"A List" Screenwriters Will Save Us All?

Just to stress -- check the tag, which says "Member Opinion Piece." Below are the thoughts of a noisy screenwriter who writes movies with explosions, decapitations, gunfire, swordfights, and the occasional disembowelment. This isn't offical WGA anything. It's me. -LK

When Nikki Finke published about the group of WGA writers who went around the NegComm and leadership to "negotiate" on their own with DreamWorks Animation's Jeffrey Katzenberg, we at United Hollywood didn't have any comment. Primarily, we said nothing because those folks failed to make any progress, and criticizing them seemed a lot like kicking people when they were down. Their intentions were good, and if they didn't know before that the the hardliners (Barry Meyer and Nick Counter in particular) were going to scuttle any deal that involved writers getting anything on the Internet, well, they found out for themselves. Despite what that group believed, the current impasse is not about Verrone and Young's "personalities" (ahem, what are we, in high school?) and it's not about reality or animation jurisdiction. It's about the Internet. And the moguls don't want to give one inch.

But with the latest story from Nikki about a small cabal trying to resolve the strike, I have to say I'm starting to feel a little tired.

So here we have yet another group of (hopefully) well-intentioned writers -- as in, not professional negotiators -- who have decided they're going to take things into their own hands and, in Nikki's words, "force" the leadership to take whatever deal the DGA makes, just to end the strike.

Here's what bothers me. First off, this group has no idea what the DGA deal will be. No one does, because they haven't made it yet. It's pretty much never a good idea to agree to something when you have no idea what the terms are.

Second, their goal is "forcing" people to accept a DGA deal? Yeah, um, guys? It's a democratic union. We'll all be voting on the contract. And no amount of expensive ads in the trades or anywhere else is going to convince this membership to accept a deal that doesn't address our needs.

And personally, trade ads paid for by "A list" writers, if anything are less compelling. Folks who get paid "A list" rates, far over scale, aren't the ones who will be relying on residuals when work gets slow.

Maybe we're going to have to watch one group after another try to "take control" of negotiations because they just can't process that the problem isn't Verrone and Young, it's the moguls. The conglomerates haven't played fair from the very beginning, and that's not going to change just because someone with really great credits tries to talk to them.

That said, the corporations may indeed make a decent deal with the DGA -- it's certainly possible. If advertisers start demanding money back at a painful rate, if politicians start getting involved as the toll on California's economy mounts, if Wall Street starts getting antsy about the weird illogic of media giants trying to crush all the Hollywood unions to save such a small amount of money -- cutting a solid deal with DGA could short-circuit all of that.

But if they do make a decent deal, it won't be because a group of frustrated writers came to them promising to disable the leadership and go "directly" to membership. Yes, there's a lot of frustration and anger right now. Yes, we all want to go back to work, and there are moments when we get really pissed at our leaders (although in our case it's usually for a bad press piece, or a missed opportunity for an interview or comment that gets our position out there). I've said many times, and I still feel, that up until now the leadership's PR has been really uninspiring. I'm hoping in the new year it improves.

Again, we're a democratic union -- which to some degree means we shout at each other all the time. But it would be a huge mistake to assume that the anger translates to a willingness to swallow some AMPTP Kool-Aid and sacrifice our economic future.

Quite the opposite.

So yes, a DGA deal, if it comes, may be good enough to put the town back to work. Or it may not. I plan on waiting to see what it says, and then deciding for myself.

Nikki quoted a WGA "insider" talking about the failed Katzenberg gambit, and how the writers felt afterwards:
"They totally understood now what the negotiating committee has been through for the past six months and were very apologetic that they had questioned leadership up until now. 'Sheepish' was the word I heard used," one influential WGA insider tells me. "Although now there really aren't two differing opinions anymore. We all think the AMPTP sucks and that our guys have been sandbagged throughout this process."

So to my "A list" friends, I say save the ad money, guys. Send it to the Industry Support Fund or the MPTV Fund, to help non-writers affected by the strike. There are lots of people who could use it.


kerry said...

The first well written, clearly stated and direct piece of writing I have read about this whole strike. Finally, a perspective piece that was sensible.

Thank you

Steve Peterson said...

It might be better to wait until there's at least one actual person quoted as being behind this before stoking the fires of war between A-list and non-A-list writers.

Unsourced, unverified news articles about backroom deals that undermine solidarity are great -

- for the AMPTP.

BKLA said...

I hope people understand - That writers are frustrated and want to try anything to get deals going and get everyone back to work. And that despite the best intentions - ultimately , the writers are united and are willing to negotiate, but will not lay down.

The AMPTP needs to stop acting like five year olds and get back to business and negotiate.

Since we don't know what the DGA will do - this is all speculation- but I think the AMPTP will be surprised at proposal the DGA will present. The WGA has asked for a very reasonable deal - it is hard to imagine that the DGA is going to ask for anything significantly less. Maybe, the moguls will realize that this Union busting is going nowhere and use the DGA to save face and then give the WGA a fair deal and we can all get back to work.

Megan said...

Well said.

bluestocking said...

I agree with Steve. At this point, we don't know exactly how real this is.

If the DGA makes a good, fair deal with the AMPTP, hooray. Part of the DGA's leverage in playing "good cop" is going to come from the WGA being labeled "bad cop." I hope they take full advantage of that and bring it home, because you know? No matter how long you spent loosening the mayonnaise jar, I still thank the person who gets it open.

That's the best-case scenario, of course. And in that regard, did you see Nikki's update?

"A member of the WGA board had this to say: "Anyone, A-list writers or not, who would posture in public, in advance of a DGA deal, as willing to take the DGA deal before they even make it... who as DGA members would compromise the DGA's leverage by announcing this before hand... has awarded themselves the Darwin Award for the world's weakest negotiators."

The DGA negotiators are probably thinking, "Please... stop helping me."

It seems such a bad strategic move that I'm gonna stay with hoping it's all talk and rumor.

Geo Rule said...

God bless 'em, they think their personal relationships with the big shots on the other side will actually matter. And, yes, I do think in their hearts they are coming from the right place.

Having said that, I think it much more likely they will get an unpleasant lesson in how little respect they are really held in by the other side and thus how important solidarity with their friends really is.

This lesson is actually a valuable one, so let's pat 'em on the back and commisserate with them once they've learned it.

scribeguy said...


As usual, you've said it all.

Down with the would be oligarchs!

BTL Guy said...

First and foremost, I think you've got to take anything you read on DHD with a BOULDER of salt.

The "Mensch of the Year" is really the queen of self-indulged controversy.

I'd be surprised if this upcoming meeting (if it exists at all) is anything more than a group of writers who are frustrated with the strike. Maybe they're going to discuss options for actions if WGA disses the DGA deal. So what?

Clearly, no one smart enough to be an "A-List" writer is dumb enough to back a plan that he or she hasn't even seen.

If the DGA deal turns out great -- no problem.

If the WGA leadership doesn't like the DGA deal -- it's gonna be a huge problem. Discussions and debate will ensue. That's a given.

But what's the point of yelling fire when all you know for sure is that your best friend's sister's boyfriend's brother's girlfriend heard from this guy who knows this kid who's going with the girl who heard there might be smoke...

Captain Obvious said...

A-List screenwriters will save us all, but they won't be telling us to support a deal that doesn't exist. They may, however, try to tell us to support a deal that does exist. Until that day comes my attitude is that we'll burn that bridge when we get there.

Laeta Kalogridis said...

btl guy --

Fair enough. But no one yelled "fire" or anything else about the Katzenberg guys, and in retrospect, I'm not sure that was a great thing.

As for Nikki and the boulder of salt, well, the interesting thing is that she prints what she hears. Not secondhand, but firsthand. So when the AMPTP sent someone to tell her "the strike is almost over! We're making them an offer they can't refuse!" and she couldn't get a response from the WGA -- cause they were not leaking during the media blackout, and again, let's not even discuss my frustrations with what was then the PR machine -- Nikki printed what she'd been leaked by the AMPTP that hadn't been countered or contradicted by the WGA side.

Personally, I can't blame her. They AMPTP lied, not Nikki. They lie to a lot of folks.

But this is a little different -- Nikki was talking to someone, and she knows who's A-list and who's not. It may well be only one guy (I kind of suspect it is, honestly, after the research we've done.) But I think we're not yelling "fire" here -- more like saying "Seriously? I mean, seriously?" And I think it's fair to raise the issue of what is and isn't a good way to deal with your frustration as a WGA member.

BTL Guy said...

Sorry Laeta,

I wasn't very clear in my comment. In my too-clever-for-its-own-good analogy, I was referring to the "A-Lister" as being the person shouting "fire." (Claiming he/she is going to support the DGA deal against a WGA leadership likely to nix it, all before anyone has actually seen it).

I think your post was very well written and the point was an important one.

I'm a guy who actively promotes the idea that Writers should try new tactics to resolve this strike; yet even I know that breaking off into unsanctioned factions is the wrong way to go about solving this.

I'd love to see more internal pressure to get a deal made, and hopefully there are some A-listers working back channel talks with the blessing and consultation of the WGA Negotiating Committee.

But forming little negotiating factions which lack WGA imprimatur is a bullheaded move which will only delay the ultimate contract.

So, sorry again for the misunderstanding. I'm actually agreeing with you! :)


As for my beef with Nikki Finke, I think she a) moderates her comments to the extreme, b) gets more wrong than she gets right, c) has a caustic attitude which serves no one, and d) editorializes so far off-base (the Golden Globes are a "sham" from a "bogus" association?) as to be laughable.

Having said all that, I still check out her site often, because she does break news quickly. There's just no filter there, so the reader has to work to get to the truth.

Geo Rule said...

Having read that article now, I think it's nearly the best friend WGA's current independant negotiations strategy could have.

If I'm a movie studio head, I'd be apoplectic to be hearing that the TV studio guys are dug in so deep as to be threatening to blow off the 2008/2009 season as well.

The harder line the TV studio execs get, the more the feature execs will have to start looking for the door.

VDOVault said...

Left at Deadline Hollywood Daily

I am not in the industry but what I want to know is this:

Do you think that those in the DGA who paid $1-2 million dollars for a 12-18 month long study on where the money is going to be in the future (specifically online) and how much is in each niche are going to say to the AMPTP: "We're grateful for anything you can spare us kind sirs and will sign any old thing you put in front of us?"

No one can willingly or forcefully suspend that much disbelief ladies and gentlemen.

So I wouldn't count out the DGA just yet (even though some of the are UPMs and ADs who I'm sure didn't put up much of the money for the study and the report but are happy to go along for the ride). So that's strike one against the DGA and by extension the WGA getting a bad deal.

Beyond that the points made in the comments about the WGA being a 'one person one vote' organization plus the substantial amount of time and investment the rank and file writers have put into the strike says to me that if they think the DGA deal smells, a tiny *minority* coterie of the well heeled A-listers will not be able to ram the deal down the throats of the rank and file guild membership.

If you throw in the support of the 100,000+ members of SAG and the number of times the TV showrunners have shown off their cojones then you of course should be calling BS on this story...

...unless of course Nikki printed it just to rile you up and keep you fighting for your rights in which case it seems to be working and Nikki is to be commended for rallying your rededication to your cause.

Ashley Gable said...

Strike Rule 11 from the 2007 Writers Guild West Strike Rules:

"Do not attempt to negotiate a settlement of the strike with any struck company.

However good your intentions may be, the job of negotiating a successful conclusion of a strike is in the hands of the Negotiating Committee, the chief negotiator, the officers, WGAW Board of Directors and the WGAE Council. The Guild will keep the membership informed about the progress of contract negotiations and strike settlement talks."

To the feature writer meddlers who are fucking up our negotiations, I would add only this:

Stop it. You morons. Stop. Stop it.

Bill said...

WGA leaders - Did you get the gift baskets from the film industry in Utah, New Mexico, and Canada thanking you for driving produtions their way?

Drop the Jurisidction and sympathy strike clauses and present your counter offer before you destroy the industry on SoCal all together. The AMPTP walked out because you showed them to the door with the 6 demands.

BTL 399
Out of work
Not on strike
Home for short sale in Simi

Jack said...

I originally started posting as a way to make fun of the union. I do not care for them. I also think that picketing is one of the most useless endeavors man has ever devised.

Let it be known that there is one writer called Bill that thinks I am a schill for the AMPTP and get paid by the post. That being said the following is my opinion.

The problems as I see it are:

1. The union is too big. TV and film should separate. Goals are too different. One is ratings the other gross income of individual movies.

2. Wall Street does not give a hoot about the strike or the union. If anything they would care more about controlling cost. TV and movies are not in their lexicon. If it was they would question the left leaning to anti-american viewpoint in much of TV and movies.

3. WGA union leadership.

a. It is their personality and the statements they release. Someone keeps posting (what are we in high school) It is much worse. Union leaders appear as college students. Sort of rebels with a cause. Firebrands. More concerned with making their voice heard, we will force them to give into our needs, and we will take whats ours.

b. Union leaders called into the question the manhood of the AMPTP. Never goes well. Adding sheep and sheeple and whatever is poring gas into a hot fire.

c. Timing of the strike. No one even knows or cares about the writer. The public does not know their name. The strike should have been called after agreements with DGA and SAG not before. People certainly know the actors and even quite a few of the directors. The writers, outside of critics and the entertainment business, not so much.

d) If they were just the TV union the WGA would have struck just one of the late night studios. Taken that agreement and taken it to the others. Best person to strike. David Letterman. Why the same reason an agreement was reached. He owns his show.

e) The union leaders cannot control their members. A lister writers making attempting to make an agreement without the leaders. Talk about shooting themselves in the foot. Nothing tells the AMPTP more than dissatisfaction with the leadership.

f) Increasing union power. Bargaining tool or not. This could be worse than than denying the manhood of the AMPTP. If Wall Street was to care about anyting this would be it. This would be the only thing A corporate head would care about. Wall Street is not a big fan of unions increasing their power.

4. TV/movies are not cars. The WGA seems to forget that. The writers are bargaining for the future with advanced technology. But you are using the tools of the past. Fall season, spring. Who cares. All you have given is the AMPTP time to regroup and rethink their schedules and to where THEY want TV to evolve into. This strike gave them the perfect excuse. Just one more reason why Wall Street will not care.

5. Since the strike was called. There should have been unity. No side deals. No one going back to work. This was the beginning of the end.

The above was not for posting. It is just my opinion. After reading some of the posts I almost feel guilty for some of my poor attempts of humor like the tire union worker wanting residuals from drivers. Also could be things just turned darker since late night shows have returned. Real reason. I read the writers posts since late night is back.

You can take my opinion with a grain of salt. That is all it is, an opinion.

your friend and mine,


Jack said...

My opinion on what is wrong the WGA strike has been posted. Now I will offer an opinion on how to repair the damage and what is one man's opinion on how to reach a deal with the AMPTP.

Union Leadership should call the shots but they need the members help.

1. Union leadership should make the feelings of the WGA clear to the DGA and especially SAG.

These feelings are the WGA is on strike. WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT. Stop filming. Everyone. No directors or actors should be filming anything. Do not go on the Letterman show.

Will it really help if an actor gives the WGA a clever quip and touches their heart and blows you a kiss and says my heart is with you. No, it does not. The actor is promoting their movie or whatever. Their income for the next project or their residuals of the current project is their concern.

We are asking for sympathy clause in our contract. Its show time. Support us or we will not support you.

2. The actual members of the WGA. I would tell you to lean on your director friends but I do not think it will help. They consider the writer chattel even if they do belong to the WGA. What each member that knows an actor is to get them to stop filming. Do not appear on the late shows. AS long as someone is filming anything the writer is sunk.

In conclusion, some of the writers may have to get another job to support themselves. Nothing wrong with honest work. Writers write. They will always write. Wasting your time picketing is useless. There is an election going on and the writers are not Britney Spears. Quit believing the public is on your side. Just because a few joins the picket line on there way to a late night show is ridiculous. What is more entertaining. Standing in line to watch one hour of Leno or joining the strike for awhile. The public has no side. The writers are not Brad Pitt and the afore mentioned Britney Spears.

Last but not the least. Leave Leno alone. This can only hurt you. Do not whine. Leno has the bully pulpit so to speak. If you excommunicate him (too many vampire movies) you will lose. You do not have to support Leno but leave him alone.

If someone feels the need to appear on Letterman or Leno let it be someone (a writer) who is attractive and funny with a good command of the english language not a firebrand.

The really last but not least. If you really want a segment of the public to be on your side. A segment that has alot of time on its hands. A segment that is computer savvy. Get Star Trek to stop filming. The trekkers or trekkies will come out of the woodwork and start a campaign filled with emails, websites, and opinion the world over. This would get everyone's attention icluding the news. Even more it just might get results.


Prince of the City said...

They are nowhere without you. They are like a garden. Don't water it and it will die. You guys are the best. Screw the politics. This is business. You are everything they wish they were. They live on the hill like old plantation owners,but they don't own your minds. They don't care about you or your families. They deserve to go broke. Otherwise they would have already steped up.

Prince of the City said...

Forget the politics. You guys are the heart and soul of the TV and Movie industry. They are like a garden -- don't water it and it will die. Without you they are dead in the water. Stand your ground writers. You always been been my heros. I'm a writer and I would rather pump gas than to give in. Solidarity always prevails.