1/20/2008

The Devil's in the Details

The other shoe has dropped. The DGA concluded their deal with the AMPTP. The congloms will spin their settlement with the DGA as proof that they are willing to close a deal quickly when their negotiating partners are reasonable business people. But we know that's just their high-priced PR consultants speaking. They didn't work out a deal with the WGA because they weren't willing to treat our negotiation seriously. That's all changed now.

The Guild leadership hasn't responded to the DGA deal, because the details of the agreement haven't yet been analyzed, so we'll have to wait before we really know how good or how bad the deal actually is. Regardless, the AMPTP now has to turn its attention to the WGA. They've avoided talking with the Guild in any meaningful way for two months. Now, they have no choice. Ending the strike means addressing our issues.

For the membership this is a crucial moment. Over the past few weeks, the pressures have been building precipitously. The strike has created economic and personal havoc for everyone in the Hollywood community, with terrible repercussions for the entire region. We all want this suffering to end. Within our ranks there are differing opinions about objectives and tactics. Emotions have been churned up.

What's needed now is clear-headed, strategic thinking. We've always known that we are one Guild among many and that, unlike other American corporations, the Hollywood congloms get to speak with one voice, using their superior resources to obstruct our objectives. Structurally, that puts us at an incredible disadvantage. What if all the Hollywood unions were, like the United Auto Workers, negotiating with one voice, picking off the studios, one at a time? What kind of deal would we have then?

In the next stage of the strike, the internal pressures on the membership will be severe. There will be some among us who will say, "Just settle! Take what the directors got and let us get back to work!" Others will go in the opposite direction and reject the DGA deal out of hand.

To engage the corporations, we have to be as strategic and clear-headed as they are. We shouldn't over-estimate our position any more than we should feel helpless. Notwithstanding the contentiousness of some, the membership is still unified and focused on the objectives of the strike. Walking on the picket line last week, there wasn't any question that writers feel a stronger sense of community and purpose than ever before in the history of the Guild. We have to rely on that strength to get us through the last part of the process. We have to remain unified and resolute, no matter what.

13 comments:

Bill said...

Geez you guys, another conspiracy theory about how the WGA is being preyed on? It seem that every mainstream media story that says the DGA deal might just be close to reasonable is shot down in flames as an industry atempt to pressure or screw the writers. I geuss there really is no such thing as an original thought in Hollywood these days. Get real.
The picture of a few hardliners hoping to hold out until SAG can join them is becoming clear now (oooooh, a conspiracy theory!)

BTL 399

MrKlaatu said...

Well, according to the New York Times, "the directors decided that this was not the time to make a stand on new media". By there own admission, the DGA didn't try to get a new media deal that will be fair long-term. Yet, publications like Variety publish headlines like "DGA makes Big Gains in New Media".

So, if the WGA takes the DGA deal, they will have not secured the writers' future regarding new media, the strike will have been for nothing, and we will have to strike again in three years.

Why would you want that?

Let's do it right this time and have labor peace and a succesful industry for everyone for years to come.

vfx_Kid said...

I truly hope that the WGA takes this as a starting point for continued negotiations. It's a start, and honestly, the sunset clause is a good thing. The internet, as it applies to broadcast entertainment, is still in a very early stage and it would be foolish to lock yourselves into a long-term deal. I guess you could consider me a BTL worker (visual effects). I've been fortunate to still be working, but a lot of my friends are not. One thing that does offend me is the attitude of some writers that claim that without their "words" there would be nothing. Very true, but without the hard work of many crew members and post-people, your works would never be realized in this ultra-competitive world of entertainment. As a former songwriter, I know that a great performance by a singer can make your song come alive. The same thing applies to tv/film. You take the vfx out of the Transformers and you'd have a bunch of muppets. I'd like to see the box-office take on that. So, please . . . try and resume negotiations without the petulance that has been typical since this strike has begun.

jimmy said...

BTL 399 - No one in the press has seen the details of the DGA deal, because they still have not been made available. All of us out here have so far only come up with what are big questions about certain aspects. No real conclusions yet, because that's impossible.

The press is assessing it based on the glowing praise the AMPTP and DGA have for themselves over it. Not one comment from the WGA accept essentially "we're not sure yet" has been given, but people are jumping to conclusions.

It's a mix of people being anxious for the strike to end and falling for PR based so far on a press release scant on the meaningful details.

Remember, the AMPTP called the "new economic partnership" "groundbreaking" too...yeah, not so much.

And there's no way that even hardliners want to hold out until SAG can join. That's the disaster scenario. But the moment you stop mentally preparing for it, you start to fall into the trap.

There's no reason the deal can't be improved for writers through serious negotiations in a short time. Because just like in July, and in November, and in December...the writers' demands are reasonable.

The AMPTP cut off negotiations (perhaps illegally) and are now acting magnamimous for requesting they continue with the very same people they claimed could not be negotiated with.

I don't believe there's a conspiracy, but there's a lot of carts before the horse going around. And too many writers have been in this spot before to let their guards down quite yet.

mheister said...

And SAG should continue to have the WGA's back.

me said...

I personally think the leverage is there (even if it takes waiting until SAG comes in), and I think the AMPTP just shot their major bullets. But if I'm wrong, then it's a very sad day for all writers. It means the precedent is set for even more future rollbacks (because there will be even less leverage then), and it means the precedent is set to always bypass the WGA and deal with the DGA instead.

stuiec said...

"To engage the corporations, we have to be as strategic and clear-headed as they are. We shouldn't over-estimate our position any more than we should feel helpless."

Can the WGA rank-and-file tolerate staying out four, five more months until the SAG's leverage comes into play? Or is that an over-estimation of the Guild's position?

stuiec said...

mrklaatu: "Let's do it right this time and have labor peace and a succesful industry for everyone for years to come."

Just remember, every time the contract comes up for re-negotiation, the Guild has to be in a position of maximum leverage. That means being fully prepared to strike if it comes to that. Certainly what is gained in this contract can be rolled back in the next -- and labor peace is achieved through labor strength.

Cyber said...

""To engage the corporations, we have to be as strategic and clear-headed as they are. We shouldn't over-estimate our position any more than we should feel helpless."

Can the WGA rank-and-file tolerate staying out four, five more months until the SAG's leverage comes into play? Or is that an over-estimation of the Guild's position?"

The SAG has the WGA's back, and the AMPTP knows it. Letting the Strike continue until June when the SAG can strike will only make things worse than they already are.

If I'm not mistaken, it's almost already too late to salvage the rest of this tv season, and if the strike continues until March then there goes the pilot season too.

However, if they wait until June they risk having few actors left to act in their movies *as well as* risking even a late season start for the Fall, which means pretty much no revenue coming in for the next year. Takes time to write a script, takes time to turn it into a show. And how are they going to make big movies without actors?

That's a nightmare scenario for the congloms, and would wreak financial havoc on the entire city. Some of the top actors might be alright, and some of the top writers, but what about everyone else in the industry?

Chances are, at that point, people will be forced to look for other employment, or some new company with alot of money would start up and undercut the congloms completely by taking away all their business. Or maybe a handful of small companies with some financial backing. Either way, someone would have to get some work to prevent starvation.

Venice said...

VFX KID and BILL 399

First of all vfx_kid: As a writer, I appreciate everything that goes into making a movie or TV show happen. Please don't take a scattering of asshole comments denigrating what you or any other member of our creative community does as representing the way most writers feel. My guess is that it is the disrespect that writers have felt for so long that is causing some to lash out at the wrong people. None of us can do this alone.

And Bill: Most of your posts revolve around the same theme: BTL people are hurting so hurry up and take the deal that is offered you. I think that the WGA and members are all are aware of the pain that is being felt by others in our industry. But we cannot just take any deal just to get you back to work.

The precedents that will be set in this deal are *heavy* and monumental, and not just for writers. The potential is here for catastrophe. We can't afford any missteps.

The membership is united and strong, as is SAG. I think that the WGA is perceived by most as the weaker of the two parties in this negotiation; this is why those that just want an end to the strike above all apply pressure on writers to accede to whatever deal the all-powerful AMPTP deems us worthy of. It's understandable; the WGA is a group of humans who can empathize with your pain. Do you think the AMPTP companies care about you and your family, your house, your future? Why not apply pressure to the companies to make a fair deal?

I think as soon as we accept the premise that the WGA is the weaker of the two parties, we are half-way to losing. Perception is everything and the perception of a weak and divided WGA has been enthusiastically promoted by those for whom it would serve. I'm not sure I buy any of it. The AMPTP needs writers as much as writers need producers (although with the rise of the internet, maybe this will change).

The WGA has a harder fight. We're not insulated. We're your neighbors. We see the destruction. We aren't emotionless machines. But this is an important fight and a just one.

We must insist on not just a deal, but a good deal. Then we can all get back to work peacefully and prosperously.

vfx_Kid said...

Hey Venice, I know that most writers appreciate the hard work that goes into a production and you're right, it's just a scattering of VERY vocal feelings. No hard feelings.
I do think it would be wise to have some sort of a sunset clause in your new contract. Take a look at the music business and see what digital media has done to that. 99cents/song? No wonder all my musician friends are broke. Also, this downloadable media can also be burned to disk. Get where I'm going? Get what you can, get back to work, see how it goes, you can always readdress it in 3 years. We'll know a lot more then.
Good luck to you guys. BTW-If I animate a character, I'm acting. Where's my piece? (minor sarcasm)

Venice said...

what up , vfx_kid. The only thing I would say about the "sunset clause" is that it's a canard. What's important in these contracts and negotiations is precedence. It is much harder, if not impossible, to dislodge an already established position than it is to establish the position in the first place. Exhibit A would have to be the home video formula. That too, at the time, was argued by the AMPTP to be an unproven market. A formula was agreed upon, with the promise that as the market developed, it would be revisited. Costs of manufacturing and shipping bulky VHS tapes were cited as a reason for the low formula. Then DVD's came out with much lower manufacturing costs. The formula should have changed, but didn't. The bottom line is that the AMPTP never intended to revisit it, and, in fact, they never have and never will. And with distribution over the internet, the cost of distribution is much much less, and opportunities for generating revenue, via targeted ads etc., is much higher. But the AMPTP is fighting tooth and nail to avoid dealing with this issue, and in fact is proposing some very draconian rollbacks. So unfortunately, these battles have to be fought in the present and not in the future. By getting a good deal on New Media etc. now, we avoid the necessity of another strike in three years to renegotiate issues, from a much weaker position, that should have been resolved in this contract.

You also bring up an interesting point that will probably have to be addressed in the future. I think if the studios could get away with it, they would eliminate actors, writers and directors completely and have everything be CGI. That day may very well come. Then they'll have to figure out a way to do away with you... j/k kind of. Anyway, thanks for the response. All us creative types need to have each others' backs.

vfx_Kid said...

Venice, my non-writer self had to look up the meaning of Canard, which Websters defines as false, or baseless. I guess my point can be defined based on my own situation. I have no union, I negotiate my rate based on my skill and accomplishments. I would NEVER negotiate a deal for a period of longer than 1 year. You can gain in increments, and with this strategy my income has doubled in the past 2 years. Currently, you have nothing. If you can negotiate something, for the next 3 years, and revisit then, you may gain much more in the long run. Some of the animation/reality/strike points can be dropped, in exchange for a revisit of the definition of TV vs. Internet in 3 years with an agreement not to strike, or lock out on both ends. I see how, if one were to stream an HD broadcast, over the internet, to their 46" HDTV in their living room, then it is really no different than a network rerun. That would be my concern were I in the WGA. The definition.
As for CG replacing actors, well . . . you'd be shocked at what we've done with live action enhancements. lol . . . don't like the hair? Create some new hair. Too fat? Fixed it in comp.