1/24/2008

Daily Show and Colbert Writers - Mock Debate in DC

Zach Pentel from CampusProgress.org sent us these videos. Check out their coverage of the event here.

Here's video of the mock debate in its entirety:


Some of the congress members' responses:


WGA Member Allison Abner, who helped organize the event wrote the following report:

The WGA had a great day in Washington yesterday. The event was hosted by Reps Nadler D-NY, Weiner D-NY, Schakowsky D-Ill, Watson D-CA. Each host put in a word in support of the striking writers and vowed to aid us should we need help with negotiations this go-round.

The highlight for Congressmen/women and their staffers was the standing-room only mock debate between the Daily Show and the Colbert Show writers. "Daily Show" writers Rob Kutner, Tim Carvell and Jason Ross represented the WGA. On the other side, in suits, was the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, played by "The Colbert Report" writers Michael Brumm, Peter Grosz and Tom Purcell. The debate was 'interrupted' by protesters (writers Kevin Blyer and Peter Gwinn) who were dragged out by WGAe President Michael Winship. It was every bit as smart as you'd expect from such incredible talent as these writers. And honestly, people walked away more informed than when they came in.

The goal in bringing this mock debate to Washington was to provide a national platform for our issues, to take it out of LA and NYC, and explain (in a fun and instructive way) why we're on strike. We got a ton of press (AP, Reuters, LA Times, Washington Post, Roll Call, Politico among them).

We (which includes WGA ex director Mona, assistant director Ann Tobac, our fabulous Washington point person Margaret Cone, and Sherry Goldman, our pr person out of east) also met with members of Congress on judiciary, labor, and telecommunications. We spoke to them about the state of negotiations, our hope that we'd reach a settlement soon. We also discussed issues like the importance of residuals -- both as a form of what I call R&D, which are scripts created outside of the development system such as Desperate Housewives, that we finance on our own dime; and as part of our expected income. We also discussed how residuals from writers are different than they are for directors, and how that affected the DGA deal.

But here's the interesting part -- and what will come to be the future direction we will have to take as writers: the issue of COPYRIGHT. When the WGA formed, we wrote away our Constitutional right to own our own material in exchange for residuals. By the way, we are the only writers in the WORLD in this situation. Like a novelist, songwriter, playwright -- the concept, the idea begins with us. We fill the blank page. And like any other artist who does the same thing in different form, we deserve the right to own our material.

The example I used was the trend among artists in the record industry, who are now licensing their masters back to the majors to exploit for a set number of years (generally 7), then rights revert back to us. I explained that many artists have made their pensions and most of their income on the latter portion of this deal. And for tv/screenwriters this would also hold true: who knew the A-Team would one day be available on DVD and itunes? And who knows what other uses there will be in the future?

Going forward into new media (internet, phones, something we haven't yet invented), we should lobby to retain our copyright. This is the third-rail of studio/WGA negociations, and if we don't work towards this, we will very possibly be out on the line again in another 3 years fighting to get paid another sliver for our work.

That being said, members said they would look into these issues, as they require legislation.

All in all, it was an incredible day on the Hill, except for the part where Disney's lobbyist was following us around, including to an event across town (where there were only 15 other people in the room!). And he was furiously taking notes without saying a word; if I get blacklisted, you'll know why. Also in attendance at the mock debate was Time-Warner's guy.

The studios are used to owning those halls, and never expected us to come there and be so high profile, not to mention successful. Hopefully this will be the start of a beautiful relationship between the WGA and the Hill.

From DC
Allison Abner

3 comments:

Jon Raymond said...

A question on copyright. Right now, what happens when you put a video on YouTube? I assume the filmmaker retains the copyright. But I notice some YouTube videos, like the Sundance coverage, have ads up. Do filmmakers get any revenues from these ads, are they given contracts, or does YouTube have the right to put them up without giving anything to the filmmaker?

Jason said...

I believe YouTube has revenue-sharing arrangements in place for those members whose videos get ads placed around them.

maria said...

I am so proud of our WGA member Allison Abner for organizing this. Although much of this strike seems to be weighted between the two big cities of LA and NY, we must remember the relationship we, as filmmakers and writers, have with our nation's capital. The two places in the US where you can be sure not to believe what you're told: Hollywood and Washington, DC. Congratulations to Abner and WGA east! maria from aworkingwriter.com