The strike is over. The WGA contract has been ratified. SAG and AFTRA are now center stage and there is still a lot of work to do before the town gets back to normal. At this moment it's useful to look back at our own history. There are lessons to be learned about how the process can move forward even against what seem like overwhelming odds.
There are many who labored behind the scenes to support the writers' strike. At United Hollywood we worked with people who put their energy on the line but wanted to stay off the media's radar. Not content to just talk a good game, these are members and supporters who knew that if they wanted to make a difference, they had to work at it.
One group in particular came of age during the early part of the strike: the writer-directors. Nicknamed the WD-40, forty writer-directors met to search for ways they could help facilitate the negotiation.
From the beginning of the strike, most journalists accepted the AMPTP's lead and described the DGA and WGA as antagonistic to one another. Nicholas Counter was frequently quoted in the trades as preferring the DGA as a negotiating partner. The writer-directors objected to that characterization and felt that the AMPTP was doing what it always did in positioning the Guilds against one another to diminish each union's power.
There were many issues discussed during a first meeting in early December, chief among them the fact that the WGA and DGA share 1,400 members. That struck everyone as a surprisingly large number. The group realized that they were uniquely qualified to speak to both Guilds, since they are the embodiment of the two unions' shared interests.
The objective of the group was to promote closer ties between the WGA and DGA. That effort took many forms. First and foremost, a letter was drafted during the meeting that announced the solidarity of the signatories in their support of the WGA's demands. It was decided that everyone in the room would call 10 writer-directors and ask them to add their names to the letter. Within 24 hours, the letter had been signed by over 375 members. The letter was hand-delivered to the DGA leadership by four of the group. The delegation then met with Patric Verrone, David Young, and John Bowman. At the same time, hundreds of phone calls were made to fellow DGA members, explaining the strike issues, arguing the importance of the internet for the future of all the Hollywood unions.
The hyphenates also walked the picket lines, their signs proclaiming themselves as "Writers-and-Directors". Hyphenates picketed in New York and Los Angeles, participating in video interviews that were posted on Voices4Action! In those interviews they spoke eloquently about the creative values shared by writers and directors. They explained that the strike issues were important to both groups. And, most importantly, movies and television shows cannot exist without the collaboration of both.
Contrary to the press' characterization of Guild antagonism, just before the holiday break, Michael Apted, the President of the DGA, issued a letter to the DGA membership, acknowledging with respect that the WGA was a "sister guild," not an adversary.
The significance of hyphenates is becoming increasing clear as Hollywood looks to exploit the opportunities of New Media. Already we can see that the internet is a place where hyphenates are the order of the day. Writer-Directors. Actor-Directors. Actor-Writers. Writer-Director-Actors. Looking to the future, the writer-directors who came together at that first meeting will become an important voice in the next contract negotiation. In three years their numbers will be even larger.
SAG, AFTRA, and the AMPTP will sit down soon and negotiate their new contract. Ultimately, a deal will be worked out, but as with the writers, the actors have to resolve their differences and find common ground with one another so they can face the companies with one voice. We can only hope that there are players like the writer-directors who are working quietly, behind-the-scenes to forge a consensus and move the negotiation to a speedy resolution.
Last week, State Senator Sheila Kuehl introduced a bill in the California Senate that protects all entertainment union workers. Below, WGAw Secretary-Treasurer Elias Davis explains the bill and asks the members of all entertainment-industry unions to support it by sending an email to its sponsors in the California State Assembly.
Over the past few years a number of TV show creators have brought suit against major studios in cases where the studios have sold TV series to companies owned by the studios themselves. The reason for the suits is simple - because of self-dealing, these shows have been sold for far less money than they could have brought in had they been offered for sale on the open market.
We WGA members who wrote for the series M*A*S*H (let's call it MASH) are all too familiar with this practice. Many years ago the program, one of the most successful in the history of television, was sold by Fox TV to FX, a cable channel owned by Fox. Since writers receive cable residuals based on the re-use sales price, the MASH writers clearly paid a steep price for Fox's self dealing when the studio sold the show to FX.
Now something might actually be done to prevent such sales in the future. California Senate Bill 1765, introduced by SAG member Senator Sheila Kuehl, would prohibit these self-dealing sales.
Please support Senate Bill 1765, the Fair Market Value Bill. And here's one way you can do that - click here to automatically send emails to the authors of the bill thanking them for their support and for standing up for writers and other workers in the entertainment industry.
Thanks for helping the Teamsters and the WGA support this important legislation.
Posted by United Hollywood at 3/05/2008 06:22:00 AM
From screenwriter Brian Nelson (HARD CANDY, 30 DAYS OF NIGHT) --
The other day I had a conversation with a friend of mine who works in Craft Services. It was an unsettling talk. While this friend has been quite supportive of me all through the strike, during this talk he kept raising points that felt more like what people on the other side would say. "Well, it'll take a long time to undo all the damage ... the moment there was a DGA deal, why didn't the WGA just jump on that? ... It seemed like they were a lot more willing to talk to the DGA than to you guys, and I wonder why." I took a while and patiently responded to all these points, but it struck me that every time I'd respond, he didn't really acknowledge it but came back with another bone to pick.
What it brought home to me was that while my friend was definitely on our side because he felt that the corporate bosses were out to screw us all, he still was very wary of the WGA. Now that the WGA didn't need him so overtly on our side, he felt freer to express a lot of the frustration that BTL people must still feel.
Even though the strike is over, many of our sisters and brothers below the line aren't working yet. The relief that much of the town feels at working again can't be allowed to obscure this fact. My friend was right: it's indisputably true that a lot of work will be needed to make up for the hardships that people across all unions have endured.
When you're out of work, naturally any party that feels like it might have contributed to the problem remains suspect. But the difference between the WGA and the AMPTP is that we can and will maintain a dialogue with our BTL colleagues.
That dialogue can take the form of the benefits still being staged to strengthen the Industry Support Fund. And that dialogue can take the form of lobbying for the underpricing bill currently in the California State Senate -- which helps all unions by making sure that our work isn't traded between corporate subsidiaries at less than its fair market value.
But just as importantly, that dialogue needs to take the form of simple honest exchanges about what's happened and what's still happening in this town. The success of everyone's next negotiation will depend in large part on how we all view the last few months, and how well we maintain the lines of communication newly created between motion picture artisans used to laboring in isolation and sometimes mistrust of each other.
If we are truly championing the idea of a United Hollywood, then we need to be alive to the simmering resentments that may bubble up from other trades now that solidarity may not feel like the watchword of our every hour.
Thanks for listening --
Focused on "reducing the friction" between Hollywood and Silicon Valley, the William Morris Agency and two prominent VCs - Accel Partners and Venrock - are launching an investment fund focused on digital entertainment, according to the NYT and LAT.
AT&T, an investor in the Endeavor-affiliated Media Rights Capital, is also a limited partner in the fund, apparently looking for opportunities in mobile entertainment and advertising.
Expect the focus to be on technology, not content. Per LAT, the fund "will make investments of less than $1 million in young companies that help foster growth in areas including broadband, wireless, gaming, advertising, entertainment and emerging media platforms."
That said, both Venrock and Accel have invested before in companies producing original content. Venrock has money in National Banana, which was founded by Jerry Zucker to produce and distribute short-form comedy. (Check out the site's wonderfully tongue-in-cheek "About" page link.)
Accel invested in Matt and Ben's Live Planet and On Networks, both also producers of original internet content, as well as in Facebook, which, like MySpace, is a technology company being driven ever closer to admitting it's also a media company and making investments in content.
It will be interesting to see what kind of opportunities this creates for WMA's talent, though finding a Funny or Die for whichever mega-star WMA represents probably isn't the point of the partnership.
In any case, it looks like Sand Hill Road is ready to give Hollywood another chance to demonstrate we understand what a scalable business is -- the difference between YouTube (make billions!) and a web series that 's a hit on You Tube (make thousands!). And given how internet technologies promise to disrupt the oligopoly of big media, that's a good thing no matter what.
The Industry Support Fund, founded by the Writer's Guild Foundation to provide financial relief to non-WGA industry members impacted by the strike, has raised over a quarter million dollars, and has already given away more than half of what they've raised. The fund anticipates continuing to donate $40,000 - $45,000 a month over the next several months as industry members find their feet financially.
The Writer's Guild Foundation is working closely with the Actor's Fund to help distribute the money. Separately, The Actor's Fund has spent half a million on strike-related relief since the beginning of the strike. A non-profit that offers an array of services to all performing arts professionals, The Actor's Fund is not just for actors. For more information check out their website at www.actorsfund.org.
To find out how to get help from the Industry Support Fund, or to make a donation, go to www.wgfoundation.org/supportfund.html.
Many thanks to Chris Brancato, President of the Writer's Guild Foundation, Angela Kirgo, Director of the Writer's Guild Foundation, Jonathan Estrin, Chair of the Industry Support Fund Committee, along with Robin Swicord, Dan Petrie, John Furia, and Bruce Joel Rubin - all members of the Industry Support Fund Committee who helped start and shape the fund. And also many thanks to Suzi Fellows, Member Services, who coordinates the fundraising.
Check out upcoming fundraising events below:
INDUSTRY SUPPORT FUND BENEFITS
The proceeds from the events listed below will go to the Industry Support Fund for non-WGA members affected by the strike
SAT MARCH 8
STAGED READINGS BY WGA MEMBERS
"Diva", written by Howard Michael Gould, directed by Neal Keller. Four one-act plays by Howard A. Rodman, Nancy De Los Santos, Ellen Sandler, and Stephanie Liss. First reading begins at 1:00 pm. $30 donation for each reading (Diva and Four One Acts), $25 for WGA members. Lyric Theatre, 520 N La Brea Ave 90036.
SUNDAY MARCH 9
STAGED READINGS BY WGA MEMBERS
"The Music Begins", written by Lyn Roth, and "Faces of War", written by Stephanie Liss. First reading begins at 1:00 pm. $30 donation for each reading, $25 for WGA members. Lyric Theatre, 520 N La Brea Ave 90036.
BENEFIT CELEBRITY POKER TOURNAMENT
$200 Buy-in, $100 Re-buys. Hollywood Park Casinos, 3883 W Century Blvd 90303. Sun March 9, 1 PM to 6 PM. For more information go to www.wgapoker.com or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
MONDAY MARCH 31
STAGED READINGS BY WGA MEMBERS
"The Last Seder", written by Jennifer Maisel. Reading begins at 8:00 pm. $30 ($25 for WGA members). Lyric Theatre, 520 N La Brea Ave 90036.
Liz Gannes from NewTeeVee posts her interview with Patrick Verrone.Verrone says that while the legacy of '88 strike was that studios and networks learned how to make shows without writers, the legacy of this strike may be that "writers learn how to do content without the studios and networks."
As to the Media Honchos claims (Zucker, Moonves) that the strike has taught them how to run a leaner business, Verrone says, "not likely."
Posted by United Hollywood at 2/29/2008 10:16:00 AM
WSJ today gives overview of social networking sites getting into business of producing online video. Article features three shows:
It notes that while MySpace and Bebo push into original content, Facebook hasn't and other internet companies - AOL and Yahoo, specifically - are backing away from it.
Article doesn't disclose budget for KATE MODERN but says Bebo sells sponsorships at $400,000 for six months.
Claims production budgets for Roommates and Special Delivery are about $1000 per minute.
Article also notes that the shows themselves aren't very profitable to their writer / producers, who are portrayed as doing internet stuff to build assets and relationships "in a bigger entertainment medium."
If you've watched these shows, use the comments to tell us what you think.
If you've had experience trying to sell a show to Bebo or MySpace or any other company investing in internet original content, tell us what can about the process: deal points, budgets, development process.
WSJ article also links to excellent post by Kara Swisher where she takes Hollywood to task - creative talent as well as the companies - for being risk-averse and lazy and for making "Web material that clearly is derivative of current media like television, rather than [trying] to imagine a whole new way of creating content that reflects and excels on the online platform."
California State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) introduced Senate Bill 1765, the "Fair Market Value Bill," to end the practice by some major studios and networks of “underselling” television series or movies. Since the major media networks in the United States have come to own many cable channels, the practice of selling TV series or movies for less than the fair market value of the content has become more and more prevalent.
"The WGA West wholeheartedly supports this bill and we applaud Senator Kuehl for authoring it," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. "This important piece of legislation will help ensure reliable accounting among the major Hollywood studios so that creative talent and all entertainment employees that rely on residuals will be fairly compensated for the contributions they make to the industry." Read entire press release here.
To Our Fellow Members:
Today, it is our pleasure to inform you that members of the Writers Guilds of America, East and West, have voted to ratify the MBA contract with 93.6% approval. With a total of 4,060 votes cast, the tally was 3,802 to 258. These numbers reaffirm the tremendous level of support and commitment our membership has continuously demonstrated over these last few crucial months.
We are also pleased to report that the trustees of our health fund voted yesterday to follow the recommendation in our strike settlement agreement to provide additional coverage and an extension of the earnings cycle for a full quarter (three months) to participants who would otherwise lose health coverage following an earnings cycle that included all or a portion of the strike period. Participants whose health coverage is paid for by points will only be charged points if they have ten or more points as of April 1, 2008.
As we close this chapter in our union's history, what we together have accomplished should not be underestimated. The 2008 MBA establishes a beachhead on the Internet and in new media that will guarantee our share of a potentially vast and bountiful future. Writers already are working on new media projects under this agreement and residuals must now be paid for streaming and downloads of our library of films and TV shows.
Language in the contract will allow us to monitor and audit these new technologies and new business models, but it will take vigilance on the part of our membership to make sure that original Internet writing is done under a WGA contract and with appropriate terms and conditions.
The same sort of vigilance will be needed to assist members of SAG and AFTRA. They are about to go through a similar process to the one we experienced. Their support of our cause was invaluable. We must use all our efforts and experience to support them as well. Further gains that they can achieve will have an immediate, positive effect on our contract.
We must take our newfound spirit and unity and use it to move our two unions forward. We look to the future and our newly revitalized member engagement to reaffirm writers as the first among equals in the most collaborative art form in history. As the last few weeks proved once and for all, we are all in this together.
Patric M. Verrone
The strike's may be over but the Solidarity Fund continues to be a vital resource for helping people get back on their feet. On Saturday, February 16th, The Hayworth Theater's production of Sexy Laundry donated the box office receipts to the Solidarity Fund.
Posted by Jeffrey Berman at 2/26/2008 05:04:00 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
February 26, 2008
Writers Guild Members Overwhelmingly Ratify New Contract
Los Angeles and New York – The members of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) today put their final stamp of approval on the deal that ended their 14-week strike, giving writers new rights and protections for work distributed on and created for the Internet and other new media platforms.
An overwhelming majority of the WGA membership voted in favor of ratifying the three-year contract by 93.6 percent of 4,060 votes cast in Los Angeles and New York. The term of the agreement is from February 13, 2008 through May 1, 2011.
“This contract is a new beginning for writers in the Digital Age,” said Patric M. Verrone, president of the WGAW. “It ensures that Guild members will be fairly compensated for the content they create for the Internet, and it also covers the reuse on new media platforms of the work they have done in film since 1971 and in TV since 1977. That’s a huge body of work that will continue to generate revenue for our members for many years to come as it is distributed electronically.”
“The 2008 Minimum Basic Agreement is groundbreaking on many levels,” said Michael Winship, president of the WGAE. “Not only does it establish Writers Guild jurisdiction in new media, it gives writers the same separated rights provisions in new media enjoyed by the creators of original TV and motion picture scripts, as well as residuals for the reuse of movies and television programs on the Internet and in new media. Those residuals will be based on ‘distributor’s gross’ – real money for our members – that we’ll be able to audit and monitor more effectively than ever before.”
The contract breaks new ground for writers by:
- establishing WGA jurisdiction over writing for new media
- giving writers “separated rights” in new media content (separated rights are the contractual rights traditionally enjoyed by writers of original television and motion picture scripts)
- establishing residual payments for new media reuse of covered material, including Internet downloads and ad-supported streaming of feature films and television programs
- establishing “distributor's gross” as the basis for calculating new media residual payments
- creating meaningful access to information and auditing tools that will allow the WGA to monitor the development of new media markets
The balloting was conducted by mail ballots and walk-in voting at membership meetings in Los Angeles and New York City. Ratification follows the WGA’s lifting of a strike order on February 13, which ended a 100-day work stoppage.
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) represent writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in both entertainment and news. For more information about the Writers Guild of America, West, please visit www.wga.org. For more information about the Writers Guild of America, East, please visit: www.wgaeast.org.
Posted by United Hollywood at 2/26/2008 04:35:00 PM
I like George Clooney and I like Tom Hanks. Who doesn't? From their screen personas to their amiable chats with David Letterman. They seem like nice guys and appear committed to good works and deeds, from Clooney's work on behalf of Sudanese refugees to Hanks' paying homage to our military veterans.
However, I'm concerned about their outspoken efforts to head off a SAG strike. Not because it would obviously be preferable to avoid a work stoppage so soon after the three and a half-month WGA industrial action, but because what they appear to be doing works against the very potential for which the Screen Actors Guild was originally created.
It's all well and good to make statements of a general kind regarding the need for the conflicting parties (the AMPTP and SAG) to be bargaining at the negotiating table, but the methods these well-intentioned actors have employed seem to be of a hurrying design that, by their very nature, take the air out of the balloon of solidarity and play right into the hands of the AMPTP.
The New York Times reports today that Warner Brothers will start making internet original content the old fashioned way: shoot first, get advertisers later. This is a good thing. It means talent generate the ideas, not marketers. Like others, Warner Brothers seems to have found getting advertisers to finance production can be more hassle than it's worth. Better to shoot the shows fast and cheap, push them out of the nest and see if they fly.
Here's a sample from THE JEANNIE TATE SHOW, from Warner Brothers Studio 2.0.
Posted by United Hollywood at 2/26/2008 12:59:00 PM
Will 1+1 someday = 2?
The WGA, the Teamsters and California State Senator Sheila Kuehl have just announced the introduction of the "Fair Market Value Bill." The bill seeks to prevent studios from selling programming to sister companies for below market value. This particular strain of Hollywood accounting is designed to shift profits away from the studios (where they must be shared with talent and producers and serve as a basis for pension and health contributions) to networks, where they may be enjoyed without the pesky need to pay one's "partners."
Press release below. We'll have more soon on the bill in particular and Hollywood skulduggery in general.
And if you're a studio accountant or lawyer looking to go all Michael Clayton on the Big Six, send us a tip or a post.
NEW BILL TAKES AIM AT HOLLYWOOD ACCOUNTING
California State Senator Sheila Kuehl Introduces Bill to End the Practice of Selling Television Series and Films for Less Than Fair Market Value
Los Angeles and Sacramento – California State Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Los Angeles) has introduced Senate Bill 1765, the "Fair Market Value Bill," to end the practice by some major studios and networks of “underselling” television series or movies.
Since the major media networks in the United States have come to own many cable channels, the practice of selling TV series or movies for less than the fair market value of the content has become more and more prevalent. In many cases, the product is sold or licensed from one entity to another entity within the same parent company. This creates a problem for actors, writers, and performers who rely on the amount of a sale of material for their residuals – payments made to the creators or performers of a work for showings or screenings after an initial use. Other union members in the entertainment industry, including the Teamsters, also rely on the amount of a sale price to determine contributions to their health and pension funds.
"As a SAG member I care deeply that creative talent is treated fairly and that all workers in the entertainment industry receive the compensation they deserve," said State Senator Sheila
Kuehl (D- Los Angeles). "Many of my constituents work within the entertainment industry, and I have recently heard more and more about the growing practice of selling entertainment content, such as television series or films, for less than their fair market value. This practice has a deeply detrimental effect on the amount of compensation for creative talent like writers and actors. But the damage goes further because so-called below-the-line staff, like the Teamsters, rely on the proceeds from such a sale of content to fund their health and pension plans. This bill simply ensures that workers in the entertainment industry have the protection they need."
"The WGA West wholeheartedly supports this bill and we applaud Senator Kuehl for authoring it," said Patric M. Verrone, president of the Writers Guild of America, West. "This important piece of legislation will help ensure reliable accounting among the major Hollywood studios so that creative talent and all entertainment employees that rely on residuals will be fairly compensated for the contributions they make to the industry. The WGA is excited about the bill, and we look forward to involving our members in the process of educating elected leaders about the need for it."
In the last few years, there have been many high profile court cases on this issue. Creative talent from TV series, such as The X-Files, Will & Grace, and Home Improvement, among others, have filed suit to prevent the practice of selling television programs from one network to another for less than fair market value.
The bill is coauthored by State Senators Darrell Steinberg and Carole Migden and Assembly Members Fiona Ma and Sandre Swanson. The bill is supported by International Brotherhood of Teamsters and the Writers Guild of America, West. Each union represents workers in the entertainment industry, and each union negotiates for compensation derived from the sale of television programs and films.
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) represents writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in both entertainment and news. For more information, please visit: www.wga.org.
As we expand UH into a resource for the talent community exploring the creative and business aspects of new media, we will post bits of news about what's going out there. Comment, question, send us posts about what you know and what you're doing, and look for the new UH: Artists l Audience l Business in the coming weeeks. -TES
NewTeeVee writes today about UNDER THE ARCHES, a "reality" show that began as a series of short videos online and is now being turned into a "pilot" by a company called Madwood Entertainment.
NYU student Sean Patrick Murray, who created the show, describes it on Facebook as "8 college kids in NYC, the real "Gossip Girl." You can see the 7-minute pilot there or get a taste here on the Gawker post, which described the show as "reality schtick - [all] about the fast-moving-cloud shots, the angsty Z-100 soundtrack and the whiny blond chicks" and creator Murray as "either a complete genius or a total tool."
According to NewTeeVee, the distribution plan is "to launch a video destination site that will stream ad-supported shows for free" and then “hyper-distribute the show to other video sharing-sites and social networks."
I like that plan to build audience, but whether it's already the big win Murray suggests or just the beginning of a strategy still to be tested, we'll see. What do you think?
Congratulations to the WGA. As a member of the Guild of Aquatic Performers Local 223, I am thrilled our sister union was able to reach an agreement with the Hollywood studios.
For the past 2 years I’ve been a performer in Sea World’s DOLPHIN EXTRAVAGANZA. (I’m the one who circles the tank twice then splashes the audience as the announcer says “Sorry folks! Sometimes the dolphins get sloppy.”) I’m a skilled actor, yes, but I’m only as good as the writing. Memorable characters like the one I’m lucky enough to portray here don’t suddenly materialize. They are painstakingly written by union writers.
Would circling the tank 3 times have added more drama? What about the announcer calling dolphins sloppy? Wouldn’t suggesting that make me unlikable, working against the show’s Dolphin As Everyman subtext? These are not easy questions. Yet they are exactly the type of story decisions made each and every day by guild writers. My highly refined acting skills bring characters to life but first you need the characters. Without writing you have no show.
Want proof? Take a look at the shark tank. They’re all just swimming around in random patterns like one big reality show. Who wants to watch THAT for 45 minutes? There’s no story! I’ll bet my dorsal fin no one’s ever gonna write Sea World saying, “Watching hammerheads randomly swim around in your shark tank was the best part of my vacation.”
Luckily the writers made their deal in time to save the summer season. (Rumor is the producers always intended to make a deal by mid February in order to save the Oscars and Shamu’s new summer show BELIEVE.) Hopefully SAG will be able to piggyback on the terms of the writers’ deal but if they too are forced to strike they can rest assured that my brothers and sisters in the Guild of Aquatic Performers Local 223 will support them too.
Because when it comes right down to it, we’re all in the same tank.
"Ravensridge" tells the story of a striking steelworker who must travel to Russia to pressure the owner of his factory to end the strike. Runs from Feb 23 - Mar 30. Fremont Center Theatre, 1000 Fremont Ave, South Pasadena. For more information call 866-811-4111 or go to theatremania.