The Playbook of the AMPTP

(The following is from WGA Member Tom Schulman.)

Fellow Members,

A few years ago, I was on the WGA Negotiating Committee. As negotiations with the AMPTP were drawing to a close, I went to a dinner party where I happened to be seated next to a gentleman who until recently had been for decades the chief negotiator for the Companies in another segment of the entertainment industry. He was a wiry guy, and he had a sense of humor. When I asked him if he was the Nick Counter of that particular part of the industry, he smiled and said wryly that he thought he was better than Nick but, yes, that was a fair comparison. He said he knew Nick and admired him. For an hour and a half, sprinkled in with the small talk, he told me about his negotiating strategy. After the party, I went to my car and jotted down as much of it as I could remember. I thought it might be useful to share it with you now:

Strategy for Hardball Negotiations:

Piss off the leaders and spokespersons for the other side. A leader who loses his temper loses something in negotiations. Why?

1) Anger clouds judgment.

2) It’s human nature to want to be liked, even in a tough-as-nails negotiator. A person who loses his temper is embarrassed, usually comes and apologizes, and always gives something away to get back into the good graces of the other side.

The end game is the money, but hardball negotiations aren't about money, until the end. The real game is dividing and conquering.


* Lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Raise and lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Do everything possible to destroy the credibility of the other side’s leadership, divide and conquer.

* Use confidants and back channels to go over the heads of the stronger leaders to the softer targets. Divide and conquer.

* When you figure out the other side’s bottom line, offer a fraction. It’s surprising how many times that stands.

Sound familiar? If you examine the recent "leaks," comments, and press releases from the other side, you'll realize this is exactly the strategy the Companies are employing against us today. And why not? It's worked for them for the last 20 years! They are putting us on an emotional roller coaster by raising and lowering our expectations, attacking our leaders, trying to pit the town against us, refusing to move on the issues that matter to us, bragging about their generosity when the opposite is true, fear mongering and claiming we're going to ruin this industry – hoping we'll splinter, lose faith in and attack each other, negotiate against ourselves, and cave.

As events unfold in the next several days and weeks, we should have no doubt about what the Companies are really up to and what to expect from them. But this time, in every way possible, we must let them know we're on to them and their strategy won't work. We understand their game, our solidarity and resolve are greater than ever, and we're going to stay strong – and reasonable – until we get a fair deal.

Let's return to the picket lines every day with a powerful show of force. As Patric says, we're all in this together.

In solidarity,

Tom Schulman

WGAW Board of Directors


Michael Ray Gonzales said...

My name is Michael Gonzales. I am a WGA member but in this case I shall use my moniker as a Ph.D. tenured professor in Cinema and Media Arts. I recall watching THE WAR ROOM where James Carville and George Stephanopoulos worked fevorishly in the making of Bill Clinton as president. In the current struggle with the AMPTP, I see the leadership of the WGA working just as hard, day and night. I imagine the negotiators for the other side frustrated because their "old school" tactics are not as effective as they were in the past. We as writers are the tip of the spear of things to come as the internet, the ground worth fighting for, has also become a weapon for the WGA to use. No studio can control the free-flow of information power available to all people seeking fairness and justice. Advertisers are also getting weary that the networks are not delivering fresh content on shows they have received commitments to deliver. The other day I ran into the Governor and thanked him for his efforts in helping resolve the strike. I do not know if he has or to what extent he has helped, but it was my responsibility to be another unceasing voice to remind him that this issue is critical to the reinvigoration of the state's economy and the industry we have all worked so hard in becoming its storytellers.

Jake Hollywood said...

For the WGA not only should we stick together but those who are doing the negotiation should think about reversing the AMPTP plan. That is, though Nick Counter is their spokesman/negotiator, the Big Seven also have a stake in the outcome of the negotiations, and maybe the WGA should come up with a "divide and conquer"plan of its own. Start working on the weak links, negotiate a plan to settle with each company individually. Maybe even allow writers to work with non-signatories (at least on a temp basis), work on internet deals to stream WGA backed shows (since the AMPTP doesn't "own" the internet (yet, that is) then it would be an "open territory" and available to anyone, right?Break the AMPTP, destroy their unity and resolve. Go on the attack, take the fight to the AMPTP, don't wait for them to act.

Captain Obvious said...

"Take the fight to the enemy" indeed.

The AMPTP is foolhardy to enter into a protracted battle of logic with writers. Logic is our turf. You are bound to be outsmarted in the end, so why bother struggling?

john (not lennon) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
not a troll said...

At least they have playbook.

Occasional Showrunner said...

Nice to see that the removal of the anon poster function has reduced the amount of trolls.

On topic, I don't think any of the dirty pool tactics of the AMPTP are a particular surprise, especially not to the negotiating committee. I think the surprise here is probably on the part of the AMPTP. I believe we're far more united and far better at getting our message out than they ever expected.

Not only that, in this negotiation, if we don't get what we want, we really can take our ball and go home. Good buy studio system, hello venture capital.

Oh, unless some of you AMPTP folks would like to cut a separate deal before it's too late. We've put together an incredibly reasonable proposal with 10x the common sense and 1/10th the Stalinist rhetoric of your "New Economic Partnership." It's right here:


It's still not too late to get in on this terrific deal. But the clock is ticking.

J. said...

Good points, Jake Hollywood. Let's go on the offense. Some studios are going to be hurting much faster than others. Our leadership should be trying to divide their union as much as they are ours.

My resolve is strong. I have taken a temporary non-industry job, so that I can outlast the studios. I urge my fellow WGA members to do everything they can to outlast the AMPTP.

BTL Guy said...

Occasional Showrunner -- thanks for the link to the WGA proposal. UH should consider adding that link to the FAQ or the right sidebar of the main page.

I'm looking forward to (perhaps) an updated version tomorrow, in response to the AMPTP "offer."

I think a key thing to take away from the AMPTP "playbook" is to keep a level temperament when they present lowball offers such as last week. Focus on the positives -- they've finally offered some movement on the internet -- and build on that. Calling them evil bloodsucking moneygrubbing scumbags (true as it may be) doesn't really add to your position.

Even they admit (today's HR) that the numbers are low, first-offer figures.

It's a negotiation. I'm looking forward to some progress this week so we can all hopefully get back to work!

MrKlaatu said...

This is the question I have been asking: Why are the companies allowed to negotiate as one group? That's a cartel. It's a violation of the Sherman Act and other anti-trust laws. These companies are supposed to compete with each other. Let them compete for our writing services. They are price fixing -- fixing the price of labor. It seems illegal.

Maybe when there were hundreds of producers, the AMPTP was more of a trade organization. Back then, the networks weren't even part of the AMPTP. But now, there are six companies that control all of film ad television in this country. An oligopoly is bad enough. They should not be allowed to operate as a monopoly within the cartel the AMPTP has become.

Perhaps the guild should file a complaint and have an investigation launched. Here's the web site for the Department of Justice's Antitrust Division:


How's this B*%tch? said...

"Do everything possible to destroy the credibility of the other side’s leadership, divide and conquer."

I'm sure that the AMPTP is trying to do this! But aren't you doing the same thing when you call a person a "troll" just for expressing a dissenting opinion on the strategy?

BTL Guy said...


I think bargaining with the producers as a whole is beneficial to both the producers AND the guild.

The point of the negotiation is create a unified minimum pay scale. Can you imagine negotiating one scale for Universal, and then something different for Warners, then a third scale for Paramount, and so on?

It might get one studio deal done quickly, but then would likely lead to longer holdouts for the rest. And there'd be much confusion and resentment down the road.

As it is (for the IA at least), there are varying scales for HBO, Fox, 1st season, etc that are extremely irritating to deal with as we start a new show. And anything less than the highest scale is resented.

So imagine you get a gig with Warners, but you know that Paramount has a higher rate -- you're hating your deal the whole time you're at Warners.

And if you're a big enough writer that you can just pick and choose what studio YOU want to work for (in order to avoid the lower rates), then you're probably a big enough writer to negotiate your own deal anyway and you don't need the MBA to define your position.

I understand the frustration (I'm a guy who's been against the strike from the get-go), but separate agreements only opens up a whole new can of worms.

MrKlaatu said...

Sure, I'd like one deal with all the studios -- if it's a fair one. But by colluding rather than competing, they can keep all our salaries artificially low.