Character Motivation

(From WGA Member Ed Decter.)

I was walking the picket line with a young television writer who worked on THE UNIT. He was explaining to me that David Mamet always asks three things about a scene:

1. What does each character want?
2. Why now?
3. What happens if they don't get it?

Since I don't have an MBA, CPA, JD or any other degree my father wanted me to get, the only way I can look at our current labor situation is through the eyes of a screenwriter. If I was writing a screenplay, let's call it "The Big Strike of 2007," and the two main characters were the WGA and the AMPTP, before I would start writing I might ask myself the three Mamet questions. When thinking about the WGA "character" things seem very clear:

What does the WGA want?

The WGA would like a fair deal. The WGA would like to avoid an eighty percent reduction in residuals. The WGA does not think it is reasonable to call television shows and feature films PROMOTIONS when streamed on the Internet even though there are commercials linked to the content. The WGA would like to see an increase in the formula for downloads as writers have donated billions of dollars back to the studios while waiting for the DVD market to "take off."

Why now?

Because there is no "then." If the WGA loses this battle there will be no future for the writing profession. All content will eventually be delivered digitally, and the guild will have traded its birthright for a two hundred and fifty dollar buyout fee.

What happens if the WGA doesn't get it?

In the short term, an eighty percent reduction in residual payments. In the long term, the collapse of our pension and health benefits and with that, a return to the era before the formation of the guild -- writers stuck in tiny rooms under weekly contract to the studios with no say in what they work on, credit for what they do or any ownership of the content they create.

When thinking about the AMPTP "character" two of the three Mamet questions are easy to answer:

Why now?

The AMPTP knows there are billions of dollars of future money at stake. The conglomerates realize that digital delivery is the the final frontier for content and they want to be first at the table to eat every piece of every future pie.

What happens if the AMPTP doesn't get it?

The conglomerates are afraid that sharing even a tiny percent of "projected" future earnings with the WGA (and the other "characters" in this drama -- SAG, DGA, IA and the Teamsters), would cut into the enormous profit margins that they have touted to Wall Street and stockholders. The AMPTP has backed itself into a corner -- either it is lying to the WGA about the profitability of online ad dollars or it is lying to Wall Street. In each case it is fraud. This makes the AMPTP a dangerous "character."

The hardest Mamet question to answer about the AMPTP is "what does the AMPTP want?"

Sure, the conglomerates would like to give the guilds, the teamsters and IA the least amount of residuals, health and pension contributions possible. That's the easy answer. But is the darker character motivation for the AMPTP to break the guild? What would the world be like after that moment? Wouldn't SAG, The Teamsters, IA and even the DGA see the writing on the wall? Wouldn't the other guilds and unions understand that once the WGA is defeated that they are next? Does the AMPTP want a Road Warrior scenario where all above and below-the-line talent are operating in a post-apocalyptic landscape as non-union independent contractors working for whatever price the conglomerates are willing to pay? Does the AMPTP think the entire creative community that works in film and television will accept that?

That's why I'm having so much trouble figuring out the outline of story. I'm not really clear what one of the main characters wants. I'd love to hear from other writers. Maybe someone can clear up this creative impasse. There is only one story point I'm sure of -- if the WGA lets the AMPTP get exactly what it wants, the story is over in the first act.

Ed Decter


Anonymous said...

The AMPTP wants to break the guild. End of story.

Captain Obvious said...


Resistance is futile.

You will be assimilated.

Resistance is futile.

You will be assimilated.

Isn't this the part where Captain Picard is supposed to do something about all those pesky AMPTP Borg?

Captain Obvious said...

Isn't this also the part where said AMPTP Borg are supposed to show up to the thread and fan the flames for the day?

We need to stop paying all the negative crap any heed unless it's "Hey who do I contact about the inter-union strike fund." lol...

This site is about unity. United Hollywood. Shout it from the rooftops. All this divisive b.s. has to go. We have bigger fish to fry. They reside in huge buildings and control nefarious business empires.

Captain Obvious said...

They want us at each other's throats. They're responsible for much of the vitriol on this blog in the past two weeks. Enough is enough. Time to band together and finish this.

Asterios said...

@ captain obvious:

yeah, where are the trolls? are we just up too early?

here, i'll post a troll response for us just to get the ball rolling:

"Look, I support the writers as much as the next guy. That's a given. I'm 100% on their side in every possible case.

That being said, everything they're asking for is wrong. Also: they way they're conducting themselves is immature! Finally, I hate the color of their t-shirts.

Hope I've furthered the discussion! We're all on the same page.

Signed, anonymous."

I hope this has in some small way helped. Take care.

Troll said...

You guys are screwed.

Anonymous said...

Is an average yearly growth rate of 9% or 11% really an 'enormous profit margin'? Because that's typically what these companies report to shareholders (and the SEC).

an ordinary supporter said...

The AMPTP wants what every company wants, most especially large-scale industry: They want to keep costs as low as possible. They want to actively drive down costs. An employee is merely a cost. Look at the string of Walmart class action suits, from here and around the world, and the ends to which Walmart went to keep costs down through the labor of its employees.

Cost is the point of outsourcing, or manufacturing in economically (and politically) impoverished countries. Since they can't figure out how to actually compete, run and grow successful businesses in their own backyards through innovation and productivity, they resort to cheap labor. U.S. business fueled by cheap labor is shoddy business, as far as I'm concerned, not to mention exploitative.

The AMPTP 'character' wants to drive down its costs, as much as possible, for as long as possible. Not the smart kind of cost management, but the weak kind of cost management, which includes stealing, pretty much. Profit margin on what you steal is a pretty good margin, indeed. Dvd sales, anyone?

And that is exactly why union busting appeals. And why India appeals. And poor women and children appeal, too, very much.
The AMTMP wants to be the Walmart of Hollywood.

Jake Hollywood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jake Hollywood said...

Ed, I have to think that the AMPTP recognizes that the future is in digital downloads, aka "new media" (complete with embedded advertisements for which the AMPTP receives revenue and which cannot be bypassed by the viewer) and wants to ensure that they're in that marketplace (like the early days of TV) for the cheapest price possible...If they can break the WGA union in the process all the better. I'm guessing that the AMPTP wouldn't mind a return to contract players and writers churning out scripts on a set (and cheap) salary. It's he nature of business: create your product with a minimum of costs and reap the most possible profits - I'm surprised the AMPTP hasn't decided to move the industry to Mumbai or some country where labor is cheap.

I'm not a WGA-member (I'm a writer/director of independent films. Makes my moniker sort of ironic, doesn't it?), but I've been on the picket line everyday since day one because the AMPTP's position against the WGA strikes me as not only bad thinking, but also seems to be bad business.

Diluting the product (and that's what happens when you fail to pay people fair compensation for their talent and creativity) will be the eventual result if the AMPTP has its way. I find that unacceptable. And until the AMPTP comes to its collective senses I'll stay on the picket line until the WGA wins a fair and acceptable contract.

slgalt said...

Trolls only get paid to work M-F. They get the weekends off!

Wheeee thank the labor movement for the weekend.

Troll said...

No, it's pretty much 24/7. How's that pencil thing coming for you guys? Changed anything with it? Oh, and we trolls would like it if the word verification wasn't so hard!

VDOVault said...

The answer is simple

The AMPTP wants money...the more the better. They think they are doing this for the benefit of their shareholders and themselves.

What they think is that they'll have a killer 4th quarter because they don't have to pay a whole bunch of people a whole bunch of money right now.

The problems will show up in the new year...call it a plot twist or 'complications ensue' but when you don't pay for the raw materials of widget making you can't keep making widgets.

In this case if you don't pay the writers you run out of scripts and then you can't make any new movies or TV series.

Imagine how unhappy the shareholders will be when they hear this (even at GE where entertainment is only 10% of the biz...no one likes to lose money, not even if it's 'only 10%') And imagine how unwilling they are going to be to pay for exec salaries, perks, and stock options.

Just sayin'

Robospawn said...

They're union busting, no question whatsoever. The tactics are proven and documented. all we have to do is stay together. It might take a few months, but we will win in the end.

Davidmad said...

Looking back on the Alliance's much-ridiculed opening rollback proposal, I no longer believe it was just a lunkheaded tactical error -- I think it was a clear declaration of intent, their Mein Kampf. They want to eliminate the concept of re-use payments entirely, and if the guilds wither away as the resids dry up, so be it.

When the villain is so over the top in the first act, the heroes better be prepared for a looooong second act.
I know I am.

Anonymous said...

How is the WGA gonna fight this corporate behemoth? Answer: They're not. The AMPTP is in the driver's seat. Whether or not they decide to break the union is still in question, but they are going to resist giving into the terrorists..oops..I mean writer's demands. If the WGA had competent leadership, they would understand this and sign a deal.

Yourtargetdemographic said...

Let's face it. The AMPTP probably think Enron executives were treated unfairly and a business model where the higher ups get 100 million dollar severance packages and the normal employee loses their 401k, their college savings for their kids and the shirt off their back is 'the price of doing business.'

WGA Writer With Business Sense said...

As Nikki Finke wisely pointed out at one point, if the so-called moguls didn't care about the trappings of show business, they'd be making toothpaste.

It would be crazy to try and bust the WGA, because that would mean busting SAG, which is chock full of beloved movie stars, American icons, and the sorts of people that moguls want to show off to their friends.

It may be elitist (but remember, the moguls are nothing if not elitist) but they aren't seriously trying to get rid of the creative unions, because they would be social pariahs in their own worlds if they did. They want to be able to know movie stars and count them as friends.

So ultimately, this is meant to show that they "mean business" but they aren't seriously thinking they will bust any of the creative unions.

Show business is not Wal Mart. You can only cut costs so far. You can't fire Denzel Washington and replace him with somebody else.

Nor can you fire Judd Apatow, or Jon Turteltaub and just bring in somebody else to make the well-crafted commercial product they deliver.

It's a negotiation, and it's all about a number. Let's not fall for the drama and escalate it to a Holy War.

They want to settle, we want to settle, it's all about finding a number that isn't a joke.

Obviously $250 is a joke. It was meant to insult. It's like when your two year old throws applesauce at you. You can't take it seriously. If you get all worked up, you are doing exactly what they wanted you to do.

Meshakhad said...

You should totally make a movie about this strike. The only catch is that no American studio would make it, since the studios are the villains.

yourtargetdemographic said...

Obviously $250 is a joke. It was meant to insult. It's like when your two year old throws applesauce at you. You can't take it seriously. If you get all worked up, you are doing exactly what they wanted you to do.

That's a great comparison, because you feel like you should take it seriously because it shows a lack of respect, but the realistically, the person doing totally wants to see you lose your cool and act like an ass, because then you no longer hold the high ground. (Your kid's doing it because they believe in a totalitarian dictatorship run by them though, which is why parents must stand strong and fight the power!) AMPTP just doesn't want to look like the only asses in this situation.

Anonymous said...

When is that chick from The Facts Of Life going to post again here?

survivor of the fan wars said...

AMPTP just doesn't want to look like the only asses in this situation.

The AMPTP's argument is so weak, so completely indefensible, that their only option is to demonize the WGA.

What the writers are asking for is fair and reasonable. The public knows this and that's why they have such unprecedented support.

From a purely superficial standpoint, this looks like an impossible task. But history has taught us that revolutions tend to begin this way.

Anonymous said...

WGA is deluded if they think that they have most public support - not that most of the public is against them. It's just that most of the public doesn't know about the strike, doesn't understand it, or doesn't care. They are busy working hard at their jobs to notice picketing millionares. That could be a good name for a TV show "Picketing Millionares". I'll write that show and send it to the studios. They will love it.

Anonymous said...

"Picketing Millionares"



Writers stand around demanding more money.

Waaaa, Waaaa. I want more

How much did you make last

(still whining)
2.5 Million

And you want more?

Studio Head leaves. Writer continues his whine.

survivor of the fan wars said...

WGA is deluded if they think that they have most public support

Not when every poll out there shows the public behind the writers in overwhelming numbers. But I know you're trying so darn hard to convince us otherwise. How adorable.

*pats you on the head*

Hopeful "House" Fan said...

Maybe the character of the AMPTP falls in love with the WGA and gives it everything it wants and more.

I'll decide what to call myself said...


You said...

here, i'll post a troll response for us just to get the ball rolling:

"Look, I support the writers as much as the next guy. That's a given. I'm 100% on their side in every possible case.

That being said, everything they're asking for is wrong. Also: they way they're conducting themselves is immature! Finally, I hate the color of their t-shirts.

Hope I've furthered the discussion! We're all on the same page.

Signed, anonymous."

So, are you saying that it is impossible for a person to agree that the writers should get paid fairly, but take issue with the strategy? Does this mean that you don't want the support of the people who feel this way?

Anonymous said...

The following two ideas can co-exist...they are NOT mutually exclusive.

1)The writer's should get a fair deal.

2)They may have had other strategic options.

So why is it so important to convince everybody that this was the only option when they have agreed to support you nonetheless.

I'll decide what to call myself said...

Sorry Captain, I should have posed that question to Asterios. So, I'm asking you Asterios.

David said...

anon, your script just proved why the AMPTP needs the WGA - their script's suck.

David B

Glickla said...

Anon. who is accusing writers of being whiny millionaires:
Have you not heard of pattern bargaining? Don't you know that the WHA is just the first of several unions that will have to negotiate these same issues with the AMPTP and is blazing the internet trail? Don't you realize that below-the-line, blue collar, working class people you love will benefit because IATSE has already made a deal with the AMPTP that is any other Union or Guild negotiates for internet residuals, IATSE and related BTL unions will get those same residuals directly into their health and pension plans? Are you unaware that over $300 million a year from residuals feeds those health and pension plans? Why do you hate these hard-working Americans? Why is it so terrible that some percentage of the WGA membership who are rich are nevertheless losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in weekly compensation to go on strike to protect ALL the unions from the studios who want to bust them? Doesn't that make these millionaire writers kinda heroic?

Jim said...

Actually, Captain Obvious, shortly after the Borg said, "Resistance is futile," they assimilated Picard and massacred the Federation fleet at Wolf 359, killing more than 11,000 people.

Not to get you down or anything. :)

Anyhow... I'm really surprised by the amount of trolling going on here. Have you considered the possibility that many if not most are not corporate jerks after all, and are merely responding to the the Internet Laws of Troll Supply and Demand? You talk about them so much, it just seems like you're baiting the standard, run-of-the-mill, amateur trolls and flamebaiters to show up and harrass you.

Anyhow, in response to Anon @ 2:51 PM... I'm an (aspiring) writer and avid TV watcher. I'm involved in the online sci-fi community in many venues. Here's what I've seen: There are, in fact, some people who honestly don't agree with the strike--although I attribute this to a new-jerk reactionism against unions (that person is normally me... I'm a Republican, and so I don't trust unions in general. But the causes for this strike are so *obvious*). But the vast majority of people I've talked to--greater than 95%--are both really concerned for great shows like Heroes, Lost, and Galactica and simultaneously totally supportive of the writers. Maybe sci-fi doesn't reflect the populace, maybe I've read the fanbase wrong... but I read quite a number of comment threads about the strike on dozens of forums every week. Even the only dimly aware seem to be behind the WGA.

Which brings me to the original reason I was going to comment: I've been trying to figure out the AMPTP's motivations for ages now, and they just don't add up. They're failing too hard for it to be simple negotiation, but it seems to bloody obvious to be a union-breaking. I don't know what their endgame is, but I'm beginning to suspect it's something I haven't thought of yet... something truly insidious.

Of course, this is real life, not sweeps month. And it's not as if the folks at the AMPTP have the same ear for intrigue as, say, J.J. Abrams. Or even McCorkle & Schooley, whose Dr. Drakken was often far more subtle than the AMPTP has been. Maybe they're just stupid after all.

Anyhow, good luck. Get my TV back on the air. I only have one more week of Heroes before I have to switch to Star Trek DVD's!

Lee A. Arnold said...

It's very simple. You need merely to look at it from the viewpoint of the AMPTP. They are not creative human beings. Therefore, they will lose control of ALL NEW entertainment product when the internet has a good screen picture and a revenue sharing system. This is technologically possible now; all that's missing is the last mile of high-speed wire into our houses. When that happens, creators won't need them for distribution or financing.

So the media companies need to do two things: (1) prevent Net Neutrality, meaning Open Access. (2)Make all the creators, writers and next, actors, hungry and frantic until they are willing to sign the following deal: we will give you what you want, but only if you sign exclusive agreements to NOT do any internet stuff on the side, without AMPTP participation. In 3 to 5 years, you'll all be in with your lawyers, trying to get out of that deal.

Anonymous said...

I think that lee a. arnold has it right - this is about controlling the distribution channel at both ends because the internet starts to make it look mighty leaky. I mean, consider the possibility of theaters using digital projectors were they can download the file from the internet - it becomes a whole lot easier for the theaters to buy third party content and even adjust their business model.

Similarly for the home entity - without the need for access to the physical store front through the buyers who are buddies with the corporate media sales staff, it becomes easier to sell your product without the middle-men.

With that and things like Google and whatnot for people to sort the wheat from the chaff themselves, the middle men have to be terrified.

Captain Obvious said...

I'll Decide What To Call Myself:

I didn't write what you quoted me for...

Captain Obvious said...

...and you caught it too apparently...

I'll decide.... said...

Yeah...sorry Cap. Where is that other guy anyway? I still wanna know if he wants us or not.

stee said...

This thread has reminded me why I don't spend more time on Internet forums.

I'm not sure it's in our best interest to try to assign human motivation to a machine. It's natural to be completely befuddled by their endgame or at least by how they're attempting to reach it, but after this entire month I think it's somehow playing into their hands to spend too much effort worrying about it; it's futile trying to humanize them, or even to assume they HAVE a specific endgame in mind. When a new arena for huge future growth comes around, the corporations try to take all of it. It's just history repeating itself.

They're wrong in this, the numbers don't add up, and we don't accept it. That's sort of all we need to Mamet-out.

Anonymous said...

Ed, how long have you been doing this? They want the girl. In this case she's lean and green and has really big... risiduals. And the best we can hope for is to put her on a plane and walk off into the desert with Capt. SAG and fight the good fight. David

Crestmere said...

Without unions, there really is no way anyone in the business would be able to do it full time unless they were contract players.

We don't want a return to the old system.

Keep up the fight guys.

especially for those of us who are going to be coming in to the business soon. Including me.

Shel said...

Hi Ed -
I do have the JD my Dad wanted me to get, for better or worse. Just to let you know, those three questions provide you with the same information I would want if I were coming in to mediate or negotiate between parties.

Good luck!