WGA Issues: February 2005 Archives
In it, he describes the convulsions our union goes through during negotiations. On the one hand, he says, there are the working writers who view the hinge-points (like residuals, etc.) philosophically.
I assume by “philosophically” he means dispassionately and rationally.
On the other hand, Mr. Long says there are the non-working writers—and they’re a bit more rabid. He writes:
Non-working writers, the Unemployeds, are a different, more querulous matter. These are writers who haven’t sold a script or drawn a writer’s paycheck in years, but remain passionately involved members of the guild and its most impossible to satisfy voting bloc. For some reason, years of unemployment do not lead to difficult personal decisions (“I must stop dreaming of success and riches. I must stop talking to my friends about my next big script sale. I must realize that my job at Blockbuster is not just ‘temporary’ or a ‘great place to people-watch and get material,’ but, instead, my true livelihood, and I will begin to treat it as such by arriving on time and in uniform, and not waste a customer’s time criticizing his rental choices.”) but, rather, lead to a stubborn and highly irrelevant obsession with the writer’s potential share of hypothetical ancillary revenue generated by a script that hasn’t been written, and if written won’t be sold by a writer who is not represented by an agent who won’t sign him because, and this is crucial, his scripts do not sell. Did I mention that this is the largest segment of the voting population of the WGA?
In my experience, Rob’s allegations are actually pretty commonplace, although they’re rarely articulated so well. What I find so amazing about this is that it’s the first time I’ve heard someone publicly put their name to it. It’s been a sort of secret, eye-rolling complaint whispered between writers who feel very comfortable with each other, but never said out loud in mixed company.
I’ll admit: these thoughts have certainly crossed my mind. In many ways, I was cured of them by my service to the Guild. It turns out that in reality, some of the most ardent opponents of strikes and olde-tyme labor union rhetoric are currently unemployed. Likewise, I can think of at least three multimillionaires who would be happy to see us all on a picket line right now.
There’s a larger issue at hand here. I think Rob gets a major part of it wrong: the fracture lines are not drawn along employability. He is right, though, about the other part.
Our Guild has two factions. And just as national politics has seen polarization over the years, I can sense it in our union as well.
A long time ago, I asked some writers to come up with names for the two main groups arguing about credit policies. I guess I’ll do the same again.
Is Rob right? Are we split in two? Is it along employed and unemployed lines?
Personally, I think the two groups are defined by the central belief systems they use when approaching negotiations. For me, the two predominant belief systems are Moral and Economic. The Moralists want us to get what we deserve, and striking is still labor’s best weapon to achieve that. The Economists want us to get what we can get, and striking is just another tactic to be number-crunched on a cost-benefit basis.
Maybe this is a false dichotomy, but I would certainly find myself in Economist camp (as I’m sure Rob would).
Moralists vs. Economists? You guys are writers…maybe you can do better. :) The larger question, though, is…is this healthy? Or is this union experiencing a nasty case of, well, disunion?
Over at Big Brain Boy, a fine blog about the future of entertainment technology, the cerebrum comments that:
In your future we don’t see much Pay-Per-View on your desktop.
I agree. Computers make for crappy movie viewing, and televisions continue their natural evolution towards home theater.
So why should the creative guilds be so concerned about residuals for movies downloaded over the internet?
The internet is a delivery system. Right now, you view the web via the internet on a computer. There may come a day when internet is used to deliver everything: phone, web, video, audio, smell-o-vision, you name it…to a variety of appliances (television, phone, fridge, cyborg house boy). For our economic purposes, it’s not the “what you watch it on” as much as it’s the “how you get what you watch”.
For as long as I’ve been a Guild member, our credit policies have been the single largest nexus of discontent among our membership.
Many years ago, the Guild won the right to determine the writing credits on films, and since that time, the policies have been debated and massaged like the U.S. Tax Code.
And still, no one seems very happy. Just like the U.S. Tax Code.
There are two main areas of credits policy. The first is the Great Quagmire—our credits guidelines. These guidelines are the rules by which our member arbiters determine who ought to get credit. Any changes in those rules must be ratified by the membership.
The second area is the administrative, or procedural aspect of credits. How are participants notified? How does Guild staff interact with them? What are the qualifications for arbiters? How do appeals work? Should arbiters work together or separately?
At Monday night’s Board Meeting, we created a new subcommittee of the Board that would only work to make recommendations about the administration of credits. We can’t touch the guidelines at all. If a recommendation requires membership approval, we’re not allowed to make it.
The committee is co-chaired by Ted Elliott and me, and it also includes Robert King, J.F. Lawton, Aaron Mendelsohn and Irma Kalish. That gives the committee a nice mix of first-writer advocates and subsequent-writer advocates. Better yet, those divisions are essentially irrelevant to a committee like this.
Our mandate is improve the process of credit arbitration in the hopes of reducing the level of emotional trauma that seems to go hand in hand with credits determination.
If you’re a WGA member, go ahead and use the comments function to suggest any ideas. Remember, we can’t touch the credits guidelines themselves. Stay tuned; I’ll have more updates on opportunities for you to be heard on this issue. Member input is crucial to this committee.