2/03/2008

LA Times Reports on Progress In Negotiations

The media blackout continues, although it's getting hard to tell. Today's Los Angeles Times is running a front page story titled "Writers, Studios Outline A Deal."

It has some of the most detailed information to date on how the informal talks have gone so far. When we compare it to what our off-the-record sources are saying, it appears to be fairly accurate.

We'd like to highlight the following parts:

Who did the negotiating?

David Young, Patric Verrone and John Bowman on the WGA side, and Peter Chernin and Bob Iger on the companies' side. From the Times:
That stood in contrast to previous sessions with the writers in which top media executives weren't at the bargaining table and were led instead by Nick Counter, president of the producers association, and labor relations executives from the major studios.

Is the deal done?

No. As we mentioned in an earlier post, details are still being hammered out, and contract language is key. Until that language is drafted, nothing can be considered to be truly "done." To be as clear as possible: Things that are agreed to in the room aren't "real" until we have at least a serious start on contract language, and even the most optimistic estimates say that process will take a week.

Attorneys from the studios and the guild were meeting over the weekend to discuss contract language for the proposed agreement, which would need to be ratified by the union's 10,500 members. Even before a vote by members, the strike would probably be called off if board members strongly endorse the deal.

There are some issues that have yet to be resolved, including defining what qualifies as promotion on the Internet. The debate centers on the extent to which networks can run video clips and other materials on their websites to promote TV programs before paying writers.

Is this deal a carbon copy of the DGA deal?

No. It appears to use the DGA deal as a template, with key adjustments for writers.

On Friday, however, studios offered some key concessions to ease those concerns [that the DGA deal was inadequate on streaming and Internet-first jurisdiction] and keep the talks on track. Those included more favorable pay terms for streaming than those offered to directors. Studios also offered "separated rights" provisions for shows created for the Web, ensuring, for example, that writers would receive extra compensation and credit for online shows that spawn TV pilots, two people close to the talks said.

What happens now?

Verrone, Bowman and Young are expected to present a summary of the deal points to the Board on Monday.

Then, over the course of next week, the contract language will be drafted, to protect/assure everyone's understanding of the deal points insofar as possible.

By Friday at the earliest, depending on how well the drafting goes, there could be a preliminary contract with all the most important areas covered. Despite the LA Times' assertion that contract will be "final," that seems to be an imprecise use of the word.

A final contract could be presented to the Writers Guild of America board as early as Friday, according to three people close to the talks who asked not to be identified because the negotiations are confidential.

As Mark Evanier has pointed out, "final" wasn't reached in the 1988 strike until well after everyone had gone back to work.

Does this mean it's over?

Not yet. The only leverage writers have to make sure the deal points agreed to in the room actually end up in the contract, is to stay strong and united until the contract language is drafted. And not to be alarmists, but keep in mind who's in charge of that on the companies' side:

Having done the heavy lifting, Chernin and Iger will now step back and rely on labor relations executives to formalize contract language this week.

These "labor relations executives" are some of the same folks who stalled negotiations with the WGA for months. Iger and Chernin had to step in themselves -- both with the DGA and with the WGA -- to get anything substantive accomplished. And we've learned from off-the-record sources that while the DGA contract language was being drafted, there were at least two occasions when the DGA's understanding of the agreement differed from the labor relations executives, and a CEO had to personally intervene to keep the process on track.

We desperately hope that, in this case, that won't happen. There's too much at stake for the knee-jerk legal norms of Hollywood to kick in, in which it's the job of Business Affairs to try and whittle down the deal in the contract stage while claiming "but that's not our understanding of what our bosses said." (This is a more common experience among screenwriters than TV writers, because TV contracts tend to have more uniformity. There's no "boilerplate" to use in an historic negotiation like this, so we can expect the drafting to take a little time.)

We hope the drafting will go smoothly. But we have to be prepared that it might not.

And all of the above assumes that when the deal points are released and the contract language drafted, that the membership at large will ratify it. Each of us has a vote, and we must decide for ourselves if we can live with what this deal delivers for the next three years.

We'll see it soon. And then we'll all decide.

22 comments:

zencat said...

Not sure we should trust anything the LA Times reports. Thus far, they have done nothing but spread disinformation on behalf of the AMPTP.

4merBTLer said...

Seems like this would be a great time to increase presence on picket lines to show support for the WGA NegComm. Show the AMPTP just how many warm bodies are going to vote to ratify (or not) the deal they come up with.

Showing the AMPTP "Front Men" that you aren't beaten down by the length of the strike so far would likely help with their interpretation of the deal points into legalese.

No matter what your personal situation may be, this is the time to convince the AMPTP that your point of negative returns is farther in the future than theirs, so the strike can end sooner.

Still wishing you strength, unity and perseverence.

Tom Davis said...

It will be interesting to see SAG's reaction to the deal points. If they don't like it, we might as well stay out on strike until June and join forces with SAG to get an even better deal.

Michael said...

This all sounds pretty positive. Re: the DGA contract language, I don't think two lawyer conflicts over deal points in a complicated contract like that is huge cause for alarm. That's just lawyers being lawyers/

It's interesting that there's some sort of hangup about the use of promotional video clips. It's not something I've heard people talk about much on the line, and I thought the general consensus was that using promotional clips without compensation is okay (as long as by clip they don't mean 'the whole program.') Since hopefully that boosts audiences, keeps shows on the air and writers employed, etc.

Not An said...

Tom -

SAG's reaction will be of interest but I don't let the AMPTP make my decisions and I don't let SAG make my decisions. I read the commentary, do personal research and make my own decisions.

QuoterGal said...

Just FY'all's info, here's the text of the letter sent today to WGA members by WGAW's Patric Verrone and WGAE's Michael Winship (from btlnews.com - http://btlnews.com/blog/archives/139):

To Our Fellow Members,

While fully mindful of the continuing media blackout, we write you to address the rumors and reports that undoubtedly you have been hearing.

The facts: we are still in talks and do not yet have a contract. When and if a tentative agreement is reached, the first thing we will do is alert our membership with an e-mail message. Until then, please disregard rumors about either the existence of an agreement or its terms.

Until we have reached an agreement with the AMPTP, it is essential that we continue to show our resolve, solidarity, and strength.

Picketing will resume on Monday. Our leverage at the bargaining table is directly affected by your commitment to our cause. Please continue to show your support on the line. We are all in this together.

Best,

Patric M. Verrone
President, WGAW

Michael Winship
President, WGAE

unemployed said...

The only leverage writers have to make sure the deal points agreed to in the room actually end up in the contract, is to stay strong and united

its interesting that they use "united" when they are making side deals so some of their "striking writers" can work...
pencils down means pencils down...unless of course you made a back alley deal...then...well...someone else can hold the picket sign.

Tom Davis said...

not an,

What I was trying say is this: If SAG is going to shut down the industry again in 3-4 months anyway, we should continue to strike to put on more pressure and make an even better deal in concert with SAG this summer or fall.

I'd rather take it to the wall this time and get the best deal possible. If we do it right this time, hopefully we won't have to strike again for another 20 years.

Patrick Meighan said...

"Seems like this would be a great time to increase presence on picket lines to show support for the WGA NegComm. Show the AMPTP just how many warm bodies are going to vote to ratify (or not) the deal they come up with."

I'll be out on the picket line, for sure. I always have been, and I always will be, 'til the WGA tells me otherwise.

See you out on Pico (I'm a Fox guy, myself).

Patrick Meighan
Culver City, CA

rye-tor said...

michael,

this notion of the definition "promotional use" is exactly the reason we are on strike. no one EVER had a problem with clips. they're called commercials and they advertise our product. what the studios have claimed - and are probably STILL claiming - is that they can air an entire episodes (with paid commercials) and call THOSE airings "promotional". it is NOT lawyers being lawyers. it is the AMPTP's end-run around EXISTING contract language that says that writers need to be compensated for any re-use of their product.

so if they're still arguing over the definition of the word "promotional" then we're still in trouble. because everyone knows what a commercial is. everyone knows what an actual episode is.

except, apparently, the AMPTP.

Not An said...

Tom -

thanks for your civil reply and I do now understand where you are coming from -

Stay strong.

Geo Rule said...

I don't know why UH would want to vouch for the LA Times this way, particularly when they wrote their article at the top to clearly imply all the leaking is coming from the WGA. . ."three sources" followed by listing who is negotiating, and the list of three WGA leaders.

You jumping in this way to vouch as "fairly accurate" is going to make it look like the WGA is not honoring the media black-out, and why would you want to jiggle the cart right now?

Michael said...

geo rule:

Well, um, it does sort of sound from the press coverage that there are leaks on both sides.

hotline said...

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

WGA LEADERS - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE LEGALESE IS CLEAR ON BOTH SIDES. AND DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

hotline said...

I agree with Tom D.

Oh, and WGA leaders - DO NOT CALL OFF THE STRIKE UNTIL THE MEMBERS VOTE!

paint the town red said...

I met with one of the members of the negotiating committee today... Contrary to news reports, he doesn't feel a deal has been made yet. He feels this recent media blitz is just another ploy of the AMPTP's.

Reminder: the recent NY Times piece breaking the "Strike may be over" story, was written by a journalist who has been in the AMPTP's back pocket since day one...

Dennis Wilson said...

I too believe it would be a mistake to call off the strike before the membership weighs in, expecially if the contract proves too similar to the DGA's.

Geo Rule said...

The deal points that Variety has been listing tonight do not strike me, generally, as good enough to be met with open arms by the membership generally.

But then they've made up most of what they've reported on this strike, so maybe they still are.

Ruthie said...

If today's Variety is to be believed, it's a crappy deal that's getting presented to the NegCom and Board on Monday: Industry sources said the WGA's streaming deal still included a combination of a flat fee for the first year (excluding a two- to three-week window of free usage for promotional purposes) followed by a percentage of distributor's gross.

On the issue of paid downloads, the WGA's proposed pact is said to be identical to the DGA deal, which more than doubles the residual payments from the old homevid formula for titles that sell more than 100,000 units. And on the issue of new-media jurisdiction, the terms also are said to mirror the DGA agreement, giving the guild jurisdiction over projects with budgets of more than $15,000 per minute, $300,000 per program or $500,000 per series, whichever is lowest.


If Variety's facts are correct and we then ratify this shitloaf, it'll be 1988 all over again, and we will be the writers who sold out all future generations.

Keep marching!

Oh, and I quite agree with the message to WGA leaders: Do not call off the strike until members have voted.

Geo Rule said...

Nothing "innovative" about those terms, is there? Looks very much like "DGA + separated rights".

I wonder where the "innovative" comes in? Some guarantee on number of broadcast reruns maybe?

Dunno, but there's barely any lipstick on the pig that Variety is describing.

Jeremy said...

This has been an interesting socialogical study into how people react to things. I mean Variety's sources are no doubt the same sources as the N.Y. Times' were. At least they're just as annonymous, yet people go reading into it like the deal they are reporting on is gonna be the deal yet urging everyone to ignore the N.Y. Times report. Let's just wait and see.

Geo Rule said...

Ah ha. . .now Variety is saying,

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 a fixed percentage of distributor's gross (believed to be 2%) from the get-go after the promotional window ends, rather than a fixed residual for the first year of streaming availability.

Now that would be something decent, and more or less what I and others have suggested could be a way forward. The studios get two years to build the market on the cheap, but WGA gets the precedent for year three and when contract renogiation comes around so you're not on the short end of the smelly 20 yr stick once again.

Assuming, of course, that Variety isn't just making it up again.