A Letter From WGA Member And Contract Captain Laeta Kalogridis


Everything that follows is my personal opinion. I’m a contract captain, but I’m not a Board member or a NegCom member or any of that. This isn’t the party line. It’s my line. And as they say in fanfic, if there are mistakes here, they belong to me.

So, by way of background:

I really enjoyed reading Kate’s post, and I wanted to come in and say a few things from another part of the spectrum. I’ve been a professional writer for over 13 years -- I’ve worked with Tim Burton, Quentin Tarantino, Oliver Stone, James Cameron and I’m currently working with Martin Scorsese.

In other words: this is a very long way from being my first barbecue.

I like the industry I work in. I have great respect for the men and women on both sides of the table – people I work with, and the people I work for. I get crazy with it, we all do, but at the end of the day I get to do what I love, and I’m grateful for that.

I’m also a working mother of two young boys, and the sole breadwinner for our family. I take my financial responsibilities very seriously, because they are serious.

This means, obviously, that I don’t want a strike.

But I also don’t want a terrible deal.

And for the last 27 years, here’s what’s happened to us as writers: slowly but steadily, we’ve lost, or had gutted, our rights on every new platform. VHS, DVD’s, cable, reality.

Now, for the first time in more than a quarter-century, we are refusing to back off of a new platform. We want to share in the new media and internet revenues that we are already helping create. They don’t want to share with us. It’s about that simple.

(Has anyone seen it?)

The AMPTP is doing a lot of frustrating things, but one of the biggest is the lopsided press coverage. We all know this is partly because the same companies we’re negotiating with (I use the term loosely) own the press outlets we all read. That’s why more and more of us are turning to blogs and internet coverage to find out what’s actually going on.

Myself, I regularly read Nikki Finke (http://www.deadlinehollywooddaily.com/) for information on what’s going on with the negotiations. For the most part, I find her accurate.

But I’d like to point a few things out that, especially in the wake of Variety’s headline article today, which can be paraphrased as: “We’re fine over here in features! We don’t have a problem! We don’t care if you strike! Really! We don’t!”

Uh huh. Needed to print an article to point that out, did you? Make sure that the writers know how pointless a strike is, how we can’t win, how we have no leverage except maybe in tv, and not much in that?

I’d like to put forward the other side of that coin – the P.R. war that they have waged so well so far (and if I was faulting our side anywhere, this area would be it) is convincing writers of some things that may very well not be true, as in:

They say they’ve got plenty of features in the pipeline.

Well, demonstrably, if that were true, they wouldn’t be sending threatening letters to everyone (I’ve gotten 3 so far) saying that we can’t register our works in progress. If everything’s done and they’re ready to shoot, why do they need to safeguard their ability to change the script?

Let’s go for Occam’s Razor on this one: they need to keep rewriting on those scripts. Therefore, they want to make sure that there’s no way to validate if a writer has worked on them or not.

Features aren’t ready. The empirical evidence is right there, in the work we feature writers are doing. They aren’t ready.

They say if we strike, it will go on for a long time.

This is based on what happened in 1988. Here are some things that are different:

1. We have over 300 strike captains ready to mobilize the membership in hours.

2. We have a real alliance with the Teamsters, who have publicly said that they are willing to NOT cross our picket lines;

3. We have a real alliance with SAG, which while they cannot contractually honor our picket lines (only the Teamsters have that contractual right, although we’re trying to get it in our contract this time around) they can still support us when they’re not working, including picketing.

4. We have a strike fund in place to help keep people from losing their homes, plans for daycare and outreach for members in financial hardship if there’s a work stoppage. Health coverage will be uninterrupted. This leadership, and the individual members, are committed to finding ways to support each other.

Just let me say: I don’t know if a strike will be long or short. And neither do they. If they did, they wouldn’t be spending so much time in the press hounding home that there’s no hope.

They’re scared, and they’re trying to frighten us into running away before the fight has even begun. Classic propaganda. In my opinion, the truth is closer to this: if we are effective enough, fast enough, and cost money to productions with picketing; if we refuse to continue working on feature scripts or television even though they ask us to do it “under the table” (several of my friends have already been approached and refused); if we refuse to perform “a-h functions” as producer hyphenates in television – then if there is a strike, it will be very short.

Bet you haven’t seen that perspective in Variety recently, have you?

(Damn it, the other guys always gave in eventually!)

Meaning absolutely NO DISRESPECT to previous Guild leadership, I have to say: previous WGA administrations seemed good to me, well-intentioned and hardworking. But this leadership is superlative.

Consider: Nick Counter spends a lot of time demonizing our leadership in the press. Trying to convince everyone – especially the membership – that the people steering the boat are strike-crazed nuts, and that only he is standing between us and ruin.

Nick Counter cares about you, so much he wants to protect you from your own leadership. Doesn’t it make you warm inside?

Ok, Occam’s Razor again – let’s postulate that Nick Counter, since he works for the AMPTP, is going to dislike people who stand in the way of what he wants, which is as cheap and non-inclusive a deal for writers as he can get.

Our leadership is not backing down. They’re not taking their eyes off the prize. And all the things he’s used in the past aren’t working.

I do not think, as a member, that there could be much higher praise from where I’m sitting than Nick Counter spewing vitriol in the mainstream press about our leadership. It means they’re refusing to play the game of the last 27 years: bluster, panic, then back down.

But the complaint I hear most frequently about leadership seems to grow at least in part from Counter’s relentless characterization of them as a bunch of strike-crazed loonies. It runs something like this:

Why does the leadership have to be so confrontational and militant? Why can’t they be nice? Aren’t we being punished for their militancy? If they were more accommodating, the AMPTP would be reasonable and we wouldn’t have to strike…

Let’s face it, we’ve all heard it, thought it, or said it. Well, a lot of us, anyway.

But here’s the obvious, empirical truth:


We’ve tried “nose in the tent” for the last 27 years. To recap: VHS, DVD, cable, reality. We’ve hung onto what we had, yes, and made inroads in some places – but on the big-ticket items, we’ve been shut out. This means that, even though we didn’t have “rollbacks” in previous contracts, we had de facto rollbacks – our members, or people who should be our members, providing new content without being covered.

Corporations don’t care about how polite we are, or how nicely we ask. They only give if they have no choice. I don’t like it. But it’s pointless to try and pretend it’s not true.

I hope we’re not that stupid. I hope we’ll consider that, as unpleasant as it may be to have people mad at us, it’s the price people have always had to pay to get any kind of reasonable compensation.

Being nice just doesn’t ever work.

And while we’re at it, let’s point out a couple of things that never make it into the mainstream press: this is Nick Counter’s last negotiation. He’s retiring. Rumors have it that he has staked himself on keeping us from “winning” this time out. Looking from the outside, this negotiation appears intensely, almost irrationally personal to him. I find the way that he keeps referring to our guys as slavering zealots ironic in the extreme.

Here’s what’s worth remembering about this leadership:

1. They’ve created our alliance with the Teamsters.

2. They’ve created our alliance with SAG.

3. They’ve done outreach to members on an unprecedented level – gotten people involved in a way, and in numbers, that has never happened before in the WGA.

4. They are the most transparent and accessible leadership I’ve ever seen at the Guild. If I want answers, they’re easy to get. You feel like you need to know something? Email your strike captain AND THEY WILL FIND OUT FOR YOU. I know, cause I do it.

5. They’ve been steadfast in keeping their eyes on what matters.

6. They’ve taken the AMPTP by surprise – when was the last time that happened? -- by convincing them they had until June to stuff their pipelines full. The AMPTP had a false sense of security about a work stoppage – convinced themselves they had lots of time to plan. And our leadership was smart enough to take advantage of that strategically.

What have they done badly? Well, as I said above, I think their PR sucks, and I think they’ve fallen short on mass communication with the membership. But that’s not because they’re hiding anything. The facts are there, but people have to dig too far to find them.

Should we all keep pushing them to be better? Yes, we should. Should we do that by getting involved? Absolutely.

Should we believe everything the press says about them and us? I’d say not. Which brings me to:

(Can we talk?)

This is the very last thing, I swear – until I finish this other thing I want to post, which is kind of A Guide to What’s Going On Out Here for Your Granny In Topeka, a brief user’s guide on how to explain to ourselves and others what we’re asking for (“how much are we asking for with the internet coverage again?”)

There’s a lot of blogging going on out there – hello, here I am taking part – and I’d like to say how much it matters that we all get informed, stay informed, discuss, argue, disagree – anything but stand back and do nothing.

I regularly check The Artful Writer (http://artfulwriter.com/) and find that the discussion and issues raised there are invaluable and important. I often don’t agree with Craig’s perspective – but he does all of us a service by providing that forum, and engaging with the passion and energy he does.

I suspect that a lot of what I’ve written here he’ll disagree with. But I think the only way we’re ever, as a group, going to come to any kind of real decision individually about what we want to do in this negotiation, is to talk and engage with each other. Share our perspectives, argue, find consensus, agree to disagree – all of it’s good, all of it’s necessary.

I share Craig’s goal of wanting the WGA to be the best union it can be. I believe the leadership, and the membership, are going in the right direction now. I believe we can and will do better, learn more, become stronger as a union and maybe even as individuals.

And yes, for the record, I hate marching around with signs. But I’ll do what I have to do to try and get a fair deal for all the writers in my union. I think this is the best way to do it. I think these are the best people to do it.

Thanks for reading.

Laeta Kalogridis

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