12/31/2007

Fans Go Viral At The Rose Parade

What do fans do when opportunity pounds wildly at the door? They open it, of course.

Back in November, the Battlestar Galactica fans had an idea about maybe skywriting in support of the writers' strike. One of the companies they spoke to was Skytypers. The prices were all too cost prohibitive, but Skytypers remembered those fans when a movie promo scheduled for the Rose Parade pulled out at the last minute. Skytypers also went one step further; they reduced the price from the normal fee, about $20,000, down to $6250.

With about an hour to decide, a fan stepped forward and generously offered the use of her credit card, with the caveat that she get paid back, hopefully before the bill came, and the silent auction was born.

Fans4writers will have 5 planes skytyping their message - kept secret until it, uhm, airs - plus teams on the ground handing out flyers. The silent auction runs through January 11th, and any funds raised over the cost of the skytyping will be donated to the Industry Support Fund.

Fans4writers is also still gratefully accepting donations of items to be auctioned; definitely the more the merrier, so anyone out there that has something groovy, please contact Brenda at brenda@fans4writers.com.

In the event that weather interferes with the parade route, Plan B is that the skytyping will take place over the Bowl during the game itself. In the event that Mother Nature gets really cranky, Plan C is that all funds donated will go to the Support Fund, as the awesome folks at Skytypers won't be charging the fans for no service.

Thanks to all the amazing fans who came together to do this -- and continue to support writers and all workers in Hollywood every day.

My Kingdom For Some Worldwide Pants

Teri Bolke works below-the-line on The Riches, which is currently on forced hiatus. She'll be contributing to the blog until the AMPTP gets around to negotiating a fair deal, so she can go back to her job.

When I was a kid, my dad used to weave long, involved stories for me. Some were set against music - a battle of ghosts in The Grand Canyon Suite - some were simplifications of the giants of science fiction writing - Bradbury, Asimov, Clark, Pohl and Company - but most were just woven from his bizarre, sweet, endless imagination and he always encouraged me to play along, branch a path, change an ending. Story and the collaborative method were things fundamental to my growing up, so I wasn't really surprised when, after 14 years in law enforcement, story came siren calling.

The low budget indy world is rough; little to no pay, long hours, mostly mediocre food, but it lets you learn, makes you lifelong friends and starts the networking. That came in damn handy when my former employer decided to lay me off with no notice, on my day off, after 19 years and 3 months of loyal service. A union buddy called me about a day player gig on a TV show a few weeks later, and that day play got me a paid production assistant job on the same show a couple months after that. Of course, then the writer's strike hit, but my show was lucky enough to make it almost all the way to Christmas before we ran out of script.

I love my show. I miss my show. I work with some tremendously cool people, and I want us all to be able to come back and finish filming the second season. But, I also support the writer's strike and I want the WGA to get a fair deal - which is how I come to be here in the first place, but that's a story for another day.

The strike was naturally a topic of conversation over the dinner table at my uncle's house on Christmas Day - part of that whole "so what have you been up to this year" roundtable catch up, along with, "Are you dating anyone?", "God, I want grandkids", "That British comic that crossdresses? He's fantastic!", and "I never liked your other job anyway." [Ahhh, family...don't ever change.]

I was happily surprised to find that one of my cousins was so well informed, and furious on the writers' behalf. The rest of the table had only heard bits and pieces - Heaven forbid there should be quality coverage of all aspects of the strike from news outlets - so when I did a really quick sum up of the situation, the room was outraged. My two closest friends had similar experiences with their families as well; my best friend's mom declaring the Alliance literal thieves. To our families it's ridiculously simple: you work, you get paid. And the notion that the AMPTP couldn't afford the deal with the Guild was literally met with laughter.

It was heartening to know that everyday people, joe and jane citizen - or in my family's case, guiseppe and josephina - members of the audience, care strongly about what's happening. But, like everyone else, they too worry about the strike dragging on.

When I brought up the Letterman deal, they all got excited and saw the potential for it being a turning point. Praise was heartfelt for the news that hosts like Leno and Kimmel were paying their staffs out of pocket - my family are WWII refugees on both sides. They appreciate generosity and sacrifice, and they admire all the late-night hosts for theirs.

But the table had nothing but scorn for networks forcing the shows back on the air without their writers. They understand the difference between blaming Leno for a less-than-stellar show that has no writers (they won't) and blaming the network for refusing to make a deal with the WGA so Leno can put on a great show (they will.)

When I brought up some of the issues that could have scuttled the deal, like ad revenues, they were quickly dismissed as happening anyway. My cousin went on to point out the advantage that Letterman would have being back on the air with writers, and how good that would make the Guild look, both in terms of criticisms of being intractable, and in quality of content. Letterman would have an advantage - so his network would have an advantage - because it's back on the air with writers, and that advantage could have the potential to nudge the fence-sitters, "see what happens when you make a deal with the Guild?" And sure, that means there will be writers working while others aren't, but you can only solve a problem one step at a time. Sharp guy, my cousin.

I'm proud of my immigrant roots, proud of my union, working class roots, proud of my below-the-line roots, but I'm also proud of the WGA. The deal with Worldwide Pants is a gamble in a lot of ways, and gambling takes guts, but nothing worth having in this world was ever easy.

12/30/2007

Jay Kogen's Primer on the Strike

This was written before the holidays; but the message is just as true now as it was then. -- LK

Dear Strike Team, friends, writers and who ever else may be reading this:

As we look out onto the bleak landscape that is the holidays without work, our friends the AMPTP have placed an ad in the trades saying they have one common goal “To reach a fair and just agreement with writers and get back to work.” And that, of course, is an outrageous lie. I’m just a comedy writer, not a labor relations expert, but I have examined our situation and come to certain conclusions that I want to share with you.

If you want to save time reading the gist of it is… we’ll be okay if we stick together and hold out for a contract that pays us a living wage no matter where they show our work.

I see you’ve continued to read which means you must have some extra time on your hands. Great. Let me walk you through it.

Where we are:

The AMPTP isn’t talking to us. They walked away from the table. They claim our negotiators are too angry to deal with. The town is worried.

The strike, which could have been avoided if the producers wanted to actually negotiate, has potential to drag on for who knows how long. Some WGA members think it’s time to cut our losses -- simply give into the AMPTP ultimatum and drop many of our demands to the absolute minimum. They want this strike to end, and they see that as a way to end it.

Well, I want the strike to end, too, but I don’t think we should listen to their provocation and here’s why we shouldn’t listen to the AMPTP right now:

They aren’t really ready to negotiate. They do everything but. They take ads. They threaten us. They accuse us. They pretend they’re ready to talk and instead present ultimatums that we give up our reasonable demands without getting anything in return. It’s a tactic. A trick, to get us to reveal our bottom line so they can negotiate down from the lowest we thought we’d take.

According to anyone on our negotiating committee and most observers, including mediators, agents, SAG and the WGA negotiators, the AMPTP hasn’t once attempted to seriously bargain with us since we asked them to sit down with us in April and they said they’d sit down with us in July or 2007.

The last time they made an ultimatum, they lied. At the end of October, a CEO of one of the big companies called the WGA and told us flatly that if we dropped the DVD increase, just took it off the table, the AMPTP would deliver us a reasonable deal on internet.

The ENTIRE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE weighed this idea -- many of them stood to gain a lot of money with a better DVD formula but for the sake of avoiding the strike, the committee agreed to drop the DVD demand. But, as we now know, it was a trick. They walked out on negotiations and forced the strike. To this day the AMPTP hasn’t offered us anything for dropping the DVD. There has never been any bargaining.

Our demands are reasonable and important to the future health of the WGA. All the stuff we’re asking for is important and would be great for the health of the guild, but some items are more important to the whole membership than others. So anything we give up should come at a cost for the AMPTP. They have so many slashes and rollbacks on their agenda that will need to be knocked off somehow. Keeping our demands right now will allow the committee, not the AMPTP, to decide what they feel they need to give up as bargaining chips and what they feel they need to keep.

So why aren’t they ready to deal?

Is it that they don’t care about making TV shows and movies anymore? That it’s no longer a “profitable” business? Don’t be fooled – this is exactly what they want you to believe. This is a business and it’s a very good one. The companies make billions each year. That’s why GE and SONY and Viacom and News Corp bought into the business in the first place, and I see no one divesting their entertainment divisions. Entertainment is still one of the biggest exports this country has. Not only do these companies have broadcast networks, but they have movie distribution companies and DVD companies and hungry cable outlets. They sell the DVDs and pay per views, and they are in the business of growing their libraries because they know this stuff is worth a ton of money now and heading into the future.

Is it because they don’t need writers? Again, that’s what they’d like you to believe. Of course if there was an army of fantastic writers around the corner willing to work for free, they’d hire them. But they don’t exist. When you are forced to read a spec script because your aunt promised her friend you would, how often do you read anything great? You forget, that there is actually a very limited pool of talent. Of course they need us. And while they may steadfastly deny that…the fact is, they hate us because they need us.

Is it because our leadership is crazy? Hmmm. Well, I know Patrick Verrone. He’s not crazy. David Young doesn’t seem crazy either. They do seem pro-active and not willing to roll over but it doesn’t matter. The AMPTP would be trying to make us doubt whoever it was. Their goal is to divide and conquer by making us believe that our leaders are “crazy.” Plus this town has a long history of making deals with the craziest assholes on the planet. Nope, not buying it. They’re just not ready to make a deal.

So, why aren’t they ready? Because they believe by waiting they can save money. That’s it. It’s about money. They see the future just like we do and they know there is big money out there and they want to keep it.

The money they are losing by sacrificing the current TV season (and possibly the next one) must be less than they’ll save by allowing us to strike.

Could the internet be even more valuable than even we think? What if the studios know it’s going to be worth so very much so very soon that shelving a TV season is nothing compared to the money they’ll make in the future if they can get us to take a bad deal? What if every tenth of a point they give up is worth billions of dollars in the next 10 to 20 years? If all you cared about is making money, you’d wait and hope the WGA either falls apart or weakens enough to take less of “your” pie.

Every move you’d make would be designed to create panic and discord in the union. You’d ignore them for as long as you could. You’d accuse them of being insane. You’d let the membership think they are replaceable. You’d highlight things the union is asking for that seem low priority to make them feel like they’re fighting for the wrong things. You’d undermine the union’s confidence by using the press you own and the experts you’ve hired to make them feel like they’re having no effect. You might even start negotiating with another union like the DGA to make people think it’s the crazy WGA’s fault this is happening (knowing the DGA might not take a tough stand on the internet because the DGA has different interests.)

They’ve balanced the costs. They want us to bleed and suffer, hoping our spirits will be broken. If they can stir up dissension and in-fighting there will be less pressure to give us a decent deal. It’s just business.

You know what else is good business? Making an example out of us. They can’t afford to let other unions think that striking is even an option so the Studios will get to pay all the other unions less, too. That’s seems pretty good for their bottom line.

So how can we fight them?

First, we don’t capitulate. We hold firm. If the union asks us to show we are united, we SHOW WE ARE UNITED. Let them know their tactics won’t work, and the waiting won’t get them a better deal. Make them see it’s in their best interest to settle this.

The strike is working. We are having an effect. Sure, this hurts us, but our sacrifice hurts them more. They were actually surprised by the November strike date. They didn’t have time to save the TV season or finish all their scripts for the SAG strike. They’ve started to hand back money to advertisers and they stand to lose a lot more when their nine billion dollar upfronts come and they don’t have a new season to promote.

In spite of “stock piling” there are lots of movies that aren’t getting made. The pipeline is thin, and as the SAG strike approaches they needed to be making more movies (not less) to beat down that union. The studios are looking down the road and see that what we are doing will effect TV sales, movie sales, DVD sales, cable sales and subscriptions, PPV sales, etc. Plus they are helping to drive an ever shrinking audience elsewhere. Everyday that passes they dig themselves a deeper hole they’ll have to get out of.

The WGA has filed charges against the studios with the NLRB because the studios don’t legally have the right to walk away. By law they have to bargain in good faith. Admittedly, this is a gesture and no one thinks the Bush administration will ever help us here. But it’s important in the battle of public perception that everyone know we are the ones trying to negotiate in good faith. We are the ones who want to put the town back to work. They are the ones keeping that from happening.

The WGA has talked to Wall Street. They are making business sense, and major shareholders are listening and bringing pressure down on the companies to settle this.

Advertisers are being contacted. Unions from all across the country representing millions of workers are asking how they can help. They would be willing to boycott advertisers. The advertisers are being made aware of this and soon the boycotts of large sponsors like Proctor and Gamble will begin. And it won’t just be unions. The public will help. The public is on our side. Sure the members of IA somehow blame us for striking and not the AMPTP for forcing us to strike, but most of America supports us. Who knows -- they might join in.

The WGA is approaching some of the companies from the AMPTP that want to make a separate deal, and is attempting to negotiate with them one on one. Not the big 6 or 7 companies, but the next level. Those companies don’t have a problem with what we are asking for and would rather get back into production. If we can make enough of those deals some of us can get back to work, and the coalition of the greedy will feel the competition breathing down their necks.

In addition, the WGA and many of its top talent are starting to make deals with Google and Yahoo and other internet strongholds. This should snap some sense into the studios. If they want to remain relevant in the next ten years, they need to dominate the next medium which will be the internet. If other companies, with enough money to bring eyes to their sites, start to get into the game, the studios will be left behind. If I were them I’d be very scared of that possibility and I’d want to do anything I could to prevent top names from helping to establish a new medium that they don’t own.

We are also approaching legal experts to challenge the networks’ legal right to own the productions, distribution, and exhibition of entertainment. In the old days that was considered a monopoly. We have left it alone for years because they have been our partners but now they aren’t acting in good faith and it’s time to make sure there is more competition in the market place. We have the desire and ability to take this issue all the way to the top courts in our country. The studios aren’t going to like that.

There is more pressure coming at them as SAG will stand with us, and if we are still out in June they’ll go out with us and shut down whatever production is left. They will have upfronts in May without product to sell, and the 9 billion dollars they usually make goes out the window. Studios have execs on salary doing nothing, and time is ticking.

What’s the Deal with the DGA?

The DGA will soon attempt to negotiate a contact. If they negotiate a good one, then that’s good for all of us. We can use that as the formula for making a deal, and they get to say that the DGA are reasonable adults and the WGA are petulant children. And that’s fine by me. Whoever makes the deal that insures our ability to work into the next 20 years is a hero. It doesn’t have to be Patrick Verrone.

However, if they make a bad deal (which is very possible), then we simply have to remain united. Let the studios see that no matter what the DGA settle for, the WGA and SAG are not going to take anything less than a deal that gives us full jurisdiction on the internet and a fair compensation for showing our work there.

Why We Fight (in case you forgot):

The AMPTP has made a grave miscalculation. We know we are fighting for the very ability to make a living in the future. We know we are losing money now we won’t get back – but it is for the greater good and for the least powerful among us. We get that. We’re good with that. The corporate mind can’t fathom it.

What we are asking for is fair, and reasonable, and affordable but in a negotiation there is NO WINNING, only a deal to be made where we get less than we hope for but more than they want to give. That said, for this strike to end we will have to get some kind of fair compensation for showing and selling our shows online. The way to do that is to not argue with each other, but rather, to keep the faith that your union is working hard to make a deal that will get us back to work. And to keep giving the union your support in anyway you can -- whether it’s marching, or showing up at rallies or simply staying hopeful.

The only other option, as far as I can tell, is that the union falls apart, and we are all on our own against these guys. If you think you don’t have power now as a group, try it on your own. If the union gets destroyed then we will have given up fifty years of gains that were struck for and won by our brethren – not to mention any chance that young writers in the future will get a fair deal. There’s too much at stake to let that happen.

There will be curve balls and surprises and we will have to continue to struggle. The pressure from our membership and a town out of work will build. But if we stay together and hold out for what we believe in, we will no doubt achieve a better deal than the October offer and be all the stronger in future negotiations.

Yours truly,
Jay Kogen

12/29/2007

From One WGA Member to Another - Why World Wide Pants is Good for All

In her story on the Worldwide Pants deal, Nikki Finke quotes an angry
feature writer who wants to go back to work now that a handful of TV
writers are going to get paid. I wanted to respond to his anger
because I believe this person is dead wrong in his objections to the
deal. Among other things, he claims that NBC/Uni's addition to the
GE balance sheet is a "rounding error."

As someone who worked on Wall Street before becoming a writer, I can
assure you that statement is nonsense. The Jay Leno show alone is a
guaranteed $50 million in profits. GE owns NBC/Uni for one reason
and one reason only: to make a ton of money. NEVER to lose money.
That's why Zucker fired Kevin Reilly in May. Somebody had to take
the fall for the network's performance, and Zucker, the
quintessential Peter Principle exec, made sure it wasn't himself.
But now there's nobody else to blame, and the $50 million from Leno
is getting flushed down the toilet. The Worldwide Pants deal just
turned up the burner under Zucker.

Just as important, ALL of GE's divisions are expected to make their
own profits and take care of themselves. A good year in one division
does not in any way "offset" a bad year in another division.
Divisions do not pick up the slack for one another, or prop each
other up. In fact, it is just the opposite -- they are rivals with
one another. That was Jack Welch's way of doing business, and it is
Immelt's as well. All this talk of deep pockets at GE helping NBC is
flat wrong. Anyone who says that would flunk out of the first
semester at business school.

And here's another thought for that feature writer: calm down and
look at the big picture. This deal is only the first domino to
fall. Next week the Guild might make a deal with a company like
Lionsgate, and then you and ten other feature writers can go back to
work. And you know something? The rest of us will be happy for you,
because we know our leadership just took a step closer to getting us
ALL back to work with a good deal.

Sincerely,

Red Sox Fan

12/28/2007

Strike TV: Coming Soon, to an Internet-Connected Screen Near You


Strike TV is an Internet fundraiser. It's an online "channel" featuring original video shows created by working professionals in the TV and Film Industry. These shows are self-funded and owned by their creators. Funds raised by ad revenue will go toward the Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund, assisting union directors, actors and below the line members who are affected by the strike. Strike TV videos will not be about the strike. This is a chance for writers to do what they do best - be original and tell stories. Visit the Strike TV MySpace page for full details including info on the upcoming boot camp seminars.

Top 10 Reasons Why The Worldwide Pants Deal is a Good Idea

Howard A. Rodman is a member of the WGA Board and founder of the Guild's independent film writers committee. Two films he wrote, SAVAGE GRACE and AUGUST, will have their US premieres at the Sundance Film Festival in January.

10. The AMPTP says that we're too crazy, too ideological, too amateurish to make a deal, and this lets us say, oh yeah?

9. The Networks That Are Not CBS will be hard put to justify to their advertisers and stockholders why they're letting the competition have a real late-night show while they go forth with writerless efforts. (As The Canadian Press put it yesterday, "Jay Leno, Conan O'Brien, Jimmy Kimmel and Jon Stewart all plan returns to late-night television over the next two weeks, but aside from their familiar faces, viewers may not recognize much.")

8. And despite what some will say, that's genuine pressure. Yes, the conglomerates have deep pockets. But they do have to answer to the folks who pay the bills.

7. Because it's not just a plain vanilla interim deal: this is a deal we can use as a model, with cherries on top.

6. Cherries, in this case, meaning that the Letterman deal is the full MBA, complete with the New Media proposals we couldn't get the other side to move on at the Big Table. This shows our proposals are affordable. And, perhaps best of all, Worldwide Pants is taking on the liability of our contract provisions, including not only the payment terms, but also the backstop of the fair market valuation test under the MBA.

5. Although this will be very hard on Leno, Conan, Kimmel and other late-night Guild writers, the wedge that it drives between the networks is deeper and sharper than the wedge it drives between writers. While the companies understand ROI, only we understand solidarity.

4. Go re-read number 10.

3. Like the waiver for the SAG awards, it lets people know that, when we are able to, we honor those who honor us.

2. Because in 1988, Letterman called management "money-grubbing scum." Out loud. In public.

1. Worldwide Pants has a better logo than the AMPTP.

On a more serious note, though: we should all remember what writers gave up in 1960 so that all writers who came after them -- meaning us -- could have residuals. In order to make that deal, they gave up the rights to residuals for everything they had written prior to 1960. The sacrifice they made for the future is inspiring, and humbling in the best possible sense.

We are part of a great tradition. I hope we'll honor what those writers did for us with an equal sense of history and responsibility now.

It's about all of us.

The Letterman Deal from Down South

This comes from John Jabaley, a UH contributor and Teamster.

I was at a Christmas party the other night, the kind we have down South where you see three generations of one family that you’ve known forever and you eat cheese straws and roast beef and sushi. (We’re getting cosmopolitan down here.)

Everybody and their brother asked about the strike. The big question was this: Did the late night hosts going back on the air mean the writers were getting their butts kicked? (This was framed in different language by each generation.)

I explained how it was unfortunate, but the hosts had contracts they could get sued over, and in some cases were being hit pretty hard because they’d been paying staff out of their own pockets. I said there was hope Letterman would sign a deal with the WGA, but this argument was somewhat hampered by the fact that no agreement had been announced.

When I go to the next party I’ll see a lot of the same people, and maybe even eat some of the same food. I know I’ll hear the same jokes, and get the same questions. But this time I’ll have a better answer: The Writers Guild is willing to make a fair deal. The Writers Guild is capable of making a fair deal.

The guild just made a fair deal with a businessman’s businessman, and it’ll set a precedent. That will lead to more deals and then to agreements for independent films, and then we can all start getting back to work.

A lot of people I wouldn’t have expected to told me they're planning to watch TV on January 2nd, just to hear what the late night hosts have to say. When they turn on the television they’ll find Craig Ferguson back on the air... with the Late Late Show writers. They’ll find David Letterman back on the air... with the Late Show writers.

They'll find Worldwide Pants back on the air, and I bet I know what the first top ten will be about . Yee haw.

WGA Announces Deal With Letterman's Company

It's just been announced that the WGA has made a deal with David Letterman’s company, Worldwide Pants. This is part of the larger strategy of making deals with individual companies within the AMPTP.

There are strong feelings about this on both sides – people who think we should have done the deal, people who think we shouldn’t have. Here’s why I think the WGA made the right choice:

Some late-night writers may feel it's unfair for a few writers (i.e. Letterman’s staff) to be able to go back to work when the rest of them can’t. But the fact is, when the WGA first announced its strategy of negotiating independently with members of the AMPTP, it was a given that if that strategy succeeded, some writers would go back to work while others stayed on strike.

It’s the heart of the “divide and conquer” strategy that the pressure on individual companies comes from some writers going back to work, thus putting the companies who are willing to deal fairly with us at a competitive advantage. This deal will help create that pressure, especially on NBC and ABC; also, it’s na├»ve for anyone to think that Letterman isn’t going to be honest in his opinions about the AMPTP on the national stage that is his show. CBS is already furious with him for making this deal, he’s not going to censor himself to make them happy.

Leno, Conan, Kimmel and others have been staunch supporters of the writers, even digging into their own pockets to pay their non-writing crews. The sacrifice they’ve made by staying out this long in support of writers is an incredible thing. But unlike Letterman, who can thumb his nose at CBS because he owns his own company, the other late-night hosts are effectively hostage to the position of their employers, like NBC and ABC.

And since all the hosts are being forced to go back in January anyway, the income stream they provide to the conglomerates will come back no matter what, albeit (we hope) reduced by advertisers rebelling.

So denying Letterman a deal wouldn’t actually have deprived CBS of a revenue stream. At best, it would have reduced the revenue stream. And again, tremendous advertiser pressure will now be put on NBC and ABC to settle this.

Where New Media is concerned, it looks like Pants is going to take full responsibility for the income writers would make from reuse of their work on the Internet. Translation: even though CBS won’t pay that money, Worldwide Pants will, and will pay it as per the proposals we presented to the AMPTP that they have walked away from -- twice. Apparently Letterman doesn't feel that giving his writers a fair share of internet revenues will destroy his business.

But the most important strategic value here is that we can completely refute the idea the AMPTP has been peddling that WGA leadership is “intractable” and “incapable” of making a deal.

We’re showing our own membership, the town, and the public at large that the WGA leadership can make a deal, quickly and rationally -- when we’re dealing with rational people on the other side of the table.

We’re not the problem. The AMPTP is the problem.

They want a world where unions don’t exist, where they don’t pay any residuals, health insurance, pensions, overtime or benefits to anyone. That’s why they’re willing to try and break our union at horrific cost to everyone who works in entertainment, even though the money they’re saving is minimal by everyone’s estimation. They hope if they break us, the other unions will fall into line, and they’ll be able to eat away at all our benefits piece by piece until union protections are gutted.

This is the kind of behavior that Wall Street often rewards. But that doesn’t make it actually good for business, much less for the people who make the product the business relies on for its profits.

We want to go back to work, and we want the town back to work – with a fair deal for everyone. Personally, although I know there will be frustration for some members that we made this deal, I think it was the right thing to do.

When one of the majors comes to the table and makes a deal – and I hope they will – odds are that I won’t be one of the writers who gets to go back to work. I won’t like it, because I have a movie in preproduction right now that I've had to walk off of. But I’ll live with it, if it serves the larger good of all of us getting coverage.

Nothing about this strike has been easy, because the AMPTP started with one goal and they haven’t wavered – keep the Internet to themselves. It’s a ridiculous idea, and probably will result in them making themselves obsolete, but they still cling to it. We can’t be any less determined or resolute than they are.

This was a good choice for our leadership to make, the right choice even though it’s painful for some of us, and I hope we’ll stay united behind them.

WGA Letter to Members About Worldwide Pants Deal

This was sent to WGA members today, explaining some of the reasoning behind the Worldwide Pants deal.

To Our Fellow Members,

We are writing to let you know that have reached a contract with David Letterman's Worldwide Pants production company that puts his show and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson back on the air with Guild writers. This agreement is a positive step forward in our effort to reach an industry-wide contract. While we know that these deals put only a small number of writers back to work, three strategic imperatives have led us to conclude that this deal, and similar potential deals, are beneficial to our overall negotiating efforts.

First, the AMPTP has not yet been a productive avenue for an agreement. As a result, we are seeking deals with individual signatories. The Worldwide Pants deal is the first. We hope it will encourage other companies, especially large employers, to seek and reach agreements with us. Companies who have a WGA deal and Guild writers will have a clear advantage. Companies that do not will increasingly find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Indeed, such a disadvantage could cost competing networks tens of millions in refunds to advertisers.

Second, this is a full and binding agreement. Worldwide Pants is agreeing to the full MBA, including the new media proposals we have been unable to make progress on at the big bargaining table. This demonstrates the integrity and affordability of our proposals. There are no shortcuts in this deal. Worldwide Pants has accepted the very same proposals that the Guild was prepared to present to the media conglomerates when they walked out of negotiations on December 7.

Finally, while our preference is an industry-wide deal, we will take partial steps if those will lead to the complete deal. We regret that all of us cannot yet return to work. We especially regret that other late night writers cannot return to work along with the Worldwide Pants employees. But the conclusion of your leadership is that getting some writers back to work under the Guild’s proposed terms speeds up the return to work of all writers.

Side-by-side with this agreement, and any others that we reach, are our ongoing strike strategies. In the case of late-night shows, our strike pressure will be intense and essential in directing political and SAG-member guests to Letterman and Ferguson rather than to struck talk shows. At this time, picket lines at venues such as NBC (both Burbank and Rockefeller Center), The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and the Golden Globes are essential. Outreach to advertisers and investors will intensify in the days ahead and writers will continue to develop new media content itself to advance our position.

We must continue to push on all fronts to remind the conglomerates each and every day that we are committed to a fair deal for writers and the industry.

Best,
Michael Winship
PresidentWriters Guild of America, East

Patric M. Verrone
PresidentWriters Guild of America, West

WRITERS GUILD REACHES AGREEMENT WITH WORLDWIDE PANTS

LOS ANGELES – The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE) have issued the following statement regarding Contract 2007 negotiations:

“The Writers Guild has reached a binding independent agreement today with Worldwide Pants that will allow Late Night with David Letterman and The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson to return to the air with their full writing staffs. This is a comprehensive agreement that addresses the issues important to writers, particularly New Media. Worldwide Pants has accepted the very same proposals that the Guild was prepared to present to the media conglomerates when they walked out of negotiations on December 7.

Today’s agreement dramatically illustrates that the Writers Guild wants to put people back to work, and that when a company comes to the table prepared to negotiate seriously a fair and reasonable deal can be reached quickly.

It’s time for NBC-Universal to step up to the plate and negotiate a company-wide deal that will put Jay Leno, who has supported our cause from the beginning, back on the air with his writers.”

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.

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. The unions conduct numerous programs, seminars, and events throughout the world on issues of interest to, and on behalf of, writers.

"As Long As It Takes"

Jay Kogan asks Writers Guild Members to answer the the three most common questions from the picket lines.





Jay Kogan's call to Arms.


Dear Strike Team, friends, writers and who ever else may be reading this;

As we approach our membership assembly tomorrow and look out onto the bleak landscape that is the holidays without work, our friends the AMPTP have placed an ad in the trades saying they have one common goal “To reach a fair and just agreement with writers and get back to work.” And that, of course, is an outrageous lie. I’m just a comedy writer, not a labor relations expert, but I have examined our situation and come to certain conclusions that I want to share with you.

If you want to save time reading the gist of it is… we’ll be okay if we stick together and hold out for a contract that pays us a living wage no matter where they show our work.

I see you’ve continued to read which means you must have some extra time on your hands. Great. Let me walk you through it.

Where we are:

The AMPTP isn’t talking to us. They walked away from the table. They claim our negotiators are too angry to deal with. The town is worried.

The strike, which could have been avoided if the producers wanted to actually negotiate, has potential to drag on for who knows how long. Some WGA members think it’s time to cut our losses -- simply give into the AMPTP ultimatum and drop many of our demands to the absolute minimum. They want this strike to end, and they see that as a way to end it.

Well, I want the strike to end, too, but I don’t think we should listen to their provocation and here’s why:

Why we shouldn’t listen to the AMPTP right now:

1. They aren’t really ready to negotiate. They do everything but. They take ads. They threaten us. They accuse us. They pretend they’re ready to talk and instead present ultimatums that we give up our reasonable demands without getting anything in return. It’s a tactic. A trick, to get us to reveal our bottom line so they can negotiate down from the lowest we thought we’d take. According to anyone on our negotiating committee and most observers, including mediators, agents, SAG and the WGA negotiators, the AMPTP hasn’t once attempted to seriously bargain with us since we asked them to sit down with us in April and they said they’d sit down with us in July or 2007.
2. The last time they made an ultimatum, they lied. At the end of October, a CEO of one of the big companies called the WGA and told us flatly that if we dropped the DVD increase, just took it off the table, the AMPTP would deliver us a reasonable deal on internet. The ENTIRE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE weighed this idea -- many of them stood to gain a lot of money with a better DVD formula but for the sake of avoiding the strike, the committee agreed to drop the DVD demand. But, as we now know, it was a trick. They walked out on negotiations and forced the strike. To this day the AMPTP hasn’t offered us anything for dropping the DVD. There has never been any bargaining.
3. Our demands are reasonable and important to the future health of the WGA. All the stuff we’re asking for is important and would be great for the health of the guild, but some items are more important to the whole membership than others. So anything we give up should come at a cost for the AMPTP. They have so many slashes and rollbacks on their agenda that will need to be knocked off somehow. Keeping our demands right now will allow the committee, not the AMPTP, to decide what they feel they need to give up as bargaining chips and what they feel they need to keep.

So why aren’t they ready to deal?

Is it that they don’t care about making TV shows and movies anymore? That it’s no longer a “profitable” business? Don’t be fooled – this is exactly what they want you to believe. This is a business and it’s a very good one. The companies make billions each year. That’s why GE and SONY and Viacom and News Corp bought into the business in the first place, and I see no one divesting their entertainment divisions. Entertainment is still one of the biggest exports this country has. Not only do these companies have broadcast networks, but they have movie distribution companies and DVD companies and hungry cable outlets. They sell the DVDs and pay per views, and they are in the business of growing their libraries because they know this stuff is worth a ton of money now and heading into the future.



Is it because they don’t need writers? Again, that’s what they’d like you to believe. Of course if there was an army of fantastic writers around the corner willing to work for free, they’d hire them. But they don’t exist. When you are forced to read a spec script because your aunt promised her friend you would, how often do you read anything great? You forget, that there is actually a very limited pool of talent. Of course they need us. And while they may steadfastly deny that…the fact is, they hate us because they need us.

Is it because our leadership is crazy? Hmmm. Well, I know Patrick Verrone. He’s not crazy. David Young doesn’t seem crazy either. They do seem pro-active and not willing to roll over but it doesn’t matter. The AMPTP would be trying to make us doubt whoever it was. Their goal is to divide and conquer by making us believe that our leaders are “crazy.” Plus this town has a long history of making deals with the craziest assholes on the planet. Nope, not buying it. They’re just not ready to make a deal.

So, why aren’t they ready? Because they believe by waiting they can save money. That’s it. It’s about money. They see the future just like we do and they know there is big money out there and they want to keep it.

The money they are losing by sacrificing the current TV season (and possibly the next one) must be less than they’ll save by allowing us to strike.

Could the internet be even more valuable than even we think? What if the studios know it’s going to be worth so very much so very soon that shelving a TV season is nothing compared to the money they’ll make in the future if they can get us to take a bad deal? What if every tenth of a point they give up is worth billions of dollars in the next 10 to 20 years? If all you cared about is making money, you’d wait and hope the WGA either falls apart or weakens enough to take less of “your” pie.

Every move you’d make would be designed to create panic and discord in the union. You’d ignore them for as long as you could. You’d accuse them of being insane. You’d let the membership think they are replaceable. You’d highlight things the union is asking for that seem low priority to make them feel like they’re fighting for the wrong things. You’d undermine the union’s confidence by using the press you own and the experts you’ve hired to make them feel like they’re having no effect. You might even start negotiating with another union like the DGA to make people think it’s the crazy WGA’s fault this is happening,(knowing the DGA might not take a tough stand on the internet because the DGA has different interests.)

They’ve balanced the costs. They want us to bleed and suffer, hoping our spirits will be broken. If they can stir up dissension and in-fighting there will be less pressure to give us a decent deal. It’s just business.

You know what else is good business? Making an example out of us. They can’t afford to let other unions think that striking is even an option so the Studios will get to pay all the other unions less too. That’s seems pretty good for their bottom line.

So how can we fight them?

First, we don’t capitulate. We hold firm. If the union asks us to show we are united, we SHOW WE ARE UNITED. Let them know their tactics won’t work, and the waiting won’t get them a better deal. Make them see it’s in their best interest to settle this.

The strike is working. We are having an effect. Sure, this hurts us, but our sacrifice actually hurts them more. They were actually surprised by the November strike date. They didn’t have time to save the TV season or finish all their scripts for the SAG strike. They’ve started to hand back money to advertisers and they stand to lose a lot more when their nine billion dollar upfronts come and they don’t have a new season to promote.

In spite of “stock piling” there are lots of movies that aren’t getting made. The pipeline is thin, and as the SAG strike approaches they needed to be making more movies (not less) to beat down that union. The studios are looking down the road and see that what we are doing will effect TV sales, movie sales, DVD sales, cable sales and subscriptions, PPV sales, etc. Plus they are helping to drive an ever shrinking audience elsewhere. Everyday that passes they dig themselves a deeper hole they’ll have to get out of.

The WGA has filed charges against the studios with the NLRB because the studios don’t legally have the right to walk away. By law they have to bargain in good faith. Admittedly, this is a gesture and no one thinks the Bush administration will ever help us here. But it’s important in the battle of public perception that everyone know we are the ones trying to negotiate in good faith. We are the ones who want to put the town back to work. They are the ones keeping that from happening.

The WGA has talked to Wall Street. They are making business sense, and major share holders are listening and bringing pressure down on the companies to settle this.

Advertisers are being contacted. Unions from all across the country representing millions of workers are asking how they can help. They would be willing to boycott advertisers. The advertisers are being made aware of this and soon the boycotts of large sponsors like Proctor and Gamble will begin. And it won’t just be unions. The public will help. The public is on our side. Sure the members of IA somehow blame us for striking and not the AMPTP for forcing us to strike, but most of America supports us. Who knows -- they might join in.

The WGA is approaching some of the companies from the AMPTP that want to make a separate deal, and is attempting to negotiate with them one on one. Not the big 6 or 7 companies, but the next level. Those companies don’t have a problem with what we are asking for and would rather get back into production. If we can make enough of those deals some of us can get back to work, and the coalition of the greedy will feel the competition breathing down their necks.

In addition, the WGA and many of its top talent are starting to make deals with Google and Yahoo and other internet strongholds. This should snap some sense into the studios. If they want to remain relevant in the next ten years, they need to dominate the next medium which will be the internet. If other companies, with enough money to bring eyes to their sites, start to get into the game, the studios will be left behind. If I were them I’d be very scared of that possibility and I’d want to do anything I could to prevent top names from helping to establish a new medium that they don’t own.

We are also approaching legal experts to challenge the networks’ legal right to own the productions, distribution, and exhibition of entertainment. In the old days that was considered a monopoly. We have left it alone for years because they have been our partners but now they aren’t acting in good faith and it’s time to make sure there is more competition in the market place. We have the desire and ability to take this issue all the way to the top courts in our country. The studios aren’t going to like that.

There is more pressure coming at them as SAG will stand with us, and if we are still out in June they’ll go out with us and shut down whatever production is left. They will have upfronts in May without product to sell, and the 9 billion dollars they usually make goes out the window. Studios have execs on salary doing nothing, and time is ticking.

What’s the Deal with the DGA?

The DGA will soon attempt to negotiate a contact. If they negotiate a good one, then that’s good for all of us. We can use that as the formula for making a deal, and they get to say that the DGA are reasonable adults and the WGA are petulant children. And that’s fine by me. Whoever makes the deal that insures our ability to work into the next 20 years is a hero. It doesn’t have to be Patrick Verrone. However, if they make a bad deal (which is very possible), then we simply have to remain united. If the studios see that no matter what the DGA settle for, the WGA and SAG are not going to take anything less than a deal that gives us full jurisdiction on the interent and a fair compensation for showing our work there.

Why We Fight (in case you forgot):

The AMPTP has made a grave miscalculation. We know we are fighting for the very ability to make a living in the future. We know we are losing money now we won’t get back – but it is for the greater good and for the least powerful among us. We get that. We’re good with that. The corporate mind can’t fathom it.

What we are asking for is fair, and reasonable, and affordable but in a negotiation there is NO WINNING, only a deal to be made where we get less than we hope for but more than they want to give. That said, for this strike to end we will have to get some kind of fair compensation for showing and selling our shows online. The way to do that is to not argue with each other, but rather, to keep the faith that your union is working hard to make a deal that will get us back to work. And to keep giving the union your support in anyway you can -- whether it’s marching, or showing up at rallies or simply staying hopeful.

The only other option, as far as I can tell, is that the union falls apart, and we are all on our own against these guys. If you think you don’t have power now as a group, try it on your own. If the union gets destroyed then we will have given up fifty years of gains that were struck for and won by our brethren – not to mention any chance that young writers in the future will get a fair deal. There’s too much at stake to let that happen.

There will be curve balls and surprises and we will have to continue to struggle. The pressure from our membership and a town out of work will build. But if we stay together and hold out for what we believe in, we will no doubt achieve a better deal than the October offer and be all the stronger in future negotiations.

Yours truly,

Jay Kogen

Modest Proposal: Truce?

Regular readers of the comments section here will know "BTL Guy." He's a crew member (protecting his identity) who supports a fair deal for writers and strong unions but doesn't think the WGA leadership should have called the strike when they did. He recently sent me a Modest Proposal and has posted it on his blog, Divided Hollywood. (And yes, as much as I respect BTL Guy, that name, grrr!)

BTL Guy raises an interesting idea: Could the companies be forced back to the table by taking a "time out" in the strike? He suggests that the tactic only be used if the congloms agree to postpone all negotiations with other unions so long as WGA talks are ongoing. As he points out, there are huge pitfalls here. Would any progress be made? Would the companies bother to negotiate in good faith or would they act provocatively so as to encourage the WGA to call the strike back on? Right now, the AMPTP can't explain why they aren't at the table. That's why they dodged the LA City Council meeting on 12/19. It obviously wouldn't make any sense for the guild to flip that situation.

But hey, the point of a Modest Proposal is raise some eyebrows. So have at it in the comments.

12/27/2007

Baltimore & Atlanta Pickets

BALTIMORE:
Photo from Associated Press: Actors Sonja Sohn (left) and Jeffrey Pratt Gordon (center) from the TV show "The Wire" joined striking screenwriter Rafael Alvarez at a Writers Guild protest yesterday in Baltimore.

WGAe employee Karen Young sent us links to articles from the Washington Times and the Baltimore Sun about the picket in Baltimore - attended by members from many different unions.

Karen also sent us a link to a video of interviews from the picket line - produced by Liam Hughes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b0cPLFkQYWA


And, Rafael Alvarez sent us a link from Citypaper.com.


ATLANTA:


WGA Member Chad Darnell sent us this photo, and emailed a report from the Turner Campus in Atlanta:

In all, we had about 30 supporters join us, made up of Atlanta actors, college students from the Georgia State University Film School, film professors from Emory University, family of WGAw writers and fans of television.

Our little rally made the local news for the evening.


WGA Member Rob Kutner sent us this photo of his dad, Steve Kutner, next to a guy with a beard at the Atlanta rally.

12/26/2007

Wall Street: Congloms Let Town Suffer Rather Than Make Fair Deal

Last week, Wall Street firm Bear Stearns issued a report stating that even if the Writers Guild got every single provision it has been asking for in a new contract, the impact on the conglomerates' bottom line would be "negligible." It's encouraging to see Wall Street saying what we've known all along: that the WGA's proposals are fair, reasonable and affordable. (They don't even keep up with inflation!) On the other hand, it is absolutely infuriating that the companies would walk out of negotiations and happily keep thousands of people out of work and wreak havoc on the LA economy over something... "negligible." It is not negligible to countless families in our industry and our region.

MediaPost.com has a summary of the Bear Stearns report here (reg. req.) The highlights:
"From Wall Street's perspective, we estimate the impact of accepting the [writers'] proposal is largely negligible," Bear Stearns wrote in a report last week.
The firm estimates that the $120 million figure would carry an average impact of less than 1% on annual earnings per share for the media companies. That does not factor in any concessions by the writers' side (the WGA), where the principal issue is a desire for a piece of ad dollars from new-media distribution.
The potentially small financial impact suggests that studios (Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers) are more concerned about setting a precedent in new-media revenue sharing. However, Bear Stearns wrote that the writers' forecast for that market "strikes us as fairly aggressive." The firm hinted that studios are looking to the future. They are concerned that a favorable settlement would embolden directors and actors in their coming renegotiations.

Speechless #28: AMPTP, Your Table Is Ready



See all the "Speechless" videos:
Brightcove (hi-res)

YouTube (low-res)

12/25/2007

Life on Strike



Life on Strike was originally produced for The Strike Show, a live comedy-variety show that raised money to benefit members of the industry who are affected by the strike via the Motion Picture and Television Fund. and features Ana Ortiz (UGLY BETTY), Nick Kroll, (CAVEMEN), and Kat Foster (TIL' DEATH).

12/24/2007

United Hollywood RSS Now on Feedburner

If your RSS feed stopped working, please resubscribe here.

Why We Write #2: Steve Levitan


Steve Levitan may embarrass his kids, but he makes writers proud in the new essay from the "Why We Write" series organized by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John. (Steve welcomes your comments on the Why We Write site.)

12/23/2007

Volunteer Opportunity - Christmas Dinner to the Homeless

(WGA Member Dana Greenblatt will be volunteering, and invites others to, as well. Here are the details.)

What: Union Station Foundation's Christmas Dinner-In-The-Park.
http://www.unionstationfoundation.org/christmas_in_the_park.html

Where: Central Park on the corner of Fair Oaks Avenue and Del Mar Boulevard in Pasadena
http://www.mapquest.com/maps/map.adp?formtype=address&address=275+S.+Raymond+Avenue&city=Pasadena&state=CA&zipcode=91105

When: Tuesday, December 25
10:00-11:30AM Set-up
11:30AM-2:00PM Serve Food & Beverages
1:30PM-4:00PM Break-down and clean up (this is when they need the most volunteers)

How: When you arrive at Central Park, go directly to the Volunteer Registration table on the Raymond Avenue side of the park. The volunteers there will give you a nametag and assign you a task.

Parking: Street parking is available surrounding the park. The park is also on the Gold Line Metro.

More Info: 626-240-4550

The only drawback is that volunteers are assigned to positions as they check in, which means that not all WGA members will be volunteering together. Let's try to wear red WGAw t-shirts (the grey "On Strike" shirts seem inappropriate to the season, no?) or WGA baseball caps (for those of us who have them) so members can identify ourselves to one another.

FairDeal4Writers Video Contest



Think you know how to get the AMPTP back to the negotiating table? Want to teach Nick Counter and the rest of the AMPTP how to make a fair deal and end the strike? Okay, here's your chance.

UnitedHollywood is challenging you to shoot a video showing us how you would get the AMPTP to make a fair deal. Videos can be up to four minutes long with one condition, you must use the phrase “fighting for the future” at some point in the video. The only other stipulation is the last line must be “We're all on the same page.”

The winner of the most creative video will receive an authentic WGA strike poster with over 150 signatures, autographed by writers, actors, actresses and directors who signed it on the picket line.

To enter check out www.FairDeal4Writers.com for rules and guidelines.

12/22/2007

Speechless #27, and Profile on CNN

Click here to view a CNN profile of "Speechless." And here is the latest edition featuring a montage of SAG participants:

UPDATE: FCC Continues to Push Media Consolidation - Act Now!

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin seems dead set on pushing through a wildly unpopular media consolidation policy that would allow media moguls to gobble up more local news, radio, and newspaper outlets. The American people aren't happy about it, and neither are many leading politicians.

How, you ask, is this directly related to the writer's strike against the giant media conglomerates? This policy would consolidate more power in the hands of few. There is already too much media consolidation, too much vertical integration, and too much abuse of power by the few who own these companies: Disney, Time Warner, Viacom, New Corp., GE, Sony...



To read posts and conversations from Sen. Kerry and Rep. Louise Slaughter regarding their disappointment with Martin's actions, check out:
http://freepress.net/actionnetwork/node/335

And to sign a petition urging your Senators and Representatives to ask Congress to stop media consolidation,
click here.

12/21/2007

Links: Viacom On Already!

TECH NEWS

  • Yep, the conglomerates just don't know what the digital future will hold. Will there be more $500 million deals like this pact between Viacom and Microsoft in the future? Who knows?!

  • Andrew Baron, producer of the popular video blog Rocketboom, expalins Eight Reasons the TV Studios Will Die. Allow me to propose one way NOT to die: Make a fair deal with the creators of your content so you can work TOGETHER to preserve and grow your business. Seems simple enough.

  • Poll: More TV viewers turning to the web.

    STRIKE ANALYSIS

  • Handel: Let's cross our fingers that the DGA has the power to get everyone back to work.

  • Robert Elisberg rockin' the house again on HuffPo.
    "...If corporations only have to pay $250 for residuals on the Internet as opposed to $20,000 on TV -- where do you think all reruns will eventually be shown?

    It gets worse. The corporations don't want original Internet content covered for the WGA. Where do you think the first-run "broadcast" of a series will be? After streaming once on the Internet, a company can simply "re-air" it on network TV. It's the same screen. The only difference is that General Electric-Sony-TimeWarner-Fox won't have had to pay more than a pittance for the material.

    If you don't think this would happen, you haven't been watching the AMPTP offering zero and walking away from the table...
  • Roger Ebert: Thumbs down on studio greed.

    AMUSEMENT

  • WGA vs AMPTP at Home

  • Cantinero sings his strike ballad "No Apologies" in Times Square. Yes, the Naked Cowboy inserts himself in the shot.

  • Christmas Carols!
    - From the AMPTP Children's Choir of Truth
    - From Peter Rader

  • WHY WE WRITE Essay #1

    WHY WE WRITE is a series of short essays by prominent TV and Film writers. Conceived by Charlie Craig and Thania St. John, the campaign hopes to inspire and inform during the strike, and perhaps beyond.

    Today’s piece is written by Greg Garcia, Creator and Executive Producer of My Name Is Earl. To read it, go here.

    Support in San Diego - National Picket Week





    (Karyl Miller, San Diego WGA Strike Captain, sent us these clips along with the following note.)

    Here are 2 news clips of a great showing San Diego WGA-ers made on our local news Dec 13! Interesting to note we marched just outside glass enclosed NBC affil. at 6 AM hoping to appear on their lead-in to the TODAY show. But they sent 8 cops + 3 security guards( we were outnumbered!)to shoo us off their property (and away from their windows). They never put us on camera or came out to interview us. Meanwhile FOX and local station KUSI sent cameras and reporters.

    Karyl Miller
    San Diego WGA Strike Captain

    Just the Facts, Ma'am: AMPTP Causing Havoc to SoCal Economy

    Interesting things, facts. They are simply what they are. And yet sometimes you can read a lot into them.

    Here's a fact:
    On December 18, the Writer's Guild testified before the Los Angeles City Council about the economic impact of the strike.

    Here's another fact:
    The AMPTP didn't show up. [Gosh, just like at the negotiating table.]

    Instead, they asked the MPAA to take care of it. The MPAA represents the AMPTP before all levels of government throughout the world. The MPAA also provides economic data and information on the motion picture and television business to the public.

    And one more fact:
    The MPAA wasn't able to attend, but they did prepare a statement to be read into the record. Now the facts start to get really interesting. Here are the salient facts from the MPAA's statement:
    From our member companies' perspective, the most immediate impact has been felt in television production. Production, which has stopped, hurts the men and women who depend on that production for their livelihood.
    Hmmm. That second sentence. Probably a typo, but still, an interesting Freudian slip.
    The strike has forced our members to shut production of 74 television series, and consequently, nearly 10,000 workers are out of work.

    Other entertainment guild and union production employees have not been receiving paychecks for many weeks, which is especially difficult as we enter the holiday season. Those employees are the men and women who belong to the Directors Guild of America, the International Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees, Screen Actors Guild, Teamsters and the Basic Crafts Unions including plumbers, electricians, and laborers.

    The reduction in employment represents a loss of wages upwards of $350 million since the strike began. We estimate $120 million to WGA members, $205 million to IATSE members in the Los Angeles area alone, and $50 million to the Teamsters and other Basic Craft unions.

    The economic consequences of the strike cannot be measured solely by wages. In addition to lost wages are the costs from the lack of sales of goods and services that go into production, which is an estimated additional $300 million. It also means that scores of other businesses from prop houses to caterers that serve productions daily in Los Angeles have also had to lay off employees.

    Each day the strike continues, more people and more businesses are impacted - more layoffs and more lost revenue...
    That's a lot of facts about the impact that the strike has had. Facts that make it hard for the AMPTP to justify staying away from the table over a contract for a mere $150 million dollars over three years.

    But you know what's not in those facts? Defense or blame. And isn't that interesting? Wouldn't you think the representative of the AMPTP would take every opportunity to defend its sister association's righteous position and condemn the WGA before the LA City Council? Unless, of course, they don't want to.

    The Internet: Holy Grail or... No?

    The creator of "Voices of Uncertainty" is back!

    Emails Flood City Councilmembers -- Time to Do More!

    Thank you for your overwhelming support in our email campaign earlier this week – councilmembers collectively received thousands of emails, and our work had a very real impact.

    Now they know that people are engaged and paying attention, and we need to let them know our involvement is serious and ongoing. Although the special motion does not compel the AMPTP to come to the table, it becomes part of a “paper trail” that shows the AMPTP’s behavior, which will matter as we go up the political food chain (Congressional hearings, anyone?)

    We're making a difference, and we need your help to keep it going.

    Please send two emails – one to City Council President Eric Garcetti, and one (or more) to any of the listed Councilmembers below. Please send it today, before everyone is gone for the holidays.

    CUT AND PASTE THIS EMAIL:

    Dear Councilmember [choose from Eric Garcetti, Herb Wesson, Bill Rosendahl, Tom Labonge, Richard Alarcon, Janice Hahn, Wendy Greuel, Tony Cardenas, Greg Smith]:

    I’m writing to express my gratitude to you for passing the special motion encouraging the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) to return to the negotiating table with the Writers' Guild of America. I deeply appreciate your support and your recognition of the impact this strike and the AMPTP's refusal to negotiate is having on the City of Los Angeles and the State of California.

    The AMPTP’s refusal to even attend the City Council meeting is very disturbing. It is unacceptable for the AMPTP to refuse to bargain when the strike is costing the economy $20 million a day, at a time when budget shortfalls and the mortgage crisis are already putting a strain on California’s economy.

    To give the WGA everything it’s currently asking for would cost Sony $1.68 million a year; Paramount and CBS $4.66 million a year; Disney $6.25 million per year; Warner Brothers, $11.2 million per year; Fox $6.04 million per year; NBC/Universal $7.44 million per year; and MGM $320,000 per year.

    The corporations are given tax breaks and huge incentives from California and Los Angeles, all of which are underwritten by taxpayers. The amounts they are being asked to pay yearly are small – Les Moonves guaranteed salary alone is twenty-one times what it would cost for his company, CBS, to settle the strike. For these corporations to put our economy in jeopardy just so they can avoid paying a fair wage is irresponsible and unfair.

    All writers want is fair compensation for their work. I hope for your continued support to get the AMPTP to come back to the table, and negotiate a fair and just resolution to this strike.

    Thank you,

    [insert your name here]


    EMAIL ADDRESSES FOR COUNCILMEMBERS:

    LA City Council President Eric Garcetti -- councilmember.garcetti@lacity.org

    Councilmember Herb Wesson --
    councilmember.wesson@lacity.org

    Councilmember Bill Rosendahl --
    councilmember.rosendahl@lacity.org

    Councilmember Tom Labonge --
    councilmember.labonge@lacity.org

    Councilmember Richard Alarcon --
    mailto:--mcouncilmember.alarcon@lacity.org

    Councilmember Janice Hahn --
    councilmember.hahn@lacity.org

    Councilmember Wendy Greuel --
    councilmember.greuel@lacity.org

    Councilmember Tony Cardenas --
    councilmember.cardenas@lacity.org

    Councilmember Greig Smith --
    councilmember.smith@lacity.org

    12/20/2007

    Taking the Struggle to the AMPTP, the "Scene of the Crime"


    On Tuesday, specially trained picketers, members of the Criminal Writing Division of the WGA spread across Hollywood, marking each studio as a "crime scene" with yellow tape. Photographs were taken to document the event. A sister group gathered in Foley Square in Manhattan.

    Sponsored by Rene Balcer, Bill Fordes, David Slack, Kit Boss, Mark Goffman, and Lynne Litt, a three-count Bill of Indictment was filed by writers from over 35 crime and police television series, charging the AMPTP with, in part:

    "Conspiracy to steal the Internet and all revenues therefrom and deprive by fraud, trick, and deceit entertainment industry workers of their financial future and well-being, and with conspiracy to conduct meaningless negotiations with depraved indifference to the truth and with malice and mendacity aforethought."
    Luminaries from the WGA and SAG joined in the rallies, shining a bright light on the "crimes" of the AMPTP.

    In New York Gina Gianfriddo, Linus Roche, and Jeremy Sisto along with dozens of others braved the cold to state their case.

    More than 500 picketers filled the sidewalk in front of AMPTP Headquarters in Encino.

    Marg Helgenberger read the indictment. The casts of CSI, Lost, Num3ers, The Unit, Dexter, The Shield, Law and Order, Bones, Reno 911, and The Sarah Silverman Program were represented by, among others, Harold Perrineau, Gary Dourdan, Regina Taylor, Robert Patrick, C.S. Lee, Alana de la Garza, Benito Martinez, Cathy Cahlin Ryan, David Rees Snell, David Marciano, Rob Morrow, Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant, Kerri Kenney, and Brian Posehn.

    Rene Balcer spoke to the heart of the event when he said:
    "As crime writers, we navigate a morally ambiguous world but we do so without ever losing sight of the moral center. We know what's right. Through our characters of working-class cops and private detectives, lowly-paid lawyers and prosecutors, we speak truth to power.

    If we know anything at all, we know bad behavior when we see it. And we’ve seen plenty of it from the AMPTP in the last six weeks. We're in a war on the middle class waged by multinational conglomerates. We're witnessing an assault on fairness, on a basic tenet of American enterprise - that if you create something, you should share in its success. We went on strike in defense of that principle. And it's for that principle that we remain on strike."
    After the speeches were made, the AMPTP was invited to come outside and engage in a dialogue. But the AMPTP was nowhere in sight. They weren't at the City Council Meeting the next day either. Maybe everyone had left for an early vacation.

    Who knows?

    If the AMPTP reps were looking out their windows on Tuesday, they saw that the picketers were unified, vocal, and focused.

    They had heard the chants before. "We're at the table, where are you?"

    They heard it again on Tuesday. "2-4-6-8, Counter won't negotiate!"

    They'll keep hearing it. "Come back to table. Give us a fair deal."

    The strike isn't going away because the congloms want it to. The strike will stop when the AMPTP comes back to the table and discusses the issues, fairly and honestly.

    This report was filed with the greatly appreciated assistance of David Slack, Lynne Litt, Chad Daniel, Bill Fordes, Kit Boss, and Rene Balcer.

    Strike Swag Update


    Our friends at StrikeSwag.com have just gotten the official strike shirts back in stock (pictured at left).  And for those of you who're just a little bit late with your holiday cards, Simpsons writer Tom Gammill has a custom designed card that you can order.  Click over to pick up some swag and support the solidarity fund!  

    12/19/2007

    AMPTP: Committed to Making Sure No One Else Goes Back to Work

    A Working Writer: "Right in the Middle"

    The latest interview from the "Working Writer" Project is Dawn Dekeyser:



    See more at aworkingwriter.com.

    Why the AMPTP Didn't Show at the City Council Meeting

    The WGA waits by the negotiating table while the AMPTP is MIA. And the moguls couldn't be bothered to attend Wednesday's LA City Council meeting because they were flying off for their vacations. (from Strike Life)



    Or... was it because they had some other, more important meeting to attend?


    (from Doug Boch)

    LA City Council: Where's the AMPTP?

    At today’s Los Angeles City Council meeting, over 300 writers and supporters came to hear Councilmember Eric Garcetti speak to the City Council about the writers strike, and the need to bring the AMPTP back to the table so negotiations can resume.
    <>
    The AMPTP did not bother to send a representative, apparently feeling that the $20 million a day damage to the Los Angeles economy is more the City Council's problem than theirs.

    Garcetti introduced an emergency motion asking for both parties to resume bargaining, and to come to a just and fair deal as quickly as possible. He also pointed out that the writers are still at the bargaining table, ready to negotiate, and called specifically on the AMPTP to return as well.

    To see the meeting, go here for the playback; you can forward to 3hrs 36 minuts, or use the “Jump To” menu and go to “Special Motion #1 (Garcetti-Wesson)”.

    Councilmember Garcetti mentions that the studios benefit from various programs and tax breaks that the city and state have given them to try and keep entertainment work in California. Aside from help with zoning and land use, expedited permits, the use of government buildings to film in for free, and the expansion of their studio space, the entertainment sector are the lowest payers of business taxes in the city, and receive state tax credits as well.

    Garcetti said it clearly: “We’ve put ourselves forward helping this industry out, and now we want it to help Los Angeles and resolve this strike as quickly as possible.”

    The conglomerates benefit from government tax breaks and incentives to keep them here in California. These incentives come at taxpayer expense. It seems only fair to ask that they behave as good corporate citizens in return – instead of refusing to bargain as the strike does serious damage to the economy of the city and the state.

    Press Conference 1
    Press conference with Eric Garcetti and John Bowman outside City Hall.

    We at United Hollywood want to thank Councilmember Garcetti for his support and his honesty. We appreciate everything he is doing to help bring this strike to an end, and to protect the interests of working men and women in the entertainment industry.

    Industry Support Fund Benefits at the Laugh Factory


    Jamie Masada has offered to host a weekly show at the Laugh Factory (8001 W Sunset Blvd at Laurel, 323-656-1336) to benefit the Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund. The first show will be held tomorrow, Wed. Dec. 19 at 10pm. Entrance to the show is free for anyone who makes a contribution to the Fund. Checks made out to the Writers Guild Foundation will be accepted at the door. The shows will continue for the duration of the strike. Donations of new toys and/or new winter clothing will also be accepted and distributed to those affected by the strike.

    United Hollywood Live

    United Hollywood Live (12pm Pacific/3pm Eastern) today will discuss the non-granting of waivers to awards shows like the Oscars and Golden Globes, the WGA meeting in Santa Monica Monday night and the City Council meeting this morning among other topics.

    Tune in by CLICKING HERE (or by using the widget located along the right hand side of UnitedHollywood.com). The show, which airs Monday, Wednesday and Friday, is also available as a podcast immediately after each broadcast via the widget and on iTunes (search: United Hollywood).

    Fans and WGA supporters are encouraged to become a part of the broadcast via live IM chats, video feeds and phone calls to the studio. They can also add the United Hollywood Live widget to their websites.

    David Milch: The Idea of the Writer - Back By Popular Demand

    From 2:15pm-4:00pm today (Wednesday 12/19) and again tomorrow (Thursday 12/20), David Milch (creator, Deadwood) will continue his discussion-series on The Idea of the Writer at the WGA Theater at 135 Doheny Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA.

    WGF Industry Support Fund: Helping Those in Need

    What we have been calling the "Union Solidarity Fund" is now officially called the Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund. Our friends at the Foundation have stepped up to coordinate the tremendous outpouring of generosity from businesses, fans, writers, actors, directors and the public to help non-WGA professionals affected by the strike. We will link to information on how to apply for assistance as soon as it is on the Foundation site.

    The Foundation is accepting donations now. Send them to 7000 W. Third St. LA 90048, and indicate "Industry Support Fund."

    Honoring Barbara Diamond and the Sacrifices of Strikes Past

    The following is letter from Paul Diamond, son of I.A.L. Diamond (Billy Wilder's writing partner, "Some Like It Hot", "The Apartment"). This message was initially meant only for members of his strike team, but with Paul's permission we reprint it here for our readers.

    Dear Mick -- if you would, pass this on to the other Barham Gate Strikers...

    Some of you know me better than others, but this is for all of us. I've been on the Barham gate with Mick Betancourt's team since day one (tallish, skinny, bald under baseball cap/beanie, elderly, doesn't chant), and while I may have missed a few hours, I haven't ever missed an entire day. I haven't missed a day because my mother, who passed away this morning after a long and unpleasant illness, insisted I go instead of spending the time at her side. She insisted, because she knew better than any of us how important it was for us to be out there. Barbara Diamond was never a member of the WGA -- she was a junior writer at MGM for a couple of years in the early-mid forties -- but she married into the Guild, and married rather well at that. I.A.L. Diamond, my father, and his generation of Guild members struck to get us -- their descendants -- pension, health and residuals. Their strike was painful. (You know the story -- no residuals for "Some Like it Hot," or "The Apartment," or "Sunset Boulevard," none for the Epstein brothers for "Casablanca," nada for "Citizen Kane.") But it was necessary. As is this one. My father's strike (and my generation's three walkouts as well) made sure that I would be able to sustain (however haphazardly) a thirty year career. More important to me at this moment, it meant that after my father's death almost 20 years ago, Mom continued to have those benefits and that revenue, helping to put her grandchildren through school, enabling her to travel and live in comfort as she aged, and then die in her own home with her medical expenses beyond Medicare paid for by the Writers Guild-Industry Health Fund. Without our ability to gut out a strike, none of this would have been possible. So while I'd like any friends, acquaintances or perfect strangers to donate a couple of bucks to the Writers Guild Foundation (7000 W. Third St. LA 90048 earmarking it for the Library in memory of Barbara Diamond), what I'd really like, if we're still out on January 7th, is to see every mother's son and daughter back on the picket lines. It's beyond important.

    Mick, maybe this time, I'll chant a little.

    Paul Diamond

    UPDATE: FCC Media Consolidation - Act Now!

    From Free Press:

    The Federal Communications Commission approved new rules that
    will unleash a flood of media consolidation across America. The
    new rules will further consolidate local media markets -- taking
    away independent voices in cities already woefully short on
    local news and investigative journalism.

    Congress has the power to throw out these rules -- and if
    100,000 people demand it, they'll have to listen. Click on the
    link below to sign the open letter to Congress urging them to
    stop the FCC and stand with the public interest.


    http://action.freepress.net/campaign/sbmopenletter/

    12/18/2007

    (Real) AMPTP Attempts Humor, Fails

    In nominating the WGA for "worst supporting union," the AMPTP's PR machine revealed its newest tactic: snarky bitchery! A reader replied in kind and sent us this:

    In the category of Best Negotiator Ever, the nominee is Nick Counter. This modern hero has done everything humanly possible to end the strike. As if keeping the studios from making a good faith economic proposal wasn't enough, Counter has even gone so far as to WALK AWAY from the bargaining table completely, not once, but twice. While the refusal to negotiate (which Topher Lehane referred to as "a, like, totally sweet plan" in his senior quote) continues to hurt writers, below the-line crew, their families, the Los Angeles region, advertisers and company shareholders, we applaud Nick Counter's bravery in demanding that absolutely no new talks take place until the WGA has submitted to several unreasonable ultimatums. Then, and only then, can true negotiations begin.