Mike Scully: Questions and Hope as Negotiations Resume

The following was submitted by WGA member and long-time "Simpsons" writer Mike Scully. -JA

To My Fellow WGA Members,

Opinions regarding how writers should react to the DGA/AMPTP agreement seem to fall into two camps: “It’s a good deal! Take it!” or “It’s a terrible deal! Reject it!” I believe there are also many writers who fall into the “Undecided” category, so at the risk of showing off the knowledge I acquired during my one day of attendance at Holyoke Community College (sadly, not a joke), I will just list a few thoughts that crossed my mind after reading the bullet points of the DGA deal over and over until my head hurt (in other words, twice) and leave the number-crunching and legalese to our representatives:

1. Regarding the 17-day "promotional use" window: Will the networks sell ad time for these "promotional" uses? If they don't, will they be profiting from a second wave of "product integration" money during this 17-day window? Personally, I don't think running an entire episode as a "promotional" tool is smart business for the writers or the studios. Movie studios don't run their films free of charge for two and a half weeks, in the hopes that it will translate into paying customers later.

In my opinion, promotional use should have a limit of 3-5 minutes of program content, just enough to get the viewer to sample the show. However, if an entire episode is going to be made available, it should not contain any ads and should be limited to a window of no more than 48 hours. If they are being paid for promotional use, so should we.

2. How will the Internet be policed? "The Simpsons Movie" is currently the number one download rental on iTunes, but I have no idea if that means it's been downloaded five thousand times or five million times (and I'm one of the writers and producers of that film). How will we get accurate figures so we know we're being paid correctly?

3. $250 for a year’s use of a TV episode was a shockingly low offer. $1200 for a year is an ever-so-slightly-less shockingly low offer. Also, if $1200 is for a one-hour show, is it 50% less for a half-hour? Regardless, I don't think these payments will replace residuals immediately as some are predicting, but over the next five years, a huge negative impact on TV writer residuals seems inevitable.

Like all of you, I want to go back to work, too. (I have four kids in college and my attempts to convince them that the DeVry institute is as good as any Ivy League school have failed miserably.)

However, unless you have the answers to the above questions and understand every other aspect of the DGA agreement, we should not be encouraging our leadership to approve or reject the deal. We simply don’t yet have the proper information to form a knowledgeable opinion. We’re certainly entitled to ask questions (and have been encouraged to do so by our leaders), but we can’t make critical long-term financial decisions based on bullet points, or the overzealous recommendations of those who may have something personal to gain by us settling quickly.

The WGA and AMPTP are partners in the entertainment business. This relationship has produced many successful films and television shows together (and maybe one or two that weren’t so good), but the bottom line is they need us and we need them. In any business relationship, there are going to be disagreements – sometimes big ones. I believe this labor dispute got uglier than either side anticipated, but now it feels like everybody is ready to put the bad blood behind them and hammer out a deal. Both sides have good reasons to want to be back in business together again. The fact that talks are resuming is a good sign for writers, studios, networks, and everyone who makes their living in Hollywood.

When a deal is finally reached, will we get everything we want? Of course not. (The AMPTP won’t either.) Striking doesn’t guarantee winning, but I’d rather go down fighting for what I feel we deserve than giving it away out of fear.

Our leadership has done a great job of unifying a divided, demoralized guild that was so used to coming up short in negotiations that we had started to accept it as a way of life. They have brought pride back to our profession and shown us that we have the power to improve our lives. Aligning us with SAG was a brilliant and empowering move, and we should not make any deal without consulting SAG first because they have been so supportive of our cause.

The DGA benefited by our stand and, to their credit, hesitated before they started negotiations. When they finally went in, they were aware the outcome would be scrutinized by everyone in town and I think they did a good job making gains in areas where they wouldn’t have been allowed to without the actions taken by the WGA and SAG.

Normally, the talent unions are only concerned with their own members’ agendas, but things are different this time and hopefully, this is the beginning of an era where the unions have learned that their real strength comes from working together with, instead of apart from, each other.

Every union starts a strike strong and unified, but it's even more important that we finish strong and unified. Three years will go by quickly, and we will be back at the bargaining table again. If the AMPTP’s last memory of us is that of a fractured guild, filled with dissension and in-fighting, that’s how we will be treated in all future business dealings.

If we are patient and continue to display the solidarity that’s been so impressive to me, while our leaders resume bargaining with the AMPTP, it won’t be long before we're all back to work doing what we love: complaining about how much we hate writing and asking "Where the hell is lunch?!"

Mike Scully


Captain Obvious said...

"In my opinion, promotional use should have a limit of 3-5 minutes of program content, just enough to get the viewer to sample the show. However, if an entire episode is going to be made available, it should not contain any ads and should be limited to a window of no more than 48 hours. If they are being paid for promotional use, so should we."

This is a great suggestion and very agreeable to me. Perhaps with some sort of limit to the amount of promotional material that can be shown, directly tied to overall length of the piece being presented. Like, say, 500 hours of free material can be shown, limited to the first few minutes per unique downloader, before all streams are monetized for the writers.

It rewards us when the viewers stick around, and rewards the studios when our material isn't able to hold much of an audience.

BTL Guy said...

I think the 17-day window seems long, but I'm also curious if it really means anything when residuals appear to be capped at $1200.

Yes, the window should be shorter, but since the networks stream the shows all season long, isn't it inevitable that nearly every show is going to qualify for the $1200 anyway? This is unclear from what we've heard so far.

As for streaming without commercials, I think it's important not to jump after that so quickly. A lack of commercials would actually make the streaming experience BETTER THAN the broadcast experience for the viewer.

Doing so would accelerate the move to streaming, where the income for everyone is significantly smaller than for broadcast/cable.

Plus it would be difficult to put Pandora back in the box. If you establish that streaming has no commercials, good luck getting commercials put back in later.

The studios would make less money, the Writers would make less money. Bad for everyone.

Writers should get their fair cut, but the notion that "if we don't get anything, then you can't get anything either," while it may feel good, really just means that you're not getting anything.

stuiec said...

That essay is dead-solid perfect.

"How will the Internet be policed?"

The technology exists to measure Internet usage of content very precisely. The key is a contractual provision that gives the WGA access to that data so that it can verify residual reporting.

- stuiec = Stuart Creque

Geo Rule said...

"Every union starts a strike strong and unified, but it's even more important that we finish strong and unified. Three years will go by quickly, and we will be back at the bargaining table again. If the AMPTP’s last memory of us is that of a fractured guild, filled with dissension and in-fighting, that’s how we will be treated in all future business dealings."

That's most important of all. As Ben Frnaklin said, "We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately."

Alexander Stuart said...

Excellent piece, especially the emphasis on ending the strike strong and unified. I agree that forging our relationship with SAG was a brilliant move, thanks to Patric Verrone and Alan Rosenberg's lunches.

I truly hope that by the next round of negotiations, the DGA will be part of an informal alliance of our three guilds, so that we can present a united front - as do other workers in other industries. Maybe that way we can avoid some of the hostility and attempts to divide us in the media that characterized this strike (dream on...).

As for the 17-day window, it seems long to me. I'm in features, and some movies die by the second weekend if the boxoffice is bad. I'm also with stuiec, whose comment about the technology existing to measure internet usage precisely is spot-on: we just have to make sure our access to it is in the final agreement.

JB said...

You don't know how many times the Simpsons movie has been downloaded? Why don't you ask Apple? They'll tell you. Sheesh. You've been working for Fox for 37 years and suddenly you're worried about honest accounting?

Just an observer said...


For a college drop-out, you are one smart cookie!

Stay united!

MrsWakely said...

Maybe I'm crazy, but it seems to me the equation is relatively simple: find out the residual percentage in traditional TV and film, ie., for a writer, 20k first re-run is relative, approximately, percentage wise, to what whole. That should be easy enough to figure out. And so on for residuals in film, and further re-use successive to first re-run.

Apply to internet. No flat fees. There ARE flat fees now in traditional TV, but since the internet's revenue potential IS unclear, doesn't it make sense to have a solid study to present to the suits which demonstrates, "here's the average percentage of the whole that the existing residuals represent. Apply these percentages to the internet, and you have a deal.

They are currently playing us for fools with flat fees, while pleading ignorance of the "profit stream" in "the future!" (cue dramatic echo on voice), while, if we establish percentages that SAG could then follow, it seems to me, we solve the problem.

Right now, writers are thinking, "hmm... $1,200? that's fucked!" and they're right. The educated guess is, if the AMPTP is crowing to their shareholders regarding the income potential for the internet, then, the WGA HAS to secure a percentage of that income for residuals. Period. A flat fee, after a window of free use, will inevitably turn out to rob us blind in the long term (possibly even the short).

Percentage vs. flat is where it's at.

John said...

A movie trailer, is promotional. A "next week" teaser at the end of an episode, is promotional.

A full program with ads is not.

If there are ads, they are making money. If they are making money, then the writers are entitled to residuals regardless of what day in "window" it is run.

I'd like to call this complex theory here, "common sense".

Alex said...

Um, didn't the WGA ask its members to cool this kinda talk? this post is about nothing. there's very little point to it.

shut up and let em work it out.

DGA UPM said...

I work on a one hour prime time drama that loses viewers when they miss one or two episodes. Internet streaming allows the viewer to catch up with the story lines and continue to view the show in the time slot when their schedules allow. I know we fought to be streamed online, as we knew it would help our ratings. And when viewers stay with the show they show gets a 2nd, 3rd, 4th, etc. season and all involved make lots more money than if the viewers gave up on the show before the internet and it was cancelled after only one season. Streaming currently enhances broadcast viewership, instead of replacing it. And with dramas costing 2 to 4 million dollars an episode to produce the studios are not going to be airing them only on the internet anytime soon! Getting that foothold number in streaming is key, but expecting the numbers to be anything like broadcast in a world where advertising on a one hour drama on tv often sells in the $200,000 plus range for 30 seconds is crazy right now. And to not allow viewers to see the whole show online, could again alienate viewers from those shows whose viewers depend on streaming to see that episode they missed. As we all know there is nothing more lucrative in this business than being employed on a hit show for many years. Who wouldn't want to be on a CSI, Law & Order, etc. I know I would.

Rocky said...

Go on an IATSE blog where "shut up and take it," is the mantra. Not all of us are afraid to stand up to a bully to get what we deserve. It must make you feel very inadequate... small or maybe the best word is SHORT.

MrKlaatu said...

The term "promotional" is a misnomer, and I have no idea why they keep using it to describe that 17/24 day window. The window exists for the networks to get more viewers, show more ads, and get more money.

And that’s okay.

The truth an Internet viewer is not necessarily an additional viewer. Many, especially close to the TV run, may be people catching an episode they missed on TV. If that keeps people with a series, that’s good for writers. And, TV viewership (on a show-by-show basis, not overall) is down, and we certainly don’t want to decrease our TV residuals. That is why I believe a window is fair. The one the directors agreed to, however, is too long.

The window should be seven days. That jives with the networks own push with Nielsen and advertisers to measure a show’s rating as “live plus seven” (seven days) to reflect today’s DVR world. Seven days is the networks’ number. It should apply here.

Add to that a three day promotional PREVIEW period, and we could live with that. On shows I have worked on, having an episode available online before the TV run has actually boosted the rating. That’s a reasonable place to use the term “promotional”

So, 3+7, not 3+14 or 3+21. Simple and fair. For both sides.

As far as the $1200 vs. $20,000 goes, clearly Internet revenue is not there yet to warrant a $20k residual. But it will someday. In fact, it will likely be worth even more than that.

The solution here is also painfully simple. REMOVE THE CAP. Pay a percentage of distributor’s gross. Again, this will protect BOTH SIDES today, tomorrow, and in the years to come.

***We can never vote for a contract that caps Internet residuals! We will be forfeiting the future.***

Michael said...

The thing to remember about the promotional window:

1) Everyone agrees that sometime soon, streaming will be the primary way most people watch TV (and to a lesser extent, maybe movies).

2) Residuals are intended to cover re-use markets.

3) So, some kind of residual-free streaming window seems acceptable to me. Otherwise, we're essentially asking for residual payment for what is supposed to be covered in our upfront fees. And, as a practical consideration, a lot of people use TV streaming to catch up within a week or two on a broadcast they missed.

Yes, a free window means that the Companies will keep 100% of the ad revenue during the most valuable part of a the life of a piece of material. But objecting to that is like objecting to not getting residuals for a first broadcast now.

4) In terms of the length of the window, I'd be more comfortable with 10 days than 17 days (though, as someone noted above, it's kind of moot with a $1200 flat fee.) I think the idea is to be able to run a three-day preview before broadcast, and then have a one or two week window. But I think the idea of longer residual-free windows for new shows is okay-- they will need this kind of slight revenue edge to launch.

5) I don't mean this next point as a personal dig at Mike Scully at all, but I'd guess that working on a huge hit like 'The Simpsons' maybe inures writers to the facts of the very difficult financial landscape for scripted TV right now. In my 5ish years in the WGA I've worked on 3 failed first-season shows. All of which lost a lot of money for the studios. And I know, that's the business, 'dems the breaks, I'm not giving my residual checks back.

But, if we want scripted TV to survive as some sort of competitive alternative to reality and game shows, if we want networks to keep taking the risks that have kept me and hundreds of other writers employed, the Companies really need that free streaming window. Because basic costs don't seem to be going down in TV production, and broadcast prime-time audiences and revenue is shrinking like crazy even for big hit shows. Not to mention, we seem to be in a nationwide recession, which will not be kind to ad-supported *anything*.

Alex said...

Rocky --

As a working writer/producer (are you?) out on the picket lines everyday, I'm tired of hearing these analyses of the DGA deal done by people with very little business sense or an understanding how negotiations are done. AND the WGA asked some of these strike captains to cool their rhetoric.

And be mindful of your "Go to the IATSE boards" talk. I depend on my IATSE crew to get my TV show made. In fact, they are carrying this strike on their backs. Show some respect, this strike ain't just about you.

Also, Pop-eye, this isn't about some imaginary corporate ""bully"... that's a very, very simple way to look at an immensely complicated situation. And that's the silly rheoric I personally am tired of. Simple talk from simple peeps.

I'm not saying "shut up and take", pal. I'm merely saying "shut up."

Oh, and I'm 6'1" and beautiful, baby. What was up with that "SHORT" bit? Good one.

stuiec said...

I know that both of you are going to tell me to shove it where the sun don't shine, but it seems that Alex was simply trying to call for "radio silence" per the media blackout, and Rocky was simply taking exception to the phrase "shut up." I really don't understand why either of you are reacting so strongly -- I think the whole notion of Mike Scully's piece was to counsel patience and calm as the negotiations (hopefully) hone in on a final phase.

Again, feel free to tell me to mind my own business....

Unknown said...

I don't know Mike personally but I've heard he's a great guy. And I think most of what he writes is entirely reasonable...yet I have point out that it's pretty easy to be of the opinion that the writers should remain "steadfast and patient" when you are RICHER THAN GOD.

For those of us who didn't run "The Simpsons" for a dozen years, it's a little different.

That's no knock on the guy or his opinions, just a plain fact.

Unknown said...

Once this thing is settled, all unions and the AMPTP must work together urgently to tackle illegal downloading. The big bad three horsemen of the industry apocalypse are DVRs, out of control front end costs and downloads.

Nothing can be done about DVRs. It's a little box of TV ratings kryptonite.

I hope producers are now looking seriously at costs, even though this means less gravy for some.

Reducing, not eliminating, downloading is possible. For such a dangerous problem, the industry response has been shockingly handled. Unions need to add their resources fight.

Tackle peer to peer setups through court again because the past legal decisions were based on technological foolishness. Try to close the sites providing fast downloads and uploads. If that doesn't work, go to legislators. Also enlist countries outside the US where this activity occurs. Canada and European countries have give a lot of support to producers' and authors' rights.

Rocky said...


IATSE has carried this strike on their backs? Tom Short has been nothing but a butt boy for the AMPTP. Have you followed his rhetoric? I have no issue with the crew. I feel terrible that they have to suffer for our cause and the effects of their own weak leadership. But that's show business.

As for telling people to shut up, turn off your computer and lay off the blogs. The truth is, you can't get enough of it. You're likely obsessed, otherwise, why would you be reading and posting on this blog? The suspense is killing you. Don't become unraveled over it.

By the way:

I'm 6'1" and beautiful? Are you a man or a woman? If you're a woman, congratulations. I hope to see you in all your modelesque splendor walking the line. If you're a man...if you're a man...let's just leave it there.


I'm a writer/producer (are you?) Yes I am. Are we twelve? Honestly!

just a thought said...

This is no way in defense of tom short, but your wrong, he's very powerful. Here's how.
When short first got elected he tried to figure out how to loot the pension plan. he couldn't do it. So now what he does is organizes shows with low rates for the crew so he can get one percent of the payroll for the IA office. The net result more members in the IA more money in the IA coffers. For the AMPTP it has a large pool of labor that they can pay at the lowest rate win win I would say.
Look up the article that was in LA Weekly written about him. It's an eye opener

Luzid said...


I sympathize with your struggle - but you're blaming the wrong people. It's the greedy AMPTP who won't make a fair deal with the originators of Hollywood's creative successes who are hurting you, not the WGA.

For my part, I've thought that a way should be found to help those affected by the strike but not in the Guild, but am not sure how that could be done.

A gentle suggestion would be to diversify your clientèle in the future (assuming that the greed of the AMPTP eventually makes another strike inevitable).