The Faces of the Strike

Two articles in the New York Times today (11/16/07) put a personal perspective on the strike. Bill Carter's "Late Shows Move to Help The Workers Not on Strike" and Jennifer Steinhauer's "Writers' Strike Opens New Window on Hollywood".

Carter reports about efforts by Talk Show Hosts to keep their staffs paid, even if they can't be on the air. Steinhauer profiles the personal stories of writers, costumers, assistants, electricians, and thousands of others who are now or who will soon be out of work.

What these stories have in common is one underlying fact: the AMPTP won't sit down with the WGA.

Notwithstanding the AMPTP's full page ads, they'd rather spend their energy and money on avoiding talking to the writers and negotiating a fair deal. And why?

Simple. They don't want to give up revenue. Since they've been using writers' work on the internet at a devalued rate or, even better, at no cost, they have ZERO interest in giving away any portion of that money.

That's understandable. If someone is used to getting something for free, they'll fight like a mad dog when they're told that they need to pay up. Surely some accountant in one of the AMPTP companies has worked up a spread sheet showing how much they'll make, the longer the strike continues.

The writers say they want a fair deal, but to the AMPTP what's not fair is having to pay fair-market rates for "product".

How do we get out of this mess and get back to work?

The AMPTP needs to come to its senses and give up on their unreasonable demands.


Anonymous said...

What are you, giving an ultimatum? It sounds like your holding the city hostage until you get what you want.

Maybe this should have been worded differently.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone see an irony here when the music studios sue a single mother for hundreds of thousands of dollars for downloading music for free? Music studios which are probably owned by the same corporations here that want to make ad revenues on their content without paying for it.

A Viewer said...

I get why your striking, I do. I completely support the writers. However, it would be nice for these posts to show more concern for the people who are being put out of work. No, I don't think you are to blame, but a heartfelt recognition of the pain this is causing to tens of thousands of people would go a long way to show true solidarity.

Nina said...

I've been reading a lot of strike-related blogs, and they all emphasise how rotten this is for every other element of the entertainment industry. Maybe not every single post, but every third post. I think they've covered that ground pretty well -- I understand why the other people put out of work would want to be mentioned in every post, but the messages of regret and appreciation for support have been coming through loud and clear.

Toastedsuzy said...

I thought that's what this post was doing. Showing sympathy and appreciation for the people who will be affected by the strike.

All of these people are being threatened right now because the studios know that this is the weakness of unions, which are made of people who want justice.

The studios know that the writers and hosts don't want the other staff to suffer. So they are hurting them in order to hurt the strike.

I do not see how that could possibly be more clear.

The writers DO care about the people who are suffering as a result of the strike. Which is one important reason why those people are made to suffer by the studios.

Who are evil.

George T. said...

I had a weird thought recently. I don't know if anyone else has suggested this - or even if it's a good idea - but here it is:

Remember that day everyone protested the war and refused to buy gas? It's debatable if it worked, because you can only delay gas purchases.

HOWEVER, what if the same thing was done at the cineplexes? What if it was asked that everyone who supported writers NOT go to the movie theaters for one weekend. This would definitely impact the studios and make them take note.

Good idea? Or am I missing some consideration?

Toastedsuzy said...

ps. What is this about? I can't figure out how to send this through email, so I hope you don't mind me posting it here:


The article says that "Reps for several of the major latenight skeins [. . .] have been engaging in secret backchannel conversations with each other about when it might be appropriate for their hosts to return to their studios."

I wonder how secret and backchannel these talks are--secret enough to end up in Variety, clearly--and who the "reps" are--and, really, does this article say anything at all?

It sounds like bullsh$t.

Anonymous said...

Not "some accountant in one of the AMPTP companies"...every single company has done extensive financial analysis on this situation, and it's what will drive all decisions made from the AMPTP side. Business decisions from executive management are based almost exclusively on finances...and often short term finances over long- or medium-term finances. AMPTP knows exactly when this strike will end. They have no incentive to come to the table until the desired trigger date, which is likely after the 6 week point required for the force majeure. It may be much later than that, but not likely earlier. Until then, it's Nick Counter's and the studios' job to manage PR and minimize damage and loss while they ride this thing out. The studios have forecasted how much they will lose, how much they will save, what offer they will come back to the table with and what date that offer will be presented. This strike comes down to a pro forma income statement, and clearly the majority of studios or at least the most powerful studios have decided that from a financial standpoint, it is not yet time to end this strike.

Anonymous said...

I think someone else mentioned it in another post, but what if we called for a boycott of some of the companies until the AMPTP returns to the table in earnest?

If everyone e-mails everyone they know and tells them to e-mail everyone they know with the simple instruction to not purchase anything from General Electric, Disney, or Sony form Nov. 25th to Dec 25th -- well that might get someone's attention. No?

A Poor Screenwriter

Becca said...

Anonymous (@ 9:15AM) makes the most sense of why the AMPTP isn't coming back to the table yet. That's the most clear reply I've read since this strike began.


Anonymous said...

I'm all for writers, but the one thing I can't get past is this "fair market rate" stuff. Give me a break. It's a UNION. Unions do not promote fair market rates. Unions hurt the best and prop up the worst. If there was no union, and the entire cast of Hero's decided to strike to get a piece of the internet, they would get it. The studios are just running the numbers, and realizing that it doesn't make sense to pay the same price for crappy stuff as they do for good stuff. And they shouldn't have to.

Captain Obvious said...

You're way off. A percentage is a percentage. "Sucks" means it doesn't do squat for revenue.

You say what you say as if everyone gets paid the same. Their up-front payment, maybe, but the residual income is based on actual performance of the product.

Anonymous said...

"If there was no union, and the entire cast of Hero's decided to strike to get a piece of the internet, they would get it."

If they did that, they'd just be forming their own mini union!

The studios are just running the numbers, and realizing that it doesn't make sense to pay the same price for crappy stuff as they do for good stuff. And they shouldn't have to.

You have it completely backwards. Without residuals, the guys doing the crappy stuff get paid the same as the guys doing the good stuff. Residuals mean that those who create successful shows are rewarded. Not to mention that the union negotiates minimums for all writers, talent with a track record is free to negotiate for a deal that is better than that.

The whole point of residuals is that nobody knows if a show will be "good stuff" or not until AFTER it is made and has aired. If they could predict the future they could pay more upfront for a "good" show. Since that's impossible, residuals are a way to look at a show and pay based on success or failure.

If a show sells tons of DVDs the studio makes more money, and the writer makes more money.

If a show tanks on DVD, the studio doesn't make much, but they don't have to pay the writers much either.

Curious Jill said...

Why is it that you can say "Writers, I support your desire to get paid fairly for your work!" and draw such applause.


If you say "Writers, I support your desire to get paid fairly for your work, but I think you could have done this more effectively without costing as many as 250,000 people and their families everything that they own." then suddenly you are an evil union hating scumbag with no right to an opinion.

Is it because people have let their emotions ruin their minds?

Is it that down deep they don't feel quite right about the situation themselves?

Is it stupidity?

Or is it something else?

This is no way to show respect for people that you really do need on your side.

And Nina, I think that if it's fair for writers to strike and march around and make noise and cost people jobs and hurl insults at them for being upset about it, then it's fair for people without jobs to express their displeasure with the situation as many times as they need to to feel like they are being heard.

And yes, I know these are some long sentences that have grammatical errors and I can do better and I don't care right now so stick to the point and resist the temptation to act like a middle school English teacher. I'm trying to make a point.

Nina said...

Absolutely, jill -- I didn't intend to imply that people who had been affected by the strike should be silent. Hell no, be loud! I was just trying to say that the writer message isn't coming across one-note, it's been frequently accompanied by the reminder of all the people who have been hurt by the work outage. Usually, this is a message pushed by the writers themselves.

As for solving the problem another way -- unfortunately, I don't think that the studios ever, ever intended to meet the WGA halfway. Maybe it's my own experience with bosses constantly undervaluing the written word (and my experience with internet business models), but I truly believe that the moguls are trying to keep all of the internet revenue and screw the scribes.

So while it's truly gutting that so many are getting stung, I honestly think the writers are on the side of truth and justice here, and that rolling over and accepting shoddy deals (again) for the greater good of the rest of the industry's workers would be both shortsighted and misguided.

Someone's got to hold the line, and it's the writers' bad luck that they ended up as cannon fodder. The best that can be hoped for now is that all other elements of the industry support what is really much more than a simple WGA v. Moguls battle.

Anonymous said...

Nina, you said - I truly believe that the moguls are trying to keep all of the internet revenue and screw the scribes"

I don't know anyone in any of the unions who would disagree with this. We know these people and how they operate. I personally hold a business degree in Accounting from "The University of Texas at Austin" and worked as an accountant for six years in my previous life. I know very well how business operates and that management is only concerned about fairness and people to the extent that it offers them good PR.

"The best that can be hoped for now is that all other elements of the industry support what is really much more than a simple WGA v. Moguls battle."

This is what is so frustrating. We believe in your cause, but face certain constraints in our ability to demonstrate our support. When we articulate them, certain individuals either close their ears entirely, become defensive or offer us unrealistic solutions.
For example, we want to support you and would like to walk off the job and protest with you. The problem is, we are bound by contract not to do so. Many people suggest that we do it anyway. But the risk is that we lose our jobs permanently. Even after the writers get it worked out and go back to work, we are still out of a job. Is it fair to ask someone to lose their job when you are not going to lose yours? So, suppose we say "screw it" and we walk off the job anyway. Then, the unemployment office denies our claim because we have refused work that has been offered to us. So what do we do? Lie to the workforce commission and commit perjury? Face jail for the WGA? Okay, suppose the only thing that happens is that we walked off our job and our unemployment claim has been denied. Now we don't have a damn dime, but the bills keep coming and before long the bank is coming after our homes. This is a real problem! So what real choice do we have?

Many people feel that the WGA did have a choice. That you could have let people work and waited a few more months until other guild contracts expired and more people could strike with you. I've heard the standard objection to this already. We have more power now.....stockpiling scripts....etc.
But you just may have gained more through an increased number of supporters than you would have lost from waiting. Together we could have shut the companies down fast and had a quicker resolution...with a lot less collateral damage and a stronger relationship between unions. When you add all of this up and combinine it with the fact that the WGA has routinely crossed the picket lines of others, you have the resentment and anger that you are starting to see from the BTL folks.

It's really a lot like "taxation without representation". We got no vote in the matter, yet we will pay the price. How can any rational, reasonable person blame someone for being upset about this?

Curious Jill said...

Oops! Nina - that last very long anonymous post was from me - Curious Jill.

Nina said...

It's totally valid to be upset about it, and rational -- but hopefully where you're sharing the cost, you'll also (eventually) get part of the benefit.

After looking at the timelines, I'm persuaded that striking now was the right choice. It's given the opportunity for a clear, concise and understandable message for the general public, and it's timed in such a way that the sudden absence of shows mid-winter will really hit home for the viewer in ways a summer of reality TV would not. Considering how much of this has been a PR battle, that simplicity is invaluable.

As for striking, if your contract says you can't, then don't. March in support when you can, but take care of your family.

Then again, new talks have recently been announced, so yay!

Curious Jill said...


I think you're great because you listen and you validate what can not be disputed...that this is painful and that we have every right to feel upset about it. The first step in opening up a productive dialog is to listen to one another and find your areas of agreement. Most of us agree that you should get paid your share. You personally, seem to agree that this is very difficult for us and might agree that it is somewhat unfair that we had no say in the matter.

I disagree with the notion that the costs will be worth the benefits. In our world, no consistent work = no pay at all. With no cash residuals to tie us over, we are bearing a disproportionate share of the costs and will likely receive little to no benefit from this action. The best that we can hope for is that the WGA will strike with us at some time in the future. But, because the WGA has never done this for another guild, we are sceptical.

I agree that the corporations are exploitive. I agree that it would be good to stick together. But I also feel that the WGA did not do everything that they could to minimize the effect on the rest of us. Yes, their first duty is to their membership. But I think that it would have been a smarter move to foster the relationships between guilds and make use of our power and our numbers. The result here is that many of us feel that we have been sacrificed...betrayed by our own brothers.

To add insult to injury, many celebrities are waltzing around talking about coming up with money to pay the writers or help them pay the writers pay bills. Not a whisper about helping us pay our bills. That's really hurtful and makes us feel very devalued. The writers say that they feel devalued and yet they don't seem to value us. There is something really wrong with that. We go to work everyday, excited about bringing your script to life. That's as much of a service to you as your scripts are to us. Acknowledgement of our contributions would go a long way with us.

Captain Obvious said...

I love you Curious Jill...

...feel any better now? <3

Curious Jill said...

Yeah, yeah Captain Obvious.....you're adorable. All better now.

DJ said...

Curious Jill,
I think we all agree about the seriousness of the situation. No one at the Guild takes the consequences of the strike lightly. Two years ago, the new WGA leadership began talks with all the sister guilds: SAG, IATSE, the Teamsters, DGA. The DGA has kept its own counsel during this time. IATSE has been noticeably antagonistic for reasons that don't make sense to me (although I have heard that there's bad blood between the two unions because of jurisdictional conflicts)--since IATSE shares in the residual formula (the health/pension fund gets 20% of each residual dollar; the WGA gets 5%), it would appear that they should support the WGA effort.
The points I'm trying to make are: that there are shared benefits for all the Hollywood unions in the WGA-AMPTP negotiation and that the WGA did make efforts to coordinate with the other unions.
As to actors waltzing around, I think you've missed the news about George Clooney contributing money to the Actors Fund (which can give money to any person, from any union) and he's called upon other actors to make their own donations. And Clooney isn't the only one. The Late Night Hosts are offering to pay for their staffs out of their own pockets.
What you haven't seen is an offer by the AMPTP to take care of those harmed by the strike. Where are the no-cost loans to help people if they can't pay their mortgages? Where are their donations to the funds that could help crew?

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Anonymous said...

20 cents on the dollar...divided between 50,000 people isn't that much.

Anonymous said...

20 cents on the dollar...divided between 50,000 people isn't that much.

Anonymous said...

"George Clooney contributing money to the Actors Fund (which can give money to any person, from any union) and he's called upon other actors to make their own donations. And Clooney isn't the only one. The Late Night Hosts are offering to pay for their staffs out of their own pockets."

I applaud George Clooney and Late Night for doing this. Too bad their aren't more out there like them. But let's see...the last strike lasted for five months. Late Night (one show among a great many) is offering to pay through the end of 2007, which is almost here. Clooney's gift is generous...but if the strike lasts for five months our family alone will have lost nearly $25,000 of our income for a cause that will not directly benefit us. I think a little gratitude for our sacrifice might be in order here. As for "no cost" loans. I don't believe that those are available to anyone. I think those are for the striking guild...the WGA. It's wonderful what Clooney and Late Night are doing...but it really is only a very small drop in a very big bucket. The bulk of the hardship still falls on the BTL and other non-writing workers. That's fine. I mean...what can we do at this point other than accept it. We are powerless. It's up to you two groups. So get in there and lets see some progress. I think it would be even better if reps from both sides declined food until the issue was resolved...since that is what many of us will have to do.

Anonymous said...

A break? Make it a quick one please.