1/10/2008

LA TIMES: Writers Strike is War

Below is an op-ed piece from Wednesday's Los Angeles Times.

Stopping the cash flow will strengthen the writers' case, not cutting deals.

January 9, 2008

We get the impression, in this third month of the Hollywood writers strike, that morale on the picket lines and in the coffee shops isn't so hot. That's odd, given how strong the writers are looking right now.

With the downfall of the Golden Globe Awards, the Writers Guild of America has drawn blood. Now is not the time to go wobbly. If the writers want to win, they need to understand the grim logic of their situation. Good public relations are fine, as are pious press releases, shows of support from the Screen Actors Guild and crocodile tears for lost awards shows. But to win, the writers need to get serious about demolishing fall schedules and annihilating Christmas release dates. Yes, the guild's leadership is full of high sentence about getting everybody back to work and doing what's best for all the peoples of planet Earth, but let's be honest: Strike is war.

And frankly, we're having a hard time understanding how it helps the guild's position to have the troops making separate peace agreements. After deals were cut allowing writers to go back to work for David Letterman and for Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner, guild leaders Patric M. Verrone and Michael Winship sent out a memo bragging that these agreements feature "all the proposals we were preparing to make when the conglomerates left the bargaining table." That's nice, but both deals will be superseded by whatever terms the guild and the Assn. of Motion Picture and Television Producers ultimately agree to. Moreover, the deals mean some small amounts of revenue are again flowing for, respectively, CBS and MGM. As a result, those organizations have incrementally less incentive to give in.

The guild's argument seems to be that the independent deals will be a Trojan horse to get the writers' demands inside the producers' camp. But the Trojan horse is a made-up story. It doesn't work in an actual fight. The math of a strike is so simple even English majors can grasp it: If money is changing hands, that's bad for the strikers. This is true even if it's relative chump change, and even if independent producers cut sympathetic figures.

The writers strike has had a real, and lamentable, effect on the industry and on the Los Angeles economy. It is for this reason that we've repeatedly urged both sides to return to the table. But an essential truth seems to be getting lost here. Pain isn't a byproduct of the walkout; it's the whole point of it, and it should be what compels the negotiations to resume.

18 comments:

Captain Obvious said...

This article contains some smoke and mirrors. There are already leaky faucets bringing money to the industry. These side deals are just additional drops in the bucket.

The moguls' collective goose is cooked, and they know it. With the script part of the equation already in shambles and the Directors and Actors looming on the horizon all this posturing is also nothing more than, well, smoke and mirrors...

Mark said...

To quote Galaxy Quest, "Never give up. Never surrender."

The AMPTP's version of reality does not match up with everyone elses. They are only shooting themselves in the foot with their hard line stance and refusal to negotiate. If a deal is good enough for Tom Cruise, David Letterman, and Worldwide Pants, why isn't it good for the industry in general?

samwright23 said...

I dissagree. I'm not a writer, but I'm in the legal profession and I think that the "Divide and Conquer" strategy is more of a "win win" for everyone. It allows writers to get back to work (so that there's hope) and it allows the smaller companies of the AMPTP to not suffer the consequences of the Larger Corporations arrogence.

Unfortunately, I think that the strick will last until July. Today they've almost settled the CBS WGA strike. Why? B/c they had voted to strike after not having a contract for so long. It was the perfect time for them, with the other writers on strike...not a perfect time for CBS. Election year and all the news coverage that they use for that (not to mention that they will lose their competative edge with other networks)...and potentially will have to use as "filler" along with gameshows and reality tv. They NEEDED those CBS workers or they would almost shut down completely.

That's what the writer's need. They don't really need the DGA (although I've heard talks aren't going well either and their support would, in the long run, be more helpful), but they DO need the SAG to threaten a strike also...then Hollywood would shut down (moreso than it already has) and you will at least get negotiations to start back up again.

Stay strong, because the public is on your side...We are all on the same page!!

brian said...

Something's lost, but something's gained. Yes, I suppose it does mean that companies that are reasonable enough to make a deal with us will benefit the only way a company can -- financially. And, yes, the people they do business with will probably benefit financially (and some of those companies may very well be struck companies). But, at least so far, it will be a trickle. Hopefully, a frustrating trickle. And one that gets increasingly frustrating as they see their competitors who have had the vision to sign with us steal away deals that they could have made. Personally, I still love the idea of chipping away at their base. It may weaken WWP and UA's voice in the chorus to get back to negotiations -- but it should make the bass section that much louder.

Bill Gorman said...

Bingo.

Nothing but harming the business prospects of the AMPTP members will cause them to reassess their current position. Everything else is just noise.

Side deals, if anything, are a negative for the overall WGA and a small positive for the overall AMPTP.

This TV season has already been written off by the AMPTP. Threatening the *next* TV season is what the WGA should be focusing on.

JimBob said...

Pain is good, but it's possible to withstand a lot of pain, especially if everyone around you is in the same boat. What we're trying to inflict is RELATIVE pain. The first couple of deals haven't been that spectacular, but as the door opens further, maybe we get a big player, a network or a studio, to break ranks. Or enough small entities that the studios are sitting on their hands watching other people make movies, which they're not gonna like. It's a viable strategy. And hey, so is NOT making the deals, per your argument. Who knows which one's going to work best? We're not going to know what the exact right strategy was until this is all over. But personally, I'm for making all the deals we can, inflicting relative pain, loosening the bonds between the companies as much as possible.

codefool said...

I seem to remember one of the guild's gripes with the AMPTP is that they had to bargain with all the moguls as a group instead of separately. Seems to me, by making "side deals" that mimic if not mirror The Deal is a way to demonstrate its economic viability. Further, if I have a studio that separates from the AMPTP and gives the guild The Deal, then by economic force I am going to attract the best writers, which creates competition between the moguls, which leads to better deals, etc.

Seems to me side deals are a Good Thing.

chris-audience coordinator said...

Please get back to the table, I just got laid off my job and have nothing to do with the writers. I am facing living in my car come next month cause nobody wants to talk. Please your hurting so many people by striking, think about others also. PLEASE

Emily said...

You know, good for the WGA! The cbs deal might not be the biggest thing ever, but its better then the stuff we have delt with for the last few weeks.

I think we should have gone o the production companies three months ago, oh well lol.

hollarback said...

I'm not sure who the author of this article spoke to, but his view seems to be the opposite of what I have come across. When talking with writer friends, low morale hasn't come up. And this information is from yesterday afternoon, so it's still fresh and warm. In fact most seem energized and report that morale is very high - the holiday break made them miss the line and their fellow writers. They are in it for the long haul now that they are stuck in.

Pain (for the whole town) is a big part of it, I agree. It is for any strike. It seems like the strike has gone on forever, but 3 months is not such a long time. Longer than I would like (bills) but then, I knew that it would take longer than a week.

It should be clear by now to all that the WGA isn't going to back down, and that SAG is right in it as well.

Kandyd said...

I'm so sorry to do a meta comment on a legitimate post, but there doesn't seem to be any way to contact the webmaster of this blog directly, so here goes:

I support the WGA 100%, and am always fascinated to hear the latest goings-on. I also happen to use an RSS reader (Google Reader) so I can get this information on any computer I'm sitting at, or even on my iPhone when I'm on the can. (No, I'm not kidding.)

So imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, you stopped syndicating your full posts. I'm sure you have reasons, but as a very longtime blog reader, I can tell you that it's considered really quite rude. Even ad supported blogs have realized this, and have begun syndicating full versions of their sites (there's a paper out there on the Interwebs somewhere about how this is actually good for driving traffic to your site).

And your blog, which ultimately (and effectively) serves point for disseminating information from the WGA's perspective, should definitely do everything in its power to make sure everyone reads every word published.

You may say, "what's the big deal about going to the website?" Well, on any given day I'll have 500-600 new posts to get through, and the only effective way to do this is to read straight from Google Reader. I think this is typical of heavy blog readers, including probably some who have their own blogs and who might be sympathetic to your cause.

Keep up the good work and give me back my full syndication!

Thanks...

John

deuddersun said...

Absolutely on point.

d.

mheister said...

The LA Times is right. It IS war. And if you can recruit defectors such as WWP and UA, that can cause further division within the ranks of the enemy.

Consider - Tonight Letterman had Tom Brokaw and the always-charming Morgan Freeman, while poor Jay Leno sat dumbfounded repeatedly saying "uh huh... uh huh" to some long-winded policy wonk droning on endlessly about the subprime crisis I think. Try as he might, Jay Leno ain't Amy Goodman and nobody tunes in to the Tonight Show for what they get on CNN.

Meanwhile, UA snapped up A-lister Paul Haggis to pen a project, and A-list actors looking to fill their dance cards can't be that far behind. Throw in possible interims with Lions Gate, The Weinstein Company and Lucasfilm, along with a number of potential new players entering the game, and the studios may start wondering if they're already ceding winter of 2009 and the summer of 2010. How much will the competitive disadvantage cost them? Hundreds of millions? Billions?

The Times also does not take into account the diverging interests and relative strength of the networks. The WWP deal gives CBS a competitive advantage against NBC's second-biggest cash cow - The Tonight Show. The longer the strike goes, the more stark the difference between Dave and Jay will become, and the lower Jay's ratings will go. Jeff Zucker should be significantly more motivated in a few weeks to break ranks with Peter Chernin, as he realizes Fox is using the strike (they're sitting pretty with American Idol and more scripted stuff banked) to play NBC like a chump.

So it helps CBS marginally. No matter. The WGA doesn't need all the networks to see the light at once. One network will do. The rest will follow. They'll have to.

Let's not lose sight of the fact that the studios compete with each other, as do the networks, and there are huge egos involved in that competition as well. I can't say when, but their fear of each other will overtake their jealous loathing of the scribes.

In the meantime, the WGA needs to recognize, as the Times pointed out, that its solidarity and resolve are its greatest strengths.

deuddersun said...

I invite any and all to visit my little blog for an IA man's independent opinion of what is happening here. Not all of us are mindless minions of Tommy Short & Co.

http://deuddersun.blogspot.com

Thanks and stay strong!

d.

Zen Prole said...

That's the LAT I know and detest- half a clue and no looking back. Making a deal with Letterman has stolen a march on the AMPTP, not only by setting a standard by which a larger agreement will be measured, but by having a huge media presence to keep the strike in the public eye, a leveling effect that media multinationals can't counter. The overwhelming support the WGA enjoys won't be waning anytime soon.

"Now is not the time to go wobbly" was priceless, however. Given the state of the American workplace, it's ALWAYS time to go Wobbly! iww.org

A small concession to the LAT is that strikes ARE war, but mainly the guerilla kind. Resistance movements usually have a formal political arm, and so it is with the WGA. I would only warn the membership to keep their chosen leadership on a short leash; stay sharp and don't budge on demands. Making the WGA negotiators look like a reasonable alternative to a fiercely determined membership is part of a winning strategy.

Great job so far, WGA. Stick with it.

Captain Obvious said...

kandyd: I think they just changed the way the feed works, or how they go about it. It should still be available from what I understand.

Aryoch said...

Divide and Conquer is the only way to win.

People (consumers) are going to watch something. If EVERYTHING is reruns, then they will watch reruns. AMPTP members will only feel pain when SOME of them are sitting pretty, and the rest are bleeding from the neck.

Carrie said...

I think the LAT also over looks that with some contracts in place giving the WGA pretty much what they wanted, it makes it that much more difficult for the AMPTP to negotiate them down from those terms. In other words, if some people are offering up diamonds, why would you accept zirconium?

Yes ultimately you want to bag all the big companies and that's the end game. But, getting the smaller fish does put more pressure on the congloms to settle at a reasonable deal.