WGA Issues: November 2007 Archives
Hope you had a pleasant Thanksgiving.
I really really really hope that the Verrones and the Counters and the Youngs and the Chernins and the Bowmans and the Meyers had a pleasant Thanksgiving.
They’re all back in the room tomorrow.
And there are rumors.
Hollywood rumors occasionally come on like seizures, grabbing everyone’s attention and shaking them around. More frequently, they emerge like one of Kant’s synthetic a priori judgments—supposedly unquestionably true, and yet not by way of reason or analysis. People suddenly just know stuff, and they don’t know why, but they sure as hell believe it.
Gotta love this town.
There’s a rumor out there now that Monday’s meeting is almost pro forma. The rumor says that the basic deal structure has been agreed upon, the next few days are about hammering out the devillish details, but whatever that magic number is…it’s been found.
Tempting to believe.
So tempting…that I believe it.
But first, some baseball news.
I was reading about Johan Santana today (for those of you who don’t follow the sport, he’s pretty much the best pitcher in the game…and a lefty to boot). The Twins have him under a cheap contract for one more year.
If they keep him for that year, he becomes a free agent…and leaves them, because they can’t afford to pay him what he’s worth on the open market.
If they trade him now, they lose him for one year but stand to gain some tremendous players in return.
Easy choice. They have to trade him.
Here’s where the game theory kicks in. They can’t trade him for scrubs. They need great players. So it would seem they have all the leverage. On the other hand, the teams they’re dealing with know all too well that the Twins have to trade him, or they end up with nothing…and those teams would then still have a shot at Santana on the open market.
So the Twins need to be strong but reasonable, and the opposing teams need to be strong but reasonable.
Right now, our situation makes the Santana trade look like child’s play, but still…we have some balance, and that’s what matters. Neither side can crush the other (despite infantile proclamations to the contrary from both the union and the companies). The companies know that their current offer is a non-starter in a general sense. By now, they’ve heard as much, I presume, from the DGA.
Either they dared us to strike to see if we had the balls (dumb, because their deal was so ridiculous, who would possibly agree to take it?), or they forced us to strike in order to….
…well, hell, Nick Counter, buy me a drink one day and explain that to me if it’s the case. It certainly seemed like the AMPTP forced a strike, but to what end?
Regardless, the balance in the equation may be forcing a compromise. We’re costing them money. We’re costing ourselves money. They have the DGA they can bargain with…but they still have to bargain with them.
If the rumors are correct, there’s enough impetus to get the AMPTP back to finding the magic number.
So let’s start defining “victory.”
To me, victory doesn’t have to include any DVD increase (and given that we already gave that one up before ungiving it up, don’t expect it folks…and yes, I’ve spoken with a number of writers who honestly believe that we’ll get one). It doesn’t have to include any jurisdictional gains, nor does it have to include anything at all regarding product integration.
Victory requires the following.
- Maintenance, at very least, of status quo for separated rights
- A better-than-DVD rate for electronic sell-through on the internet
- A reasonable formula for streaming reuse
Pretty muddy, I grant you. For instance, what if the companies promise a good residual rate, but insist on that rollback for separated stage dramatization rights? I’ll let other people chew on those. Similarly, what’s reasonable for #3? And how much better than is truly better than? .31% ain’t enough. 2.5% won’t happen either.
Perhaps, if the rumors are correct, those are the things left to discuss. They’re big things.
But if we’ve gotten past some of the major stumbling blocks and boiled it down to the serious stuff at hand…and more importantly, if the AMPTP is ready to acknowledge certain basic realities…then we might be back to work soon.
Before I go, there are two other matters to discuss.
First, attorney Jonathan Handel has written a fantastic primer on our residuals rates and the true numbers involved. Surprise, surprise…the whole “four more cents!” thing is reductive sloganeering with little bearing on the actual economic issues here…and yet…as Handel argues convincingly, we deserve more nonetheless.
I strongly recommend you read his essay. You can’t fit it on a picket sign, but it’s a whole lot more convincing than anything beginning with “Hey hey, ho ho!”
Secondly, I’ve received a number of emails all posing variants of the following question.
“I’m not a member of the WGA yet, and I’m wondering how the strike affects me. Can I sell material to or work for signatory companies? Is there any rule preventing me from doing that?”
Here’s my answer to all of you who’ve asked.
I’m not telling you.
I’m not telling you because I’m basically here to try and help writers and empower writers, and while I love truth and accuracy, I’m not obligated to write down how-to manuals for scabbing.
So here’s the answer I’ll give instead.
Regardless of the rules, regulations, laws, court decisions and anything else prevailing either for or against you, if you sell material to or make writing deals with signatory companies while the WGA is on strike, then you’re an asshole.
You’re an asshole because you’re undercutting, you’re an asshole because you’re exploiting opportunities made possible by people who are trying to better everyone’s circumstances, and you’re an asshole because…well…
…I’ll go back to a synthetic a priori judgment. You just are.
Good enough for Kant, good enough for me.
Aggh, one more thing (“Our three weapons are…!”).
Totally redoing it. I’ve decided that MovableType 4, while better than 3, is still inferior to WordPress. So I’m switching over to WordPress, and I’m redesiging the look of the whole thing while I’m at it.
Hopefully it will be done before the end of the year.
Some good news…commenting will be much more user-friendly. Specifically, you’ll be able to live preview your comments as you type them, and you’ll also be able to EDIT them (cue the angelic chorus) for 15 minutes following the initial submission.
I’m going to try and make the whole site feel cleaner and simpler, with a few Web 2.0 perks thrown in (like super-easy icons to refer articles to social bookmarking sites like Digg and Reddit).
Alas, I think the quill is going bye-bye. I liked it, it served us well, but progress demands that we pave that sucker over and build something new. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it.
This video was apparently made by a striking writer.
Perfectly done. The WGA should get this up on their site immediately.
I was planning on a rebuttal to Michael Eisner’s comments about how this strike is “stupid” because it’s about revenue that isn’t real, but this video pretty much blows that argument out of the water—and the brilliant part is that it does it with the CEO’s own words.
Anonymous creator of this video, great job. If you’re out there reading, email me so I can congratulate you.
It’s quite likely that a union can successfully wage a strike and still not convince a single damned person that what they’re doing makes sense. It’s not like these things are decided by popular vote.
On the other hand, the companies we’re fighting are notoriously sensitive to bad press. Sure, they are the press, but if we can do a good job of convincing people that our cause is just, it can only help.
Since the union struck, I’ve seen some explanations about why we’re fighting.
Some are good (nice job, WGA).
Some are super duper bad (ironically, you have to sit through a commercial to get to this streaming video…but gee, no one makes money off the internet!)
What’s missing, however, is a compelling reason for residuals that anyone, including your deaf aunt, can understand.
John August has a piece running on this tomorrow, and it’s a good one. He stresses why residuals are good things…citing what I call the “Marc Cherry” rule, i.e. residuals can keep writers afloat during the lean times, allowing them to stay in the business, support their families, and stick around long enough to create a huge hit that sends boatloads of profit to the companies.
But even if no one needed residuals, we should still get them.
I hear this complaint quite a bit these days: “I don’t have to pay the architect every time I walk into a building” or “I don’t have to pay my plumber every time I use the sink he fixed.”
But authors of movies (and I consider the authors to be the screenwriters and directors) create something quite different than “blueprints for a single building” or “fixed sink.”
Imagine two guys. One guy writes terrific recipes. The other guy is a fantastic baker. Together, they create a magic cake.
Bear with me.
What’s special about the cake is that you can cut a slice from it, and a new slice will just grow back in its place.
You keep cutting it and serving it, and you never run out of that cake.
Wal-Mart decides to start selling slices of this cake.
They pay the two guys a good amount for the cake, as far as that sort of thing goes. Maybe a hundred bucks.
But Wal-Mart sells each slice for three bucks, and they keep selling them and selling them.
Over and over.
Millions of slices of the same damned single cake.
Shouldn’t the two guys get some small amount of money back on each sale? Maybe four cents?
But definitely something?
Movies are a special class of intellectual property. Like music or novels, they can be endlessly reproduced and sold in millions of multiples. One movie can be sold and resold and repackaged and redistributed and rebroadcast and redownloaded and reprojected over and over and over…
If the seller can endlessly exploit this single, unique product, shouldn’t the true authors of that work share in each endless exploitation?
A plumber can only fix your sink once.
An architect’s building is built once.
But not a movie. Not a television show.
So if someone asks you why we deserve to get paid each time someone buys a copy of a movie, tell them about the magic cake.
If they slap you because your analogies are tortured and weird, I apologize in advance.
It appeared in Variety yesterday.
If you’re a WGAw screenwriter, you can still add your name to the online version.
When I was asked to sign this, I did offer a full disclosure that I could theoretically provide A-H exceptions over the course of the next two weeks (although so far, we’ve been bang on script).
This did not deter them from including my name, which makes me happy, because I will, in fact, be entirely “not a word” in two weeks no matter what.
The WGAE also ran an ad that you can see here.
Cuz it ain’t Patric Verrone.
Sorry, Patric, but I just think you’re a little out there.
No, my guild hero is a guy named Howard Michael Gould.
Howard and I are friends, we’re political allies (for Guild stuff, at least), and he’s one of the most decent guys I know in this business.
Watch this video.
The only standing ovation of the night, they say, and it’s easy to see why.
Calm, rational, moderate, clear, non-religious, bottom line, and cogent as hell.
Take a look.
I’d vote for this guy any day of the week.
C’mon, love each otherWell, this caught me by surprise…although now that I think about it, it’s sort of obvious.
I expect a certain amount of strife and conflict in the comments section, but I was taken aback by the sudden emergence of an above-the-line vs. below-the-line war that started taking shape.
Below-the-line commenters started bitching about how the writers were soft-soled dandies who don’t know what real work is, and writers started yammering about how below-the-liners wouldn’t have a job, purpose or existence if the scripts went away.
But you know, guys…the farmer and the cowman should be friends.
We’ve got the big bad AMPTP out there as a common enemy. Let’s not turn on each other. Not right now.
Like I said, the reason for this conflict is pretty apparent in hindsight. A writers’ strike digs right into the livelihoods of our below-the-line brothers and sisters. They have it bad enough with runaway production. Now, the remaining jobs are getting pinched by the strike.
And when you damage people’s abilities to put food on the table, clothe their children and fill their tanks, things get emotional.
Let me try and add some perspective here.
I’m a writer. I’m very proud of the fact that first, before all else, comes my mind. If I and my fellow writers stop imagining, then that’s pretty much it. No more movie and television industry.
I’m also a director and producer. I’m there with the crew from sunup to sundown and long after. And I know that without them, it doesn’t matter what I’ve written or imagined. No them, no movie.
Pick your favorite dualism.
The point is that we’re dead without each other. Above and below the line are essential to the process. Yes, some skills are rarer than others. Screenwriting (at least, the kind done well enough to garner work year in and year out) is a rarer talent than, say, location scouting.
I’m not saying location scouting is easy. It’s not. And I’m not saying I’d be any good at it (I wouldn’t).
I’m saying that there are more location scouts working in any given year than writers, because screenwriting talent is just rarer.
And so, you know, supply and demand.
That doesn’t mean location scouts or dolly grips or camera operators or riggers labor any less than writers do.
They sure as hell don’t.
My call time is one of the earlier ones, but it’s not the earliest. I’m due at work tomorrow at 6 AM. People will be working for me and the production at 5 AM or earlier.
When we’re talking about labor unions and labor action, it’s important to remember that we’re all the same in the companies’ eyes.
We’re laborers. Fingers on a hand, okay?
And as a filmmaker, I have to say…I have an enormous love and respect for the work a good crew does. I judge people for their competence at their job and their commitment to doing it well.
I expect the same in return.
When it all comes together, it’s incredibly gratifying and humbling.
So below-the-liners…remember, writers are often intimidated by you and the set, because we’re so often excluded from that world. Don’t confuse unfamiliarity with disinterest or arrogance. Welcome us, and teach us. Don’t laugh when we don’t know the lingo.
Writers, don’t think that the crew owes you their jobs. They don’t. We don’t hire them, and they earn every damn nickel they make. That much I know. Don’t look down on them, respect their working space and honor their labor.
Sure, one man likes to push a dolly, the other likes to write a script…but that’s no reason why they can’t be brothers.
So hug it out, people.
We’ll get through this, but it will be a whole lot easier if we do it together.
Okay, then strike.The strike is on.
From what I’m hearing, it’s the usual he-said, she-said, but the bottom line is this: both sides finally got all of their stupid crap off the table (and for those of you who honestly though the WGA really really really meant that DVD increase demand, all I can say is…listen more closely to Uncle Craig next time, okay?)…and still…
…the AMPTP wouldn’t step up on The One Issue.
This strike is mostly the fault of the AMPTP, in my humble opinion. They had a choice here. Once the other demands were gone, they were in a perfectly good position to finally start talking in a real way about internet residuals, and they chose instead to insist on the DVD rate for electronic sell-through…and their ridiculous “promotional” position on streaming.
On the other hand, the Guild bears some fault as well. They played their strike threat hand well, but I think they seriously believed their own hype. They convinced themselves that the AMPTP would wobble in the face of a strike.
Any of you see that South Park where sanctimonious intellectuals stand around smelling their own farts?
Anyway, here we are. I’m not sure we wouldn’t be here if, say, I had been running the Guild. No way I’d ever take the DVD rate for internet sales.
Still, the backchannels will continue. And in a weird way, both sides have accomplished something very positive.
We’ve finally broomed the crap off the table. It’s down to the real issue.
One last thing.
I have to amend my “praise the leadership!” post from a few days ago.
The one about The Teamsters.
I praise the leadership for convincing everyone that the Teamsters were going to support us. In reality, the WGA is picketing studios between 9 AM and 5 PM.
Trucks come in before 9 AM, and they leave after 5 PM, so this isn’t really conducive to getting Teamster support…
Furthermore, I know that writers will be picketing Warner Brothers today…but at one gate.
Warner Brothers has…I think 9 gates…maybe 8. But more than one.
So I wouldn’t be counting on anything valuable from this alliance of the unions’ leaderships, although I still believe that the rank and file of the Teamster Brotherhood are behind us, and I know I’m behind them.
Lastly, if you see writers out on the line today…do more than honk your horn. Talk to them. Shake their hands. Tell them that you’re behind their fight to ensure their rights as authors…and to secure those rights for the writers who are yet to come.
I hate this strike, I hate the circumstances that led to it, I hate the missteps that occurred along the way, and I really hate to say “I told you so” to all the people who said “Patric Verrone will keep us out of a strike!!!”….
…but the strike is here.
Back it all the way.
And if the companies are serious about eliminating residuals (which is what much of their proposal would achieve), then back it to the death.
I’ve got a 6:30 AM call time tomorrow, so it’s off to bed with me.
The kind of negotiating I have hoped for all along…the intense kind, with the key decision-makers huddled together in a room…news blackout…etc….is still underway.
When I wake up, I guess I’ll know.
If it’s a strike, then it failed.
If there’s a deal (unlikely), then it succeeded.
More likely…if the WGA agrees to postpone the strike for a limited amount of time—say a week or something like that—then it means there’s a deal in the making.
I hope I rise to good news, but I’m ready for bad.
[Five minutes after Craig posted this, the word came in: No deal was reached. - Ted]
Whispers of progress.
To all parties on both sides seeking to find common ground and make a deal…
…I’m rooting for you with all my might.
Use this thread for now to discuss the strike.
I’ll post my thoughts on this over the weekend, but I’ll give you a preview.
Given the circumstances, we have to strike. However, these circumstances didn’t have to be the circumstances, and we’re most definitely screwed.
I was on Larry Mantle’s program this morning. You can listen to it here.
My segment starts around the 9:45 mark. During it, Carol Leifer calls in, as does a veteran of the SAG commercial strike.