(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."
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:
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.
(From WGA Member Ed Decter.)