2/05/2008

Hope and Strategy: How to Handle the Rest of This Week

While the weekend and Monday saw rumors of "the strike's over," some caution has finally entered the dialogue. Here is the opening of Variety's main strike article today:
"As the lawyers work overtime to hammer out the details, scenarios are emerging that could -- underline could -- bring an end to the WGA strike by as early as next week.
Insiders are strongly warning that many aspects remain to be ironed out in the contract being drafted between the Writers Guild of America and Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, and that the process could be derailed by even a seemingly small dispute over contract language."
The LA Times ("Guild board favors deal, with caution") reports that the WGA board is "holding off on giving its blessing [to any deal] until it sees the exact language in the contract." And Nikki Finke ("Strike Status Report") writes,
"[T]here are genuine concerns that the negotiating committee and the board may not approve the deal, even though Verrone, Young and Bowman are behind it. (Though the votes do not have to be unanimous.) There are also genuine concerns that the WGA membership may not approve the deal -- like what happened during the 1960 strike."
So, yeah. Strike's not over. How can we get there? It all comes down to contract language.

All of the above media accounts are based on off-the-record information. U.H. has collected very reliable info, some shaken loose with the assistance of alcohol, but we will not report it lest we risk even the appearance of breaking the ongoing news blackout. Unlike other media outlets, the security guard at WGA headquarters greets this one as, "Oh, hi. You again."

Until actual contract points are announced in preparation for Saturday's membership meeting, we should not draw any conclusions about where we stand. Clearly, there are leaks going on. But leaks serve the AMPTP more than the writers. It's in the AMPTP's interest to have everyone thinking it's safe to tune out. (On Sunday, my 93-year-old grandfather told me, "So! I hear the strike's over!") If the writers aren't paying attention or maintaining strength, the AMPTP's lawyers will attempt to water down the contract language from whatever the CEOs agreed to in principle.

There's no conspiracy behind this, it's simply the culture of Hollywood business affairs. Lawyers for the conglomerates score points by whittling down deal points. (That’s why I never start working w/o a signed and executed longform contract. -LK.)

The spin the AMPTP hopes to spread is nicely represented in this illustration whipped up by WGA supporter and graphics genius Rubberpoultry during yesterday's U.H. Live broadcast:



After everything that workers in the industry have sacrificed, it would be catastrophic to see a possible conclusion to this strike derailed by a membership that's no longer paying attention or overaggressive factions trying to rush a delicate undertaking. Of the latter possibility, Nikki writes: "[N]ow is the time for everyone to back off. That's right, BACK OFF. And to let the WGA leadership talk to its board and also its membership without outside interference." Allow me to second that. I'd prefer not to be writing a post like this again in six months.

Now's the time to stay strong, show our solidarity and stay focused. So far, so good: Over 1,330 picketers took to the lines Monday. Let's keep it going.

27 comments:

Victor said...

Excerpted from the Associated Press (http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080205/ap_en_bu/hollywood_labor_4;_ylt=At8GTe.W9YElE.NBENgxDNz15.hF)

The directors union made gains in residuals for some paid Internet downloads and for ad-supported streaming of programs.

The studios likely left financial room to sweeten those terms as part of a deal with writers, said Jonathan Handel, an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles and a former associate counsel for the writers guild.

"Studio negotiators obviously were sophisticated and realized the writers guild leadership has to be able to bring some bacon home to seal the deal with members," Handel said.


Sickening. Just fucking sickening. We got played every fucking step of the way.

And it's not even that good a deal.

Victor said...

John Aboud quotes Nikki Finke writing, "'[N]ow is the time for everyone to back off. That's right, BACK OFF. And to let the WGA leadership talk to its board and also its membership without outside interference.' Allow me to second that. I'd prefer not to be writing a post like this again in six months."

Just so there's no misunderstanding, John old buddy, Nikki was clearly barking her "BACK OFF" at outsiders. If WE don't like this deal, we absolutely have to get ourselves heard while there's still time to go back to the table, before everyone else votes to ratify this, in my humble opinion, festering turd.

Captain Obvious said...

That image is most appropriate, yes. Thanks for the laugh, RP.


The feel-good leaks from the AMPTP peanut gallery remind me of the Iraqi Information Minister. Prepare to hear the word "flew" used ad infinitum to describe what the scribes are doing. Repetition doesn't make it true, though, try as it might.

jimmy said...

The same Variety article quoted at the top also says this: "The proposed deal for the WGA is the same as the DGA terms for the first two years of the WGA contract. But starting in the third year of the WGA contract, the formula would change to give writers 2% percentage of distributor's gross from the get-go after the promo window ends, rather than a fixed residual for the first year of streaming availability."

If this is true, and can be solidified in the contract language, I think that is a major victory for writers.

The precedent will have been set in the contract that protects writers' futures. Both sides save face.

This possibility should not be ignored. And this is what could fall apart if the writers don't keep up the picketing while the lawyers hammer out the details.

deuddersun said...

Whenever this is settled, however it may fall out, (and I sincerely hope it favors the WGA), I just want to say that this experience has had some real positives for me. I have had the pleasure of "meeting" many of the folks who provide the "blueprints" from which the rest of us work. This is an extraordinary experience for a btl guy like me. Through your postings and your videos I have come into your homes and your lives. I have seen you at your best and sometimes, in some cases, your worst. I have come to see you much as I see my other Union Brothers and Sisters on the set, dedicated artists who create a valuable product for the love of it as much as for the money. I know your struggles and I share your joys and disappointments.

If there is one other thing I would like to see come out of all this, it is the realization that we, who "do the work", should never be divided again. It is one thing to respect a contractual obligation not to stage a "sympathy strike", it is quite another to disrespect a picket line. In fact, the no strike clause has to go. I realize that the official position of Tom Short and the IA is not conducive to any sort of "alliance", but there are many of us who feel differently. Maybe it is time for a minor "insurgency" in our Union. Maybe what we need is a full-blown revolution. I don't know. What I do know is that if we expect to face the challenges of the 21st Century and the new media that comes with it, and not just survive, but live well, then we must all work together towards common goals.

I have received many e-mails from different writers here thanking me for my support and pledging to support the IA should we ever have to walk the line. You can't believe how good this makes me feel. Woe to the Studios if this strike accomplishes a unity they have long worked to prevent, a unity of all entertainment workers.

So stay out. Stay strong. Listen to your leaders. Trust them. The benefits that will be realized from your action will be far reaching and momentous and good for all of us. The Studios may well realize their worst nightmare, when all the Guilds and Unions act as One. Band of the Hand, Brothers and Sisters. Five fingers, one Fist.

d.
IATSE
Local#52
New York City
http://deuddersun.blogspot.com/

Jeremy said...

Victor, I didn't realize the deal has been made public. Can you point me to it? Oh, it hasn't? Then shut up and get back on the line! :D I'm just "below the line" but if I were in L.A. right now, I'd be on the picket line all this week just to pump up your numbers so it gets done earlier and not later.

Patrick Meighan said...

deuddersun,

Count me among the WGA writers who pledge to support the IA if and when the time comes for y'all to walk the line.

The support from non-WGA-members over the past 3+ months. If the strike continues, I'm sure that the support will continue.

If the strike doesn't continue and work resumes, I'll return to work like the rest full of gratitude for the support you showed, and eager for the opportunity to return the favor.

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

John Aboud said...

To Victor: Let's wait and see what that contract language is judging anything a turd. (See Jimmy's comment below yours.)

To deuddersun: Well said! We must work on inter-union solidarity to survive the future of this business. Yes, the companies like to play us against one another, but that wouldn't be possible if there weren't actual biases, stereotypes and culture clashes to exploit. I hope U.H. can help push out the jive and bring in the love.

Caitlin said...

Victor, I agree the "back off" goes mostly to outsiders (as it should), but I think it should be in part for writers, too. Stay on the picket lines, but let the negotiating commitee do their job and withhold judgement either way until something is announced. We've trusted the leadership as you've encouraged us to since the start. Let's trust they won't fall at the finish line. As John says, don't assume it'll be what you need, but don't assume it'll be terrible. I certainly hope Jimmy is right, especially now that I have a real chance at still getting new episodes of my shows if this thing can end. Not that I think the writers should just sign what's in front of them without question. Even if the season is at stake. But, all baiting aside, I really believe the AMPTP has reason to get this done now. The Oscars are on the line and they know it. Stay strong on the lines and let the board be strong in the room. With luck, it'll all pay off soon. The victory can (will, please, please will) be won soon. But don't stop until it has been.

Victor said...

Let's wait and see what that contract language is judging anything a turd. -- John Aboud

You're right, of course. That 17-day "promotional" window might be called a two-and-a-half-week promotional window instead. That would make not getting paid so much better.

First use should cover two or three days, tops.

Four Cent said...

I for one have now had to officially ban myself from going to NIkki Finke, because of all the 'Fuck this fucking shitass deal!' howls about a deal that none of us have seen yet, indeed doesn't even exist yet, from people reacting to rumours from people who aren't necessarily our friends. UH has stayed strong yet rational and intellligent throughout this thing. Nikki Finke comes back from her illness and right in the middle of an unbelievably sensitive week, is spewing whatever unhelpful rumours she can dig up and fermenting all kinds of overheated rants on the comments board. While I often find her stuff hard to look away from, she is not pro-WGA, she is the Osama Bin Laden of gossip columnists and, I'm finally realising, has very little actually invested in seeing an end to this strike. See you Saturday - for the truth.

BJ said...

Didn't anybody else get the email? There's a meeting on Sunday at the Shirne at which the leadership will recommend the deal, and then they'll call off the strike and everyone goes back to work on Monday. It's over. Although Patrick Meaghan of Century City should feel free to continue walking in circles in front of the Pico gate if it makes him happy. He could even pick up some extra cash by alternating his WGA Strike! sign with one advertising condos.

just a thought said...

I know at times I've been less than supportive of your strike. It was the vacuum of facts that bothered me. I was going to save this for my last post on this blog, but nows the time to say it. Thank you WGA for showing us that you can stand up to them and win something.

Mike Royce said...

Maybe it's just me... but is now really the right time to throw up the flame throwing Iger-as-Bush thing?

We don't know the deal yet. That graphic seems to be assuming it sucks.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all about the AMPTP-ridicule. But shouldn't you wait until you find out the deal?

hotline said...

The strike is not - and should not - be over until all eligible guild members vote on it.

Captain Obvious said...

Patrick Meighan: I admire that attitude. The BTL that are suffering enough to become squeaky wheels don't get any ire from me. I understand being in a tough spot. "I'm there, dude." Just know that, if you are BTL and in that position, regardless of how you couch it your vocal opposition to the strike only serves to prolong it.

John Aboud: Yes sir. Less jive, more love; more solidarity. Little do most people know it, but we're doing our best to prevent a repeat of this in 3 years. We're trying hard to minimize the impact this will have on workers in the future by making strikes less necessary. The more of you that stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us, the stronger every employee in the industry becomes. This is true across the entire career spectrum. This will only continue as reality and animation workers stand up and choose to unionize. Many of them are "writers" in spite of whatever name producers have used to avoid considering them as such, and they deserve to be protected. I hear many of them are being persecuted in their jobs at present. They should wield their own leverage. They have plenty at present; it's common knowledge that the studios are relying heavily on such content in a futile attempt to weather the present strike.

Captain Obvious said...

"First use should cover two or three days, tops."


If even that.

If the NegComm is believing the numbers the studios' (or even the DGA's) "experts" are relying on to act like fair revenue sharing on streaming is such a bad bet at this juncture then it should be noted that such numbers are based on the same sort of accounting trickery that is a simple fact in Hollywood. Don't believe this elaborate illusion of fuzzy facts obscured by smoke and mirrors.

All the talk of promotional windows is nothing more and nothing less than lawyers and cretinous industry minions or hangers-on with serious conflicts of interest trying (and seemingly managing) to brainwash everyone into believing the revenue stream from the net isn't guaranteed. That anyone could even be falling for such an illusion is mind-boggling and speaks volumes about the deductive reasoning skills of humanity at large.

Usage is proportional to convenience. It's a no-brainer that, once you make it easier for people to access the content they want to see, they will access it. In droves. If you build it, they will come. I see this play out with my brother even now. I looked at his recent cable usage: Over $100 for movies. Compare that to him visiting the theaters twice to my knowledge in the past month.

Depending on the exact delivery methodology such convenience could soon be classified as promotional. This would hinder creators in their quest to share in the success of their creations. After what happened with DVDs the well could be forever poisoned by this. Future negotiations could be stymied; forcing another strike in 3 years; and wars are rarely ever truly popular.

We can't let them get away with this. We cannot in any way lend justification to their abusive and underhanded unilateral re-defining of "promotional use" and the thievery they have brought to many of our brethren under those auspices. To do so is to encourage them to do as they please and play dumb about it afterwards again in the future. To do so is to tolerate shenanigans from those that would like to portray themselves as our business partners.

jimmy said...

I'd also add that it is possible for the WGA to have forced the AMPTP to agree that "promotional" is limited to things without advertising.

If so, the networks also make no money during that initial window. So, I think writers would be okay with that.

Were they able to do that? If not, is that worth striking over?

We'll see.

stuiec said...

Patrick Meighan: when the strike is over, perhaps you can work with the WGA leadership and the leadership of the other entertainment industry guilds and unions to form a Central Labor Council. If you meet regularly between contract negotiations to keep tabs on each others' needs and issues and to offer mutual support, it may happen that the increased solidarity will help prevent future strikes by giving labor sufficient leverage to get what it needs at the bargaining table.

Ken said...

This was just reported in the last hour:

"Walt Disney reported greater than expected sales and earnings for its latest quarter. The media and entertainment company reported revenue of $10.5 billion for its first quarter, up 9% from a year ago, and beating analysts' forecasts of $10.04 billion. Disney reported a net profit of $1.25 billion.

Disney's results were driven largely by strength in its two biggest divisions, television networks and theme parks. Revenue from its broadcasting and cable operations, which include ESPN and ABC, increased 10%, due to higher advertising sales, while operating profits rose 28%."

For those that may have skimmed the information – this is ONE QUARTER (4th quarter 2007). Not one year.

If I hear one more person say the conglomerates can’t afford to give writer’s a fair deal…

And this doesn’t mean we get greedy. This means we continue to stick to our plan of negotiating a fair deal. The public and our own industry will see this news. Let the leadership do their job - this only strengthens their position. Saturday will be here soon enough...

MrKlaatu said...

jimmy -

There will be advertising during that window. To me the term "promotional" has always been misused here.

The 17 day window consists of an optional three day preview window. That's promotional. On shows I've been on, when they've streamed an episode online before its TV premiere, it actually boosted the TV rating.

The other 14 days are not promotional. They are re-use. However, I acknowledge that every Internet viewer is not necessarily a NEW viewer. (Network ratngs are down.) Streaming viewers may have missed the show when it aired, for example. Allowing them to catch it online may get them to stick with a series they might otherwise abandon. So, there is benefit to us there as well.

So, I think a... let's call it "supplemental streaming window" is reasonable. However, 14 days (21 for new shows) is too long. The networks themselves have been pushing Nielsen and the advertisers to accept a "live plus seven" day model to measure TV viewers, in order to take into account DVR usage. If they think seven days is fair to accurately fold in first-run viewers who are getting caught up, then there is no reason that time frame shouldn't apply here.

Dennis Wilson said...

Jimmy, if "the networks also make no money during that initial window," why even have a promotional window? Just give us our percentage from Day One. If the networks make nothing in that period, we get a percentage of the nothing.

Luzid said...

Rubberpoultry FTW! Nice job!

@ deuddersun:

I couldn't agree more. It's been a pleasure to speak with BTLers like yourself who understand what's at stake and open sincere lines of dialogue with ATL folk.

You are correct in your vision - industry-wide shut-down-the-town solidarity is the only way all unions will be able to keep rampant corporate marauding in check. All come together to produce the kickass entertainment that makes Hollywood what it is, and it's time they do so to help safeguard each others' futures... which is why even if a deal is reached soon, SAG must not be forgotten in its upcoming negotiations.

As I said in the UH Live chat yesterday, "the revolution will be digitized". We must all be ready to support each other.



@ BJ: mildly inappropriate snark, but the thought of strikers spinning their WGA signs in tandem a la Busby Berkeley made me grin.


@ just a thought:

That took class, man. Good on you! : )


@ Captain Obvious:

What more can be said that you haven't? Writers should receive compensation whenever their creations make money for the studios.

Every.

Single.

Time.

It's only fair.

And the ideal solidarity scenario being bandied about here would eventually allow for all those who work on productions to get their currently-nonexistent cut, too! Workers can be stronger is we simply wield our power together, instead of aiming it at ach other.

stuiec said...

four cent: "While I often find her stuff hard to look away from, she is not pro-WGA, she is the Osama Bin Laden of gossip columnists and, I'm finally realising, has very little actually invested in seeing an end to this strike."

As Lenny Bruce said (in the persona of The Lone Ranger), "Without polio, Salk is a putz." And without the strike, Nikki Finke goes back to being just another blogger....

jimmy said...

mrklattu and dennis -

I know the DGA deal has the 17-21 day window that can have advertising...what I'm saying is that it's possible that the WGA got a better deal. We don't know yet because the deal points have not been announced. And perhaps not even finalized.

And dennis, the only reason they might want to call it promotional when there are no ads attached to the show is because there are still ads attached to the site. But they are sold in general, and not for a specific show. I can see that happening because they might not want to annoy first time viewers with as many ads.

I don't know, I'm not trying to justify any of it. But I think it is a bit more complicated than most are assuming. And it does seem like the companies, led by Iger and Chernin, are actually interested in doing something relatively fair and not crushing the guild. At least, now that they got to do all the other stuff they wanted.

The bottom line is that getting the percentage on the gross is a pretty huge thing to get from the companies, and now that it's in the contract the future will be about chopping into that window of free use and not actually fundamentally changing the way writers are paid.

For instance, maybe the free window is there online, but writers get a bump in the initial compensation.

Isn't that what this is about? The networks already pay for the first run, and since they feel people are not watching it BOTH online and on TV, the internet window is considered the same as the "first run" for people who didn't watch in on TV.

It's the same network through another source. They don't pay writers twice if people watch it on their DVRs after its broadcast. Because people probably didn't watch it twice anyway.

They think the convenience of the internet might help pick up some of the erosion, and therefore they think it should be covered in the initial payment.

But, how do you determine if they are no or repeat viewers? Maybe they can figure that out in the future.

So, maybe the solution is to bump up the initial fees, and use the next three years to figure out if people are actually watching it twice, if they are new viewers etc. I'm sure the advertising dollare will either bring all that out or render it irrelevant.

If the rental rate stays the same as the DGA deal, which would cover things like AppleTV 2 and whatever Netflix is coming out with, then writers might be pretty well covered as the internet is used more and more for distribution.

Now that they've backed off paying nothing, I think the biggest, most important battle might have been won.

We'll see when the deal points come out.

just a thought said...

This may be off the point, but I'm wondering about something.
Isn't the future of all of this somewhat Orwellian. Please follow my logic for a second. If they bundle the content with ads aim at the person at the end of the stream, for example a 53 year old man getting ads for Viagra and prostrate medicine. A 24 year old getting ads for video games. Where do we meaning the makers of the content to be bundle weigh in. It's an interesting question. I would like to know if it's just about money or do we have a moral obligation. Just some food for thought.

Robert said...

God bless the leaders of the WGA. They've worked hard at real personal cost. They're good people doing their best in a job none of us would love. Whatever deal they present, we should thank them and celebrate them.

But think. Think about what Victor said above. Think about how badly the AMPTP wants the Oscars. Think about the PR campaign to make the WGA look bad if this deal falls apart. If the deal's not so good, if the stremaing numbers suck, think about your vote.

First, think about what the Guild lives on. Think about how much it needs to live. Then think about what you need to live. If the deal cuts writers' incomes, what happens?

Health care goes away first.
Then pensions.
Then the Writers Guild.
Then the rest of the guilds and unions.
Then it's every man and woman out there alone.

Can't happen? Look across the ocean (the Atlantic).

Let's hope the deal isn't what the papers say it is. Let's hope it's much better.