers?
In this case, the answers to those questions are “Sony” and “through Sony Adelaide.”
Sony Adelaide is the employing company.
And Sony Adelaide is signatory to IATSE.
So here’s where things get sticky.
According to one of the writers on the show, when the staff was being put together, the writers heard that the show was going to be IATSE and asked that the show instead be WGA. The creative execs didn’t think that would be a problem…if the show got picked up they’d be able to figure that out.
I propose that if this recounting is true, then the creative execs either lied or simply didn’t understand how the world of labor-management works.
Flash foward…and Sony business affairs informs all of the writers involved that no, the show is going to be IATSE, all Sony Adelaide shows are IATSE, and that’s it, end of story, period, full stop.
So the writers walked.
As relayed by 839′s Steve Hulett, IATSE has certainly earned the right to be there. They came in and organized Sony Adelaide twelve years ago, and they did it entirely above board, with a union rep card election and all.
So, you know, it’s their joint. And employers working for Sony Adelaide have no more standing to be WGA than employees writing live-action movies for Disney have standing to be IATSE.
There’s a reason the writers want to be WGA bad enough that they’re walking.
Our contract is way better.
When you write under an 839 contract, you don’t get the same minimums that the WGA sets, you don’t get anywhere near the same residuals the WGA gets and you don’t get any credit protection whatsoever for your work.
The WGA contract is simply superior to the IA contract, and I don’t think that’s something the 839 folks would even argue.
Now, is there a way to make this all work out?
Now that all of Sony Adelaide’s employees must work under an IA contract (and that’s something no amount of breath-holding or foot-stomping can ever change), Sony could agree to employ the SDSU writers through a different sub-company. Call it Sit Down, Inc., and make it signatory to the WGA.
Is this likely?
Well, it would require Sony’s willingness to spend more money, and we know how the AMPTP companies are with that. Also, it would likely precipitate legal action from IATSE, which hates hates hates the WGA. Oh, and they might win…because end-running another union’s jurisdiction is usually a big no-no.
I mean, if they did it to us you know we’d sue in a heartbeat.
So, any other options?
Well, there was the Father of the Pride compromise, in which under almost the exact same circumstances, the WGA sorta-kinda got the writers a WGA-ish deal. After a writer walkout, the WGA got Dreamworks to agree to some WGA-ish terms, even though the show remained under an IA contract.
That’s nice, but not ideal.
And IA couldn’t just “let the writers go” if they wanted to. Doesn’t work that way. There has to be a deauthorization vote, everyone in the unit votes including non-writing members who don’t have another union to even go to, yadda yadda, long story short…ain’t happening.
So, as Lenin famously asked….what is to be done?
First, I think what the writers are doing is smart and necessary. In the end, standing up for a WGA deal, even under impossible circumstances, is the only thing that will prevent this from happening again.
With all due respect to the IA 839, and there is certainly real respect due, the companies are using them as a way to avoid paying writers what the WGA can get them. There’s precedent for shows using two unions: one for the non-writing staff, and one for the writing staff (Sony did this themselves prior to IA organizing Adelaide). So it’s possible. And because we know it’s possible, we can also conclude that the companies find the everyone-is-under-IA arrangement preferable.
This practice will continue until writers make it impossible for it to continue. If Sony can’t staff this show under IA, then their IA shelter is useless.
Legally speaking, it may be too late for this show. I don’t know. And I don’t know if the writers will choose to walk away permanently. If so, I respect them for it. This animation conundrum must end.
In order to end, there must be a fight. Everyone knows that I’m big on diplomacy, but this situation requires diplomacy by other means until the other side realizes that they’re just not going to be able to run things according to SOP anymore.
This is one of a number of battles, but the big fight…the fight to get WGA or WGA-equivalent deals for all writers in all animation (including theatrical)…is yet to come. Perhaps this will precipitate it.
Perhaps IA will realize that until they successfully bargain for the same terms the WGA already has, this problem will continue to crop up. It can’t be comfortable for them.
And so, I salute the writers, and I call upon IA to seek to negotiate WGA equivalent terms for animation writers. After all, it doesn’t matter what the letters of your union are…just the contract.
As for Sony?
I’m as curious as anyone to see how they wend their way through this minefield.
It’s of their own making.