I like George Clooney and I like Tom Hanks. Who doesn't? From their screen personas to their amiable chats with David Letterman. They seem like nice guys and appear committed to good works and deeds, from Clooney's work on behalf of Sudanese refugees to Hanks' paying homage to our military veterans.
However, I'm concerned about their outspoken efforts to head off a SAG strike. Not because it would obviously be preferable to avoid a work stoppage so soon after the three and a half-month WGA industrial action, but because what they appear to be doing works against the very potential for which the Screen Actors Guild was originally created.
It's all well and good to make statements of a general kind regarding the need for the conflicting parties (the AMPTP and SAG) to be bargaining at the negotiating table, but the methods these well-intentioned actors have employed seem to be of a hurrying design that, by their very nature, take the air out of the balloon of solidarity and play right into the hands of the AMPTP.
With the strike now over, there is a lot of talk about "winners and losers," most of which is premature. But pieces like Blum's are useful because they examine how the story of the strike was shaped as it was going on. We hope to be running a few original pieces on this topic soon. We are editing one on the infamous legend of "the Dirty 30" for tonight. Stay tuned.
Forbes.com has featured consistently balanced coverage of the WGA strike, rightly (in our minds!) pointing out that in a time of great uncertainty and digital transformation, Hollywood's unions and companies need to be working collaboratively to build new revenue streams.
In a piece posted on Newsweek.com, Forbes journalist Lacey Rose writes, "[T]he agreement legitimizes the new medium within the industry, guarantees the writers a stake in it and aligns the interests of everyone in Hollywood in seeking Internet success."
Rose's argument is that the conglomerates' best bet for succeeding in new media is to make it attractive for the creative professionals they rely on in traditional media to ply their trade online.
Charlie Craig, proprietor of the stellar "My Second Strike," is quoted as saying, "This deal may have saved the guild from becoming irrelevant. So was the strike worthwhile? Absolutely." And Rose concludes, "Someday soon, the studios may agree."
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As of Thursday afternoon, we are all still waiting on specific contract language. Lawyer and blogger Jonathan Handel has pulled together media reports of alleged WGA deal points on his Digital Media Law blog. But none of the rumors or media reports mean much. If it's not in the contract language, it's not real.
We've been emphasizing all week that a strong showing on the picket lines would give the WGA's lawyers and negotiators the maximum leverage to make sure the contract language is in keeping with what the companies pledged during informal talks. And the numbers this week have been great. WGA staff estimate that over 1500 turned out for today's mass picket at Disney.
But there's another bit of leverage at the WGA negotiators' disposal: the possibility of writers all going back to work quickly. For that reason, the prospect of ending the strike quickly is very valuable. If the contract language isn’t finished in good faith, that possibility would be destroyed.
As we wrote here earlier today, the WGA constitution lays out a few timelines for when the strike could be called off. One permissible timeline would have a ratification vote completed by Wednesday.
In light of that option, many members have contacted U.H. privately or posted comments stating the importance of having time to digest the deal points and make up their minds in a responsible way. Keenly aware that there are pilots, tv shows, movies, jobs and a popular ceremony hanging in the balance, they are not asking for weeks, but rather days. When weighed against the three-year life of this contract (or possibly twenty-year life, if DVDs are any indication) 72 hours seems a very reasonable request.
WGA presidents Patric Verrone and Michael Winship have stated that no action will be taken until some consensus emerges among the membership. We have faith that they will do that. When they say they will let the membership decide, we take them at their word.
Should it become clear on Saturday night that the memberships in New York and LA need a day or two to digest the deal points, we think they will respect that. Likewise, if it's clear that the majority of members strongly supports the contract, we could be back at work on Monday.
The WGA is a democratic union. We argue, we criticize, we make one another crazy. But during this strike, we have stood together with unprecedented and historic unity. We can make it a few more days if necessary.
No one inside or outside the union has forced us into anything, and that won't change now.
While it's flattering that the New York Times would try to bestow such importance on Ms. Kalogridis and -- ahem -- "her friends," Michael Cieply's breathless account misses something obvious. A strike does not come to a possible (repeat, "possible") ending thanks to one person or even one website, no matter how awesome the website.
The outcome of a strike is determined by the strikers. By the sacrifice of thousands who march and pour their emotion and time into the fight.
When the strike ends, it will be because the union as a whole decided to end it. This struggle is about the sacrifices of many, not the phone calls of a few.
"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.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,
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."
"[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.
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.
... it's a fine, even prudent idea to not get one's hopes too high. It is a not uncommon negotiating technique to get the other side into the mindset that the deal is done, and then to throw in a last second demand. In past WGA-AMPTP contracts, negotiating has even continued after the deal was made and ratified. Weeks, even months after the '81, '85 and '88 strikes were settled and work resumed, reps from the studio side were still arguing over what had been agreed to, insisting that their notes said we'd agreed to X when we were certain we'd consented to Y. And even when we all agree on what we all agreed upon, we can't always agree on the interpretation of some clauses and codicils.
And Alfredo Barrios' piece, The Strike Is A Lawyers' Game, is something we should all reread right now -- especially the latter part of the essay, where he talks about how to get Nick Counter out of the equation -- and many of his predictions have come startlingly true. An excerpt:
And by taking the fight to them, I mean, maintaining picket lines at the studios at peak levels, relentlessly picketing locations, continuing to put out creative videos that entertain and inform people about the strike, denying waivers to award shows and picketing those shows, seeking alternative ways to put out creative work on the Internet for pay, etc.
Playing this kind of offense serves a couple of purposes. First, when a CEO drives through the studio gates, or hears about how a location shoot was impacted by picketing (like for example, when an actor leaves the set or a day has been added to the schedule), or sees how his untenable bargaining positions are being ripped apart on websites, or is told about how his award show is falling apart, or reads how Google is about to form a competing entertainment powerhouse, it all collectively begins to call into question the promise that Counter made – i.e., that we would crumble. It’s a daily reminder that we are not losing our resolve. It makes him worry. His expectations aren’t being met. Things are uncertain again. And it begins to chip away at Counter’s credibility as the guy who could resolve the strike with minimal inconvenience to the studio CEOs.
This last point is important. Why? Because the way you win is by taking the lawyer out of the equation. Deny him the promise that he made to his client – i.e., that he would add value by battering all of us down. Once the CEOs begin to believe that we’ll stick to our guns until we get a fair and equitable deal, that’s when we’ve won. That’s when the CEOs and their CFOs will step in and begin to deal directly with us. Why not Counter? Because his job wasn’t to deal with real and fair numbers; it was to screw us. Once he fails at that, it’s time for others to step in. Trust me, it happens.
He went on to make some predictions about the DGA negotiations:
As the upcoming DGA talks proceed, I predict that Counter will try to ram a really bad deal down the director’s throats. And he may succeed, given the makeup of that union’s membership and their historic appeasement of studios during labor talks. I suspect that whatever deal is reached will be slightly better than what was offered us (it certainly couldn’t be worse) and will be wielded like a stick to beat us into taking it as well. The DGA leadership will certainly have every incentive to spin it as a huge win for them and the industry. How could they not? It costs the studios nothing to take this approach. If we don’t take the same deal, they’re back to dealing with us, and the DGA is the only loser.
As for acting like “nicer” and “more accommodating” guys and gals… Well, let me just say that in all of my years as a corporate lawyer, “nice” and “accommodating” adversaries who never stuck to their guns and didn’t bring the fight to us never got better deals. They only get worse ones. So don’t buy into the our-leadership’s-too-militant line of argument. They’re not. They’re being appropriately tough. Trust me, you wouldn’t want it any other way.
Now it’s up to the rest of us to hang tough with them.
Serious progress has been made, we're told, and we're all waiting to see what it is. But we should all take a breath, and remember: it's not done yet.
However, the NY Times just reported that "major roadblocks" have been gotten past in the negotiations, and progress will be swifter in the negotiations going forward -- with an eye toward an agreement in principle coming out of negotiations fairly soon.
UH has confirmed from off-the-record sources that progress is indeed being made in the informal talks, and that creative solutions to the biggest differences between the AMPTP and the WGA have gotten the tentative and cautious approval of both sides.
This does not mean there is a deal in principle yet. It means we may, finally, be very close to one -- as close as days away.
And while we're cautiously optimistic about what we're hearing, it comes with a real caveat.
Just as happened with the DGA deal, points that are agreed to in informal negotiation can be thought of as points on a deal memo -- but it's the drafting language that comes from hammering out those points that makes them legally binding. And our sources say that draft language doesn't yet exist. That's a big part of what will be happening in the next few days, as negotiations continue.
Until the WGA and the companies have enshrined the deal points -- whatever they are -- into real draft language, those deal points can't be thought of as final.
The only reason we've gotten as far as we have in the negotiations is because the pressure has stayed on. If we let up on that pressure, even a little, it could affect the draft language of the agreement. It could, in a very real way, diminish the power of our negotiators and our Guild now, when it matters most.
Stay out there. Stay on the lines, stay informed. Stay strong. We'll have more soon.
A small excerpt:
On one side, in shirts, was the striking Writers Guild of America, played by "Daily Show" writers Rob Kutner, Tim Carvell and Jason Ross. On the other side, in suits, was the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, played by "The Colbert Report" writers Michael Brumm, Peter Grosz and Tom Purcell.
Crashing out of the starting gates, the shirts argued it would cost the suits less than 1% of their total revenue to give the writers everything they wanted. For Paramount Pictures, that comes to $4.6 million, or "half the amount it takes to get Reese Witherspoon into a movie."
"I ask you," one writer noted, "which is more important to a movie -- a script, or half of Reese Witherspoon?"
The studio suits thought for a second.
Now it was the studios' turn to make their case: "I had no idea what substance that was that my trainer was injecting into my buttocks," one suit boomed, getting an elbow from his colleague who mumbled, "Wrong hearing."
"Point of order!" a starving writer blurted. "I was told there would be a free buffet lunch?"
We're hoping to be able to post the filmed version soon.
The Daily Show and the Colbert Report make their points with humor; underneath the laughter is always a very serious point, whether it's national affairs, the Iraq war, or even something like the strike. Using humor doesn't mean any of this isn't deadly serious; but sometimes, it's the best way to get people to listen.
With all the arguments about what constitutes fair compensation for writers in New Media, not enough attention is being paid to the more fundamental issue that Thom Taylor talks about in his article in Forbes Magazine from January 17th:
But the media has been wrong to suggest the current battle is simply over cash. While the debate does affect how to divide pieces of the digital media pie (for which writers, after all, create the recipes), the work stoppage is really about the writers' desire to be treated as partners in a creative endeavor, a concept that studios have moved further and further away from. Residuals reward creators, just as stock options reward employees, or royalties reward patent-holders. It's funny that with all the MBAs running the show, studios fail to understand that simple principle of commerce.
He writes about the long-term impact of the 1988 strike, and how we may now find ourselves in a nexus of change that is as big, or bigger:
But it's the WGA's deal with Media Rights Capital that could end up being most significant. Co-founded by a new media entrepreneur who sold his dot-com for over $1 billion, MRC's willingness to form a pay structure for creators' work on the Internet is bound to have studios reconsidering their strategies. ..
As the town starts the New Year, the question facing Hollywood is: "What new business model will emerge from this strike?" Because--as in 1988--it may well be the work stoppage itself that changes the business forever. The studios could be cutting off their noses to spite their faces, because the longer the strike continues, the more inevitably it becomes that their one-time partners will begin to create and distribute product via the Internet--without them.
Support from across the pond:
Roger Wolfson in HuffPo: The stakes are higher than anyone's admitting.
And finally, my personal favorite: Robert Iger gets 7% raise to $27.7 million a year. By way of context -- if the WGA got everything it was asking for, it would cost Disney $6.25 million a year.
Mr. Iger could write a personal check to end the strike for his whole corporation -- and still have a little over $21 million left over.
... the Directors Guild likely is more willing to trade off new-media residuals against other issues, such as larger base payments up front. Indeed, the studios would prefer to hike those minimums rather than increase residuals. That's because the first residuals deal negotiated often becomes a blueprint for the others -- it's called "pattern bargaining" -- but upfront minimums don't work that way. If the directors' deal were to become the contract template, each dollar of residuals the studios grant multiplies into more than $12 across all the unions' contracts.
If the DGA deal doesn't include terms that, via pattern bargaining, could provide a livable template for WGA and SAG, Handel points out "the stage is set for a disaster":
If the directors accept a lowball new-media deal, the Writers Guild and SAG may well reject it as a template, and pattern bargaining would break down. SAG's position would embolden the Writers Guild leadership to maintain the strike, despite pressure from some writers to end the walkout. Come June 30, when the actors deal expires, SAG would go on strike too.
But the DGA is uniquely positioned to keep this "all-out civil war" from happening.
There's an obvious way to avert this scorched-earth scenario: The directors have to insist on a deal that the writers and actors can live with, even to the point of threatening a strike of their own. That's a tough script to follow: It's hard to negotiate on someone else's behalf, and strikes are alien to the directors (they've only walked out once in seven decades, and that was for just five minutes).
But if the DGA negotiators pull it off, pieces start to fall into place. A good directors deal gives the writers and studios incentive to restart their own talks, which ended five weeks ago when the studios walked out. They could then close a deal on new media on the same terms as the directors, ending the strike. SAG would presumably do a similar deal, without ever striking.
Due to the press blackout, no one knows what's really happening in those negotiations at the moment. I think we're all frustrated, waiting and waiting with no real news (except the obvious observation that if the congloms are so easy and reasonable to work with, how come it's taking so long?) But we can hope, and continue hoping, that the DGA will use the leverage the strike has given them to hammer out a deal that starts us all on the road back to work.
First off, it points out the the DGA always has "informal talks" before their main negotiations -- and in these informal talks, all the parameters of the deal are worked out so that when formal negotiations begin, they can go quickly and smoothly.
This time, it's apparently not so smooth.
In their current talks, directors are said to be frustrated over what the studios have indicated they would offer them in the area of Internet residuals, according to several people briefed on the discussions who declined to be named because of the confidentiality of the talks."Anybody who thought this was going to be a cakewalk for either side was mistaken," one said. "These are tough issues that have to be hammered out."
And I keep saying it: We aren't the problem. The AMPTP is the problem.
What we've done, and continue to do, is making a difference in those back-channel discussions. The WGA strike -- and SAG's firm support behind us -- have given the DGA leverage that they never would otherwise have had.
Much is made of the DGA's role as "peacemaker" in the town -- the union that can get people back to work. I fervently hope that they do. There's every chance the moguls will offer the DGA a decent deal eventually (when they realize they can't bully them into anything else) and then the congloms will trumpet how the strike was all for nothing, and they would happily have given the WGA the same deal if we'd only been "reasonable" before.
And that's just fine with me. Because all I care about is a fair deal for Internet work. But at the moment, it doesn't look like the DGA is being any more "reasonable" than we were -- they don't want to work for free either, or see their health and pension gutted as new work moves to the Internet.
With NBC publicly crowing about $1 billion in estimated ad revenue for digital (which includes streaming) this year alone, the conglom's assertion that they can only afford to pay writers $250 a year for their work is looking a little unreasonable. And apparently it does to directors as well.
And the article answers the question I hear people ask a lot: if the DGA takes a deal that doesn't address our Internet concerns, is the WGA bound to it? The answer is NO.
Hollywood has a history of "pattern bargaining," in which the first contract settled between one of the talent unions and the studios become the template for subsequent contracts.However, there is no guarantee the writers or actors will automatically approve the deal negotiated by directors.
Translation: pattern bargaining doesn't guarantee that whatever the DGA takes, we all have to take. And that's good: it gives the DGA power to tell the congloms that they'll only take a deal they know can end the strike.
Because that's what they want too. We all want to go back to work -- the directors, the actors, the writers, and the studios as well:
The writers strike has given DGA chief negotiator Cates and Executive Director Roth considerable leverage with the studios, which are eager to end a strike that has imperiled the current and upcoming television seasons and thrown Hollywood's awards season into disarray.
Let's hope that the DGA can get the moguls to listen. Or at least give them a way to save face.
All we want, all the town wants, is a fair deal.
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.
"Yes, the writers have made strategic mistakes, says Mark Harris -- but ultimately it's win-obsessed producers who are to blame."
Mark Harris has written an excellent article on the strike. I tried to collapse it, but frankly, there's nothing I can do that's as good as the piece itself. I don't agree with everything in it, especially Harris' opinions on the Golden Globes, but as I've said before, disagreement shouldn't be a reason for ignoring someone else's point of view.
I take two things from this article, and I can't overstate how important these things are:
1. When we're talking about the issues, the public is on our side. When we squabble about things like Leno and late-night, they get confused, or worse, dislike us. It makes us look petty, disorganized and mean. And we need the larger public to win. Verrone has said the normal process that would apply to any member will apply to Leno (or any other relevant writers); that process is confidential. There really isn't a lot more to say.
2. IT'S ABOUT FAIR PAY FOR THE INTERNET.
So read on. -- LK
The writers' strike could be settled in three days.
As it drags into its third month, as more of Hollywood's rank and file begin to lose their jobs, as the negotiating table gathers dust, and as we are asked to participate in the fiction that this has all come down to whether Jay Leno is allowed to write his own monologue and whether the Golden Globes are going to be on TV, it's important to remember:
The writers' strike could be settled in three days.
It could be, but it won't be. And the reason is that the men who run the studios and networks are once again falling prey to an affliction that too often defines them: They would rather win than think.
At the beginning of the WGA strike, we heard a good deal of corporate grandstanding about how the studios' hard line against paying writers a tiny percentage of residuals for DVDs and new media derived from their profound sense of fiscal responsibility. Giving writers what they deserved would destroy the industry, went the argument. Or something like that.
It's all a little blurry now, because it's no longer a case the producers' alliance is bothering to make. They can't, because we now know that the total additional revenue the writers want probably adds up to less per year than the money that New Line incinerated to make The Golden Compass. And the moment that this bunch of corporate titans hired a $100,000-a-month PR firm to explain to the world that writers are greedy, they moved from the reality-based community to the land of Lewis Carroll.
Now that they have nothing to say, the studio chiefs huddle quietly behind their chosen negotiator, Nick Counter, who is currently doing an exemplary job of not negotiating. Presumably, he's earning his place as chief strategist by telling the CEOs to ''hang tough,'' a message that appeals to their desire to be seen as street fighters who can play hardball, not (as is more often true) the bright, nerdy kids with asthma who always got picked last for the team and don't recognize that power has turned them into bullies.
For the moguls whose calculated intractability has already destroyed half a television season, allowed the movie business to grind to a halt, and put a lot of people without huge resources (and I'm not talking about writers) out of work, this clearly isn't about the money anymore. It's about winning. Why is winning so important to these guys? Perhaps because they all run businesses in which winning is so damn hard to measure. Who has the biggest market share? Doesn't matter, because it's what you spend that makes the difference. Who has the No. 1 movie of the weekend? Ditto. Who won the latest sweeps period? Nobody cares, since Madison Avenue doesn't take sweeps seriously anymore. Who's got the biggest...well, it'd take these guys a month of posturing and bickering before they could even agree on whose ruler to use.
But if they can break a union's will — if they can make the writers come crawling back to the table with their tails between their legs and their list of demands for fair treatment demolished — that's a win. And more than a win, it's a way to express all the contempt and disgust that comes with running a gigantic company and still having to spend your days kissing up to highly paid actors, directors, and writers who sometimes give you flops anyway. If the studios and networks win the war they've created, their victory will be certified with a sneer: Even when we go back to business as usual, remember that this is what we really think of you.
I'm sure the small handful of powerhouses behind the producers' alliance didn't like it when David Letterman called them ''cowards, cutthroats, and weasels''; I'm sure they'd rather think of themselves as guys who are willing to make the tough decisions. But they haven't done that; they have instead taken the easiest way out. Does anyone who runs a network or a studio have the guts, right now, to speak up — to say this has gone on too long already, and cost everyone too much, and we all know that if we check our egos, a fair settlement is within relatively easy reach? Or are they just going to march into 2008 as they ended 2007 — by trying to starve out a union while telling themselves that they're politically progressive because they wrote a check to Barack Obama? (Lest you think this is partisan, by the way, even Mike Huckabee has announced that he supports the writers against the producers. Too bad he didn't figure that out before crossing the picket line.)
In recent weeks, the writers have drifted badly off message, a problem that, coupled with the AMPTP's breathtakingly brazen display of bad faith, helped derail the last round of negotiations. Someone in the WGA leadership has clearly gotten the idea that you fight toughness with toughness. Wrong. When the other side has brute strength on its side, you fight toughness with persistence and solidarity. You don't dilute your key points with a dozen incidental squabbles about late-night and rumblings about who gets custody of reality-show writers and whatever else got thrown onto the bottom of the something-for-everybody Congressional-appropriations bill that was the WGA's original wish list.
When the strike started, WGA members (full disclosure: I'm married to one) used their pickets, blogs, videos, and voices to keep the focus on the one issue that is absolutely central to this strike: fair compensation in all forms of revenue-generating media. And that's why a strong majority of the American public supports them, whereas the producers, according to polls, are about as popular as dog fighting and human papillomavirus. But the recent fight over late-night shows (Letterman and Ferguson good! Leno and Kimmel bad! Carson Daly superbad!) is a sideshow distraction that allows too many people to imagine that this boils down to whose monologue is funnier. And those ''Why We Write'' blogs? Nice, but this strike isn't about the right to write — it's about the right to get paid.
And knocking the Golden Globes off TV is a self-defeating move that sacrifices a potential big win for a guaranteed small one. Yes, it demonstrates that, with a major assist from the Screen Actors Guild, the writers can outmuscle the producers on the silliest possible battlefield. And yes, SAG's solidarity with the WGA has been impressive. But if the WGA had announced that it had no problem with actors going to pick up their little round trophies, there's a great possibility that one popular performer after another would stand up and urge the studios and networks to treat the writers fairly and make a deal — and 20 million people at home would hear that message. A very public shaming from within Hollywood's creative community would have been a spectacular PR weapon. The WGA tossed it away, and they may try to do the same thing with the Oscars, a decision that, as The New York Times' David Carr has astutely pointed out, amounts to little more than ''picking a fight with many of their natural allies.'' This is too much noise and effort put into something that's the equivalent of the Wyoming caucus when writers should be shouting the same message every single day: Pay us fairly.
It's a pretty simple idea. And it's a very reasonable request. But as Hollywood's working class begins to struggle in earnest, to deplete its savings and worry about mortgages and college funds, will any of the men in charge listen? Are any of them willing to stop fighting so hard to look like winners, and to start behaving like leaders?
If so, they really should speak up now. Because, to paraphrase John Lennon, war is over if they want it.
The writers' strike could be settled in three days.
For myself, I will say that from a strategic perspective I absolutely don't agree about the Globes -- to expect actors to be willing/suicidal enough to walk up individually onstage and criticize the huge congloms who employ them is, I think, a little naive. I feel that the nominees' unanimous decision not to cross the picket line was the best possible choice -- they could support the writers in a way that didn't result in any of them being singled out for retribution, and also sent the strongest possible message of solidarity. (Kind of like a whole union going on strike.)
And the revenue loss to NBC is very meaningful; bottom line does matter to shareholders, and the loss of that revenue is very public. -- LK
"...If corporations only have to pay $250 for residuals on the Internet as opposed to $20,000 on TV -- where do you think all reruns will eventually be shown?
It gets worse. The corporations don't want original Internet content covered for the WGA. Where do you think the first-run "broadcast" of a series will be? After streaming once on the Internet, a company can simply "re-air" it on network TV. It's the same screen. The only difference is that General Electric-Sony-TimeWarner-Fox won't have had to pay more than a pittance for the material.
If you don't think this would happen, you haven't been watching the AMPTP offering zero and walking away from the table...
- From the AMPTP Children's Choir of Truth
- From Peter Rader