WGA Issues: October 2006 Archives
Two weeks ago, I terminated the services of my manager. Since I had been without an agent for a number of years, it was time to go out and get one…and I hit the shark-infested waters like a nice bucket of bloody chum.
This essay isn’t about whom I’m choosing or why. It’s about the gap between writers and businessmen in the way they perceive our business, its future, and what ought to be done about it.
Over the course of the last week, I met with fairly high-level agents and occasionally the highest-level agents at CAA, ICM, UTA, William Morris and Endeavor.
While each agency has its own personality and each group of agents is unique, the perspective that the agencies have about the future of the business is fairly uniform. It’s also shockingly different than the perspective of the average writer about the same topic…and it’s miles apart from current WGAw leadership’s point of view.
I’ll attempt to articulate the two viewpoints, and in doing so, I suspect you’ll begin to see just how far apart the two groups are.
The WGAw leadership views the business through the traditional lens of management and labor, i.e. management exploits labor, thus labor must form a collective to demand fair treatment from management. Furthermore, since there are only five or so conglomerates that form management but thousands of individual writers that form the bargaining collective, numbers are key. Current union leadership believes that if striking is the ultimate gun to management’s head, jurisdiction is the caliber of the bullet.
The WGAw theory is that the more writers they represent, the more powerful they are.
In terms of the future of the business, the union’s viewpoint is that no matter what the future brings, be it digital delivery or an all-reality TV world or developments yet unforeseen, labor must continue to be fairly compensated through minimums, pension and health care and residuals. If not, then it’s war! We will strike and cripple the industry! And above all, massing numbers and creating labor unity is essential because the studios have become global conglomerates.
They’ve increased their power, thinks the Patric Verrone acolyte, therefore we must increase our numbers.
While it’s hard to characterize the perspective of the rank and file of the WGAw, I think I’d be fairly safe in saying that it’s pretty close to this: writers want more job opportunities, want to be paid better for those job opportunities, want to be treated better by their employers and want to participate more in the exploitation of the properties to which they contribute authorship.
Got it? Okay, good. That’s one side of the chasm. Let’s walk across the bridge to the—
Wait. Can’t build a bridge that long.
Not enough gas.
Let’s get into a 747 and head on over to the other side, shall we?
First off, remember that I’m talking about businessmen who advocate for writers, directors, actors and filmmakers. If the other side were the companies, then their perspective would be an obvious set of antipodes to the writers’ views. We ought to be paid less and get no residuals, because that’s what their shareholders tell them to think.
The advocates are far different. In fact, the advocate businessmen seem more pro-writer than most writers or their union.
Well…scratch that. More pro-good-writer.
They don’t view anything through the prism of labor vs. management, a dichotomy that’s always been questionable in an industry like ours. Instead, they look at the business as swirling circles of financial interest.
And they see changes.
They see studios drastically cutting development budgets and even more drastically reducing output of self-generated films (for instance, Disney and its affiliates put out more than a movie a week in the early 90’s, but they’re now planning to make maybe eight total for 2008). They see massive layoffs of creative executives who used to be charged with sheparding film development. They see fewer and fewer “open” writing assignments, and more and more films being birthed by creative nuclei (writers and directors and producers and actors).
Most interestly, they look at the globalization and corporatization of the studios as an opportunity for artists, because to a one, the corporations that comprise Big Hollywood are more risk-averse today than ever before in their entire history.
The businessmen advocates don’t really care about strikes. To them (and probably to the companies), strikes are short blips on a long-term radar. The WGAw and many writers are looking at Hollywood as employers they have to fight, and the businessmen advocates are looking at Hollywood as a business in trouble that they can exploit.
Since the first schmuck with an Underwood typed “Fade In”, writers have believed that they contributed the thing of most value. By value, some might argue creative value, but I’ll demur on that for the sake of this argument, and stipulate instead that writers contribute the thing of greatest economic potential.
Sorry. I did it again. Good writers contribute the thing of greatest economic potential. Put a good writer together with a good director, and you have the two people who contribute the lion’s share of what constitutes economic potential. Throw an actor on there, and you’ve got 99% of the economic potential.
Take that fact, add two cups of studio fear and mix in a quart of modern economic realities…and you get the thing artists in Hollywood have been clamoring for since The Great Train Robbery.
More to come….