Weighing in on Animation and Reality

I’m going to weigh in on something that I feel strongly about.

But before I do, I want to point something out that should be obvious, but maybe isn’t: every story that Fabiani and Lehane are shilling for the AMPTP right now has the words “reality and animation” in the first couple of sentences. It’s there for a reason; they know this is a wedge issue for writers, and they want to create dissent within the membership to weaken us.

But in some ways they’re doing us a favor. Because we needed to have this conversation sooner or later, as a membership, so even though I’d prefer we had it together where we could hash things out privately, it doesn’t look like that’s what’s going to happen.

And for clarity -- because it's being spun that these are "new demands" we're putting on the table -- reality and animation have been on the table since this negotiation began.

So here goes:

I’ve been a WGA member for 14 years. I remember screaming bloody murder – twice – on the dvd situation; but that was in the old days, when dvd pay rate was considered “a screenwriter issue.” It turned out, obviously, to affect far more writers than just that group.

Now there are some voices in the blogosphere and on the picket lines saying that reality and animation should be nothing more than a bargaining chip -- “if the strike is about the internet, we should quit talking about anything else.”

Leaving aside the fact that the last time the congloms convinced us to give something up, we got pretty much nothing in return, I think we should consider a few things before we all go rushing to jettison reality and animation writers in search of our own internet deal.

We’ve gotten a huge leg up from other unions and organizations in this fight. Teamsters have lost their jobs standing up for us; SEIU and Change to Win and countless others have brought their support to bear in ways that have made the WGA part of a larger community. Thanks to other unions, the firm of Fabiani & Lehane have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars for trying to break us, and will continue to lose more.

I’m not sure how we can turn around to those working men and women and say that we can’t be bothered to include other writers in reality and animation because somehow our interests outweigh theirs. Dvds are income that we all wish we had, and it's terrible to have lost both the income and the bargaining chip. But people’s health, pension and working conditions are not, and never should be, something we are willing to throw aside for ourselves.

I’ve heard some people saying that reality writers are “scabbing” and shouldn’t be allowed into the union. That’s a bizarre argument – their job isn’t covered by the WGA, if they walk out in a sympathy strike, they’ll all be fired. They want to join the WGA.

And as for the argument that we should reject them from membership because they’re providing content during the strike – that's because they're not covered by the union. If they were, then tv would be completely shut down, and we would be in a much stronger place strategically than we are now. Which argues for including them, so we never find ourselves in this place again in the future.

Then there’s animation. I’ve been working with a cutting-edge director for several years now on various projects, and since I’ve signed NDA’s on all of them, I can’t talk about any specifics. But I CAN say that the word “animation” is misleading. In the very near future – like the next two years – photoreal CG will become a way to make movies like 300 and Transformers and when that happens, many more big (and small) movies will cease to be WGA covered films.

That means no health, no pensions, no residuals, no separated rights (just ask Rossio & Elliot how much they made off creating Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Carribean films – if those movies had been animated, they wouldn’t have seen a dime of that money) and, frankly, no respect.

This is already happening; Robert Zemeckis’ company, Imagemovers, has a deal with Disney to create CG films (like Beowulf) that expressly and explicitly requires that they not use WGA writers. And the technology on that film is far, far behind what will be rolling out soon.

Animation may look like a small niche issue now. It’s not. Reality may look like something that doesn’t matter to most of us. It’s not.

Which brings us right back to dvds. This blog is about “fighting for the future.” And if the dvd fiasco should have taught us one thing, it’s that no one can ever predict what shape the future will take.

Put in the most bald terms, even if you don’t care about those “other” writers and think all this is about someone else – it’s not.

The only thing that makes us strong is “all writing covered.” Yes, it’s a struggle. Yes, it’s difficult. But last time I looked we were already knee-deep in this fight. If we give those things away now, we don’t win. All that happens is we weaken ourselves, now and in the future.

It's still about the internet. It's still about the future. And it should be about writers -- all of us.


Sam said...

Well said, Laeta. Your point about the future expansion of new animation technologies is one that I haven't heard spoken of often enough. Consider Beowulf and all arguments to consider animation a bargaining chip seem short sighted and ill-conceived. As for reality coverage... let them vote. This is America. If they want in, let them vote. I doubt they'll vote for no health care or pension.

MrKlaatu said...

The AMPTP has offered (perhaps foolishly) to allow animation writers that work for their member companies to become WGA members if they vote to do so. Let's hold the vote!

AMPTP: "Your Animation proposal, W-14, is likewise unacceptable. As you know, there is another union which has long had jurisdiction over the work you are now seeking to cover by your proposal. We believe that it should be up to the writers in this field, using the procedures carefully established by Congress in the 1940s – in the same legislative act that validates the very existence of Writers Guild of America, East and West – to express their desire as to whether they wish to be represented by the WGA or that other union. It is not for us as Companies to usurp the secret ballot democratic election process established by the National Labor Relations Act by agreeing to another top-down union organization proposal."

Laeta Kalogridis said...

mrklaatu has a point.

Hold the vote! Do it now -- find out the truth.

Jim said...

Makes sense to me.

Chris S said...

Your points are well-taken. However, there is an inescapable irony to fighting "knee-deep" as you say for a pool of reality writers and producers who are currently being paid. You mention they would be fired if they walked off in support. This is the risk any group of employees take when striving for unionization. Many of us have risked this. We have left our jobs . None of us are earning. While we stand together on the picket line, risking our homes and futures, they continue to work.

I agree they cannot be characterized as scabs. This is harsh and unfair. But one can't help but feeling strange about fighting a battle for a group who are not joining the fray

Laeta Kalogridis said...

chris s --

I think that if we promised reality and animation writers that we would not bargain their rights away, they probably would be on the picket lines. As it is, some writers are making a lot of noise about how reality and animation are just "bargaining chips" -- it's easy to see why people might not be rushing out to join the line if they think our attitude is that they're expendable.

Chris S said...

Laeta -

True enough. The question is how feasible that is at this point. What's the support on both sides. The logistics.

It's absolutely a debate worth having, though nothing to be jumped into lightly.

As we know, the reality writers would be risking a lot to take the leap.

Mike said...

While I agree it is unfair to label these working reality and animation writers as "scabs", (and a complete lie that these are new demands) the fact remains that they have been unwilling to organize and walk off their jobs as a group. It's much harder for studios to fire and replace hundreds of writers than a handful of disgruntled ones. The brave people from "America's Next Top Model" who walked off of their jobs to fight for what they deserved were sold out by their spineless colleagues, who refused to join them.

Sorry, but I didn't walk off of my job to fight for people who refuse to walk off of theirs and who are being used as leverage against us.

It doesn't mean the WGA should give up on organizing these writers and reaching out to the showrunners to get their support (which is crucial), but I'm on strike for the writers who are being cheated out of money through New Media and DVD's - the writers that have given up their jobs, incomes and are out of the picket lines every day.

Mike Scully

hotline said...

I'm tired of all of this. I can't read another word.

I support the strike a thousand percent. But let's be honest... this strike's going on for another six months at least. Everybody get used to it.

ru4surreal said...

I think reality TV writers should be left alone to organize a union of their own or, frankly, just leave well enough alone. The "genre" of reality TV is as stale as AMPTP's logo. I suspect that, given the natural order of things, reality TV will wilt on the vine within the next few years as the formula becomes even more stale and loathsome, even to the most uncaring viewer. As quickly as it flourished (think: hives), the networks could/will take it away and let it pass into history like the bad gas it was/is. As I stated on another post, why are we wasting time on something so ephemeral as a "style" of TV show?

Krono said...

You probably ought to point out that one of the other points the AMPTP has included in their demands that the WGA give up for promises to keep talking is the right to respect other guilds' strikes.

The AMPTP loves to play the whole getting animation and reality writers covered by the union as an WGA attempt to conquer those fields or something like that. That they're essentially trying to get writers to agree to dump on any other union that goes on strike... not so much.

Don't let them make this about just reality an animation. Make sure it stays about all the points they want you to give up in exchange for nothing.

Hell, half the things they demand you take off the table seem to be stuff about what gross's should be used to determine pay and what not. Clearly points that can be bargained with, modified, etc. Yet they want you to rule them out entirely rather than negotiate. Bring that up as well.

Bring home to everyone that the AMPTP is trying to force you to give things up rather than actually negotiate.

Jerad said...

Thing is in the last 60 some odd years companies have found ways around the established procedures.

At one of my old jobs (owned by a member of the AMPTP) our union shop became a non-union one as they used a loophole as we tried to change unions. That's why I hope it stays on the table.

MrKlaatu said...

Look, everyone knows reality workers are a grey area. There is certainly a lot of writing (for hosts, voiceover narration, etc.) and there are other tasks that may help craft a story, but aren't necessarily writing.

But, animation? That's writing. 100%.

HOLD THE VOTE! If you write animation for any of the AMPTP member companies, they have said it's okay with them. If they try to fi you, you will have a BIG law suit on your hands. HOLD THE VOTE!

hollarback said...

I agree with a lot of the points made, especially in regard to animation.

I think that maybe a labor investigation is in order, to get around the skirting of labor laws by reality TV. Calling someone who writes by another name ...that shouldn't fly.

Somewhat off topic...I had no idea that Robert Zemeckis was so willing to sell out other writers who make so much less than he does. What a swell guy.

Alexa said...

3 questions for Laeta and the others that run UnitedHollywood:

First -
I am a feature writer who voted to not strike, but when we moved forward with the strike, I have been picketing every day, without shaving off ONE minute, because I believe in the union I belong to.

I have a go movie scheduled to start in February, and I know that the director (who isn't a director-writer) wants to make some revisions that the studio has no faith in him making. When I got a call from the studio and production exec asking me to make those changes, I declined (pencils down right?).

Now I alone know of 4 writers who have NOT put their pencils down on their movies, and as I hear from the television writers at the picket lines, there are a number of showrunners who are also writing, not to mention all the scab work that everyone seems to know about.

How do we remedy this as writers? as a union? because the above clearly doesn't help our strike efforts.

Second -
I personally think that reality shows are not going to go away. There are great reality shows, and there are reality shows that are garbage. THE SAME can be said for MOVIES, and TV SHOWS, so the snobbery from scripted writers is really disappointing.

Third -
How do we stop picketing for several weeks and keep the momentum of our strike going over the holidays? Haven't heard about strategies from the strike captains...

Alexa said...

my second question I guess wasn't a question...

MrKlaatu said...



newben said...

On my first two animation writing jobs, representatives from the guild approached the staff and helped us organize. It wasn't easy. We had to threaten to strike on our own, but in the end we won. Eight years later, I still get residuals from those jobs. Ok, they're for like $56, but man it still feels good to get that green envelope. (Some day I'll get a check for less than a dollar and I believe that'll get me a beer at Residuals on Cahuenga.)

We knew the union as a whole wouldn't strike on our behalf, but the guild leadership gave us support and its organizers led us through the process.

With the whole WGA out on strike, it seems like now is the time for the individual staffs from every reality show and every animated show not yet covered to sign those cards and organize. You will never have this amount of support, attention and leverage again.

The entire union will never strike to cover one show. And the AMPTP will never agree to a blanket agreement to cover all shows. But if individual shows go out now, there is no way this strike ends without that show also getting recognized. Now is your best chance. Take it.

And just as an extra incentive, when we successfully organized my first animated show, those like me who weren't already in the union were comped their initiation fee. I think that was like $1500 back then ($2500 today). I'll bet that still goes on.

Good luck animation and reality writers. Your situation is one of the obvious injustices in the entertainment business. I still believe that such injustice can't be allowed to go on forever.

-Ben Kull

And by the way, when the AMPTP comes out with that crap about how reality and animation writers don't want to be in the WGA, it makes me feel like this...


ww said...

I agree that animation writers should be covered by a guild contract. There's no denying that real honest to goodness writing is being done. Reality on the other hand, I'm not so sure.

But the real issue for me is this: If we're all in this together (I'm talking to you, reality & animation writers) then let's all be in this together. Stop working, pick up a sign, walk in circles, and hope for the best with fellow guild members.

What's that?? You're afraid that you'll lose your job and things will be tough and bills will be hard to pay if you don't earn a paycheck? Yeah, that sounds about right. This is a strike. It's not supposed to be easy.

Now is the time to make a stand. Are you with us or not? Will you sacrifice or not? If you don't, then why should we?

Anita said...

I'm really enjoying this discussion regarding Reality and Animation writers. I would like to ask, as someone who is NOT in the industry, what would happen to those folks if they DID strike? Would that get them into the Union? If not, what assistance could the unions give them? I mean, I'm reading a lot of demands that these guys walk out but, I'm not reading anything about assurances of open arms and assistance with navigating.

I do think that having Reality Writers walk off would be WONDERFUL for the WGA! But, would it be as beneficial for the workers of those shows?

Just wondering!

Johan said...

Don't be ridiculous. Reality and animation ARE bargaining chips.

Everyone needs to stop living in the day to day and take a step back. See the forest for the trees. The fact that the AMPTP has slow played their hand to this point is not a series of micro-moves responding to our pickets or our PR or even our demands at the negotiating table. It's one grand move. One. A move that was signaled when they let the strike happen in the first place (particularly in the way that they did - breaking off talks on Nov 4).

What is astounding is how few of us seem to be willing to acknowledge the AMPTP's move for what it is: wait a couple months. Simple as that.

The companies get to show a big profit in the fourth quarter because of all the suspended deals. Force majeur a few bad deals (not the true motive, but the cherry on top). But most important, count on the holidays and pending mortgages to soften us up. Then try to get us to take a bad deal and get us back to work in time to save the next TV season.

You're picketing every day? Um, fine. You talk tough? So what. Be resolved about a great internet deal in January. THEN you'll have my respect.

And please, stop pretending that the majority of the guild will EVER stand behind reality "writers" who worked through this strike.

Skyfleur said...

Well, the AMPTP opened the door. So my opinion is it's time for the WGA to call all animation writers to sign their cards.

Since i don't think any animation writer in his/her right mind would forego such a protection, it should be a done deal.

As for reality, I remember the Next Top Model Strike. I know it failed, but it shows those "producers" want the protection as well. However, I guess it is less important than animation. Maybe there should be a weigh in process. Unlike someone who posted here, I do not think Reality TV will go away. It's soemthing we've heard since it started and it never happened. Not only that but new programs are created every season. Excuse the pun, but reality programs are a reality and they're not going away.

I don't think they should be bargaining chips, but at the same time, negotiations imply compromises. Find a compromise and offer it.

Mike said...

Please do not get me wrong. I think reality and animation writers deserve Guild coverage. My point is that it's going to take much more than the WGA membership and negotiating committee putting their asses on the line to fight for it. The people who will benefit the most have to be willing to make the same sacrifice. Nobody said it's going to be easy. I'm not asking you to fight your own battles. I'm saying you have to get organized and join our battle, if Guild coverage is what you truly want.

Mike Scully

Zach Crane said...

As a reality writer, if I leave my job and go on strike then MAYBE I will get covered by the WGA IF they keep reality and animation coverage as high on the list as new media.

Not to mention I'd be striking along side a large amount of writers who already insist we dont write and are not in the same league and dont deserve it. Would it change all your minds if we all went on strike? I find it hard to believe so.

I support your strike because writers deserve that money they are being cheated out of but I dont feel overwhelming support from the writers for reality to join the WGA.

Steve said...

Posted in the Paul Haggis comments, but valid here too, I think:

"As a non-prime time/non-guild covered cartoon writer, I hope the WGA gets Feature Animation. There's no reason for it not to.

TV Animation - at least for those of us stuck within IATSE - is a dead/done deal this round (in my opinion), because the WGA can't fight for what they deserve AND wrestle IATSE/Union 839 writers into their guild at the same time.

It would be a waste of energy and a division of focus to do that. Writers have momentum and unity on their side - I hope the WGA doesn't let the AMPTP divide them over something that's basically an issue of labor law.

The studios picked our union for us - in 1940, and (in the case of Nickelodeon) in 2001 - regardless of what they might say.

But getting out of a union, or changing unions, is a much bigger fight than fighting with your union for things your union can fight for.

That being said, aiming for the things that haven't been decided yet? Reality? Feature Animation? New Media? Go for it. That's a battle that can be won.

And that's a battle for the future of all writers - day time animation, prime time animation and feature animation alike.

You guys can check out the TAG board:


Or the blog written by the TAG's rep, Steve Hewett:


...to see the union that non-prime time animation writers are working with.

It's a branch of Tommy Short's IATSE, and none of us are happy with the contentious relationship he has with the WGA...

David Grenier said...

The idea that reality shows are going away or that reality writers don't deserve to be in the WGA helps only management (by making each group weaker). It'd be like saying that huge trucks are probably going to go away with rising fuel prices, so folks who work in truck factories instead of car factories shouldn't be in the UAW.

And Mike, I understand your frustration with the situation, but the fact of the matter is if those reality writers were WGA (however they get there) it puts you in a better situation. This isn't a "they have to pay their dues" thing, it's a "what will help us get the best contract this time and in the future" thing.

That being said, if nonunion folks joined the line and all non-WGA unions stopped work, the AMPTP would be settling ASAP.

Sol said...

The big stumbling block with reality (and to some degree, animation) is that the companies producing it aren't WGA signatories in the first place. That's why Verrone and Young's blanket insistence that the nets deal only with signatory companies actually makes some sense, since most of the companies have no incentive to go WGA on their own. I don't know that it'll work--probably, it will end up being a straw dog--but the bold stroke idea is the right one in this case, especially since show by show organizing doesn't really make any tactical sense in a genre where the average gig lasts only 6-10 weeks.

And that attitude displayed by certain WGA members, including some on this blog, which maintains that all reality TV is garbage and that the people working within it are hacks...if you're wondering whether it has a dampening effect on reality workers' willingness to help the cause, I promise you that it really, really does. Nobody likes to have their work publicly crapped on, let alone by the very people who are asking them to sacrifice on their behalf.

ww said...

Sol, you're not striking because your feelings are hurt from guild writers are crapping on reality show writers? Well, guess what? Scripted show writers crap on other scripted writers too! In fact, the default setting for most guild members is to crap on each other work (mostly 'cause we're jealous, sometimes because it really is crappy).

What I'm saying is, you're not going to get any more respect from sitting on the sidelines. If you want respect, come out and earn it. Fight for it. This is no time for boo hoos.

Troy said...

Sorry for the duplicate post here, folks...

Reality story producer here, three years into the organizing effort and virtually crap-upon-proof after being told year after year that my host copy, VO, "desired reponse" interview situation, compression of time, full on synopsis writing, internet promo work et al do not qualify me as a writer and further, I am to be loathed.

I work with a great many WGA members who have hopped the fence to reality over the years as traditionally scripted shows have dwindled in number, and watched many lose their benefits as a result. This alone should be reason enough for members to fight for reality's inclusion, regardless of how you feel about the hordes of non-members having at it in the oppressive, crummy sweatshops of reality television who've been clawing at the door for three years.

The AMPTP painting this as a "Top-Down Organizing Proposal" is bunk --- this was born out of reality folks coming to the WGA asking for help in the first place.

Ron said...

How about some reality writers going public about just how scripted reality shows really are? I'll bet we could find a reporter or editor who'd be interested in doing an article about all the fabrication that takes place on reality TV. That might get AMPTP's attention.

Kit said...

The WGA can move forward on reality/animation whenever it wants. The guild already has the right to organize reality/animation writers.

You don't go on strike for reality/animation.

You go on strike for new media residuals.

Carrie said...

"The WGA can move forward on reality/animation whenever it wants. The guild already has the right to organize reality/animation writers."

Kit what you say is true. At the same time, NOT getting Animation and reality into the MBA leaves only one other strategy which I call the whack a mole strategy. You can't go after every ABC reality show at once because ABC isn't the primary employer. You have to organize one production company, one show at a time. Because of the nature of the National Labor Board it can take up to a year for a vote to be taken on unionizing that company. I don't know of any reality show season that lasts a year, I admit to my ignorance in the animation arena. So the production company can wait out the season getting the editors to work overtime, senior producers going over their own footage, and loggers to chase down sound bites to muddle through. It's not the best way of working and doesn't get you the best show, but you can muddle through.

Next season you don't ask back any of your story department, worst eliminated the position, but not really it's now hidden in another title, and WGA starts over from scratch organizing. I know this has had some success in animations television, but it's an extremely weak one in reality television. This is why WGA leadership is fighting for the whole enchillada now, because it truly is the best chance to get reality and animation covered.

This is exactly the kind of thing you go on strike for. To make sure when a group of people want to unionize they can without corporations using parliamentary procedures to doom it. You go on strike for it because it's in the best interest of your own guild to widen it's base and have fewer ways networks can fill scheduling gaps at the next negotiation. Hell you strike for it so you have something to negotiate with.

Steve said...

To the above comment:

Fair enough - and I believe you SHOULD be striking for feature animation writing and reality.

But for any animation writing unionized under IATSE, it's a waste of energy and a diversion of attention.

It's a whole mess of labor law to get another union's writers out while unionizing, let alone doing that while there's a strike going on.