A New Game In Town

Submitted by Thania St. John, WGA member since 1988. In his now-famous piece "Suicide by Strike," Marc Andreessen pointed out in November that by denying writers (and actors and directors) a fair share of New Media, the corporations were beginning the process of making themselves obsolete. Basically, he says it's a pretty bone-headed thing for them to do, all to save a few cents on the dollar. -LK

Internet deals – what do they mean?

It’s simple. They mean ownership. Of our own material. Copyrighted. So that if we have an idea, create characters, invent worlds out of nothing but our imaginations, guess what? We are the authors.

No more signing that little piece of paper called the Certificate of Authorship that says a studio is the author of what we write -- agreeing that a studio owns all the ancillary rights to things we made up in our pajamas after being awake for 52 hours.

I know what you’re thinking. That’s the price we pay for the privilege of earning a living these days. But why? It wasn’t like that before.

BC -- Before Corporations -- there were independent companies who sold shows to networks and retained ownership. There were even writers like Steve Cannell who were smart enough to start one of those companies and employ and train a lot of TV’s best writers and producers while making himself a name and a fortune along the way. But vertical integration eliminated all that.

Fin/Syn rules created a system that, dare I say, resembles something like driving your little Monopoly car full of ideas around the board and staring at 6 solid colors built up with not just hotels, but resorts. And theme parks. So every once in a while you’ve got to land on Free Parking just to survive.

Is the Internet our Free Parking? A safe place we can land and re-group and start thinking of new ways to maneuver around the middle men who created this gauntlet to begin with -- the multinational corporations who came to our town and bought it up? As an artist (and believe me, I use that term very loosely) I sold my work to those guys -- I didn't sell myself. I did what I had to do, what we all had to do: kept working for the only game in town, the studios.

Meanwhile, management played the Wall Street game by merging and merging until there was nothing recognizable about the show business we all thought we were in. (And now management is filthy rich and trying to squeeze even more out of us.)

It's time to start over now. Creative people need to re-discover their worth in the marketplace. It's not a "respect" issue, it's strictly business. I have something of value. An advertiser or an audience member understands that value. So why is it that the guys who have inserted themselves between us are making all the money?

I understand why it happened in films and television. It's all about owning the distribution system. But guess what? The internet doesn't work like that. (A quote out of the Consumer Electronics Show this year: "You no longer need a transmitter to be in the broadcasting business.") And that's what's panicking the corporations. They've sunk so much money (billions) into Google and YouTube, etc. because they thought they could corner the market. But that's not how the Internet works. They were wrong. This is a distribution model they can't control.

And that's what will give us the power to take our business back. For years people said that artists didn't understand the "business" part of show business, that we were naive in thinking it was all about the "show". But the strike has made it clear that the business people are willing to ruin the show, all the shows, out of sheer blind greed. And the artists understand a hell of a lot more about what they are trying to do than they ever gave us credit for.

That being said, I'm sure that 9 out of 10 of these internet ventures will fail. But it only takes one success to change the entire business model. And this strike has lit a fire under a whole bunch of people who were ready to revolt.

As one showrunner said, how can we possibly go back to business as usual with these guys when we know that their idea of business is to screw us out of everything they can? The last veneer of studio/artist partnership has just been peeled back. It's no partnership.

Just ask our (loyal and brave) representatives who have to deal with corporate business affairs on a daily basis. "Why are you fighting so hard for your client's back end on this deal, you know she's never going to see a dime of it." Ooops. He probably shouldn't have been thinking out loud like that, huh?

So, instead of waiting to land on Chance and hoping for a bank error instead of a luxury tax, let’s take matters into our own hands and change the game up a little for both sides. Let’s take some risks, think like entrepreneurs, and create a new way for our material to be made and distributed. It's a galvanizing time. To which I say -- FINALLY!


Eggroll said...

Bravo! This has been my feeling for awhile now. There are three main reasons the corporations have had control of this business: 1) They have the money. Well, a lot of other companies have the money to get involved if they want to jump in. Can you say Google? 2) They have the relationships with talent. Sure, but they've just taken huge steps to damage that. The talent is pissed, and this has been brewing for some time now. And finally (your point and the biggest reason of all,) 3) they've had a monopoly on distribution, possession of a limited resource: bandwidth. Well, thanks to the internet, not anymore.

I don't know, corporations. It seems like just a matter of time before we're all catching the 3:10 to YouTube.

Devon said...

This is a wonderful idea. Very small production companies (IE recent film school grads) Have been putting out low budget films on the internet for a while now. What would happen if very talented and seasoned outfits did the same? Success! I would love to see writers and producers start up independent companies and distribute through the internet (Apple TV is a great example of the potential here). Start owning your own ideas again!

Captain Obvious said...

I'd like to join you, Laeta, with a resounding "FINALLY!" of my own.

Fortunately many of us are already hard at work setting up exactly what you're talking about.

This transition to a more open creative community will also open up the industry a bit. It will start being far more about one's content standing on its own merits and far less about hacks squeaking by on who they know or what they've got.

Captain Obvious said...

Ahhh I failed reading comprehension for a moment. I see now that those weren't your words after all, Laeta.

Although I'm willing to bet there's a "FINALLY!" inside of you, nonetheless...