Phil Alden Robinson: DGA Deal Vs. WGA Needs

This was submitted by Phil Alden Robinson, writer-director-producer, and member of both the WGA and the DGA.

While we anxiously await the results of the "informal talks", I've been doing some hard thinking about the DGA deal. There's quite a bit in there to be pleased with - deal points that should serve us well in the future, and that never would have been achieved without our strike. But there are also a few things in there that, in my opinion, just don't work for us, and quickly need to be improved.

First, there's nothing in the DGA deal relating to Separated Rights, since directors don't get them. Only writers do. I think everyone agrees it's mandatory we shore up these rights in New Media. Our negotiators are working on this as we speak.

Next, there's Jurisdiction. The DGA deal establishes budget figures below which they can employ non-union directors (and, ostensibly, writers). Unfortunately, these figures are way too high. Higher even than our current Pay Cable budget thresholds. Virtually all of today's made-for-Internet production fall well below these numbers, so if we want to cover made-for-Internet production, we need to fix those numbers. And our negotiators are working on that, too.

And then, there's the Ad-Supported Streaming proposal. The companies are suggesting that they be allowed to stream TV shows on the internet for free during a lengthy window, after which they can re-run the show as much as they want for a year and pay the writer $1200. When the DGA proposal was announced, a former WGA president released an email praising this proposal. Those were the last kind words I've heard about it.

Since then, I have read scores and scores of emails, received countless phone calls, and spoken to an ocean of writers on picket lines, and I have not heard one person say they liked this provision. Not one. Reaction has ranged from "We need to improve that" to "It totally sucks". Everyone I know wants that proposal improved by a lot. And with good reason.

The entire philosophy of our efforts as they relate to New Media has been "If you make money, we make money." That's why we proposed a percentage residual, not a fixed residual. Under a percentage residual, we stand to do well if they make a fortune, but we also might make nothing at all. Frankly, I'll take that risk every time.

Because under a fixed residual, the companies can make huge amounts of money, and buy us off with pocket change. That's the mistake we made in the 80s, and we must never make that mistake again.

Now, a few people have suggested that this is a TV writer's issue, and that screenwriters have no real stake in it. Well, I personally will probably never see a penny from ad-supported streaming of TV shows. So maybe it's in my economic interest for us to cave on this point so I can go back to work. I sure as hell want to get back to work, and, truth be told, I need to.

But here's my problem: I believe in unionism. I know that I have profited handsomely throughout my career from the sacrifices of previous generations of WGA members. I have a Health Plan, a Pension Plan, minimums, and residuals because writers who came before me stood together for the common good. It wasn't easy for them - it cost them dearly - but they did it, and we're much the better for it.

So if TV writers - who stand to win or lose a lot depending on how hard we push on this issue - say they cannot accept this part of the DGA proposal, then I can't either.

The good news is, our negotiators are working hard on this one, too, and I believe they could use our help. We need to let them know - loudly and clearly - how we feel. They are only as strong as we are, and now is the most crucial time to show our strength.

It's my strong conviction that if an unaltered DGA deal were put before our membership for a vote today, it would fail resoundingly. I'm not sure the companies fully grok this yet. If they insist on trying to shove this deal down our throats without improvements, this strike will not end anytime soon.

But if they come to understand that we won't accept it without adjustments that serve the specific needs of writers, this whole thing can end pretty quickly. That's why I'm convinced that the fastest way to end these negotiations successfully is for us to vocally and visually support our negotiators.

Make some noise.

phil robinson

If you'd like to let the leadership know how you feel about getting a deal that meets writers' needs email AFarriday@wga.org, and she'll send your thoughts on to the leadership and NegComm.


Natalie said...

I am a DGA member, and I completely understand Phil Alden Robinson's and other writer's comments on the deal being wrong for the WGA. With the DGA vote deadline coming up, I wonder if Robinson, or any other DGA members care to share their thoughts on whether they will be voting NO or YES on the controversial DGA deal. I fear a lot of people want to get back to work quickly and are forgetting the past and are too willing to sacrifice the future....speak up fellow DGA.

Ashley Gable said...

I sent my letter to the Negotiating Committee off to Ann Farriday this weekend and feel much better for it.

Participate in these negotiations, WGA members: Write the Negotiating Committee and tell its members where you stand... wherever that may be.

Marjorie said...

Screenwriters should understand that the residuals issue is not only a television fight. It involves all of us. Television writers made the mistake of thinking home video wouldn't apply to them -- we all know what that led to. That must not happen again. It is easy to imagine that soon, even theatrical motion pictures will be digitally delivered to screens everywhere, from the local mall to your home theater. Your work will then be defined as an electronic sell through. You will want a fair residual for its use. So even though Phil's reason to stick with TV writers in asking for a good internet deal is correct, don't rule out self interest. This deal involves all of us.

Jefferies@Oakdell said...

I am both a DGA director and a WGA writer. I will vote NO on the DGA deal an I urge other DGA members to do the same. I am disappointed by the DGA's failure to make the historic deal they should have held out for.

Unknown said...

"If they insist on trying to shove this deal down our throats without improvements"

Wouldn't not even presenting a deal like this to be shoved down our throats be one of the responsibilities of the negotiating team? Surely they haven't been having informal meetings for a week just to rubber stamp the DGA deal? I say give our guys a chance before we have any more intemperate articles based on a deal for the WGA that hasn't even been made yet, let alone seen.

UNITED said...

I, too, am a DGA member as well as a WGA member. I voted NO on the DGA deal. I hope other DGA members follow suit.

What a horrible deal! Sorry John Wells but you don't speak for the majority. I haven't heard a single person on the picket line think your deal is a good one and that we should take it. I thank the WGA leadership for speaking up and standing strong with the WGA. Sure wish the DGA had done the same.

stuiec said...

not an: "Wouldn't not even presenting a deal like this to be shoved down our throats be one of the responsibilities of the negotiating team?"

The Negotiating Committee may want to present to you a bona fide offer from the AMPTP with a "no" recommendation -- to let the rank-and-file decide whether to accept it or to reject it in favor of further negotiations. Doing so has two advantages: it lets members of the rank-and-file have direct input into the process so they can't accuse the Neg Comm of autocracy, and if the deal is rejected by a vote of the membership, it strengthens their case to the AMPTP by showing that the rejection reflects the will of the members rather than the intransigence of the leaders.

Unknown said...

I am a WGA-DGA member as well, and I intend to
vote NO on the DGA deal. Their failure to do any genuine outreach to their members prior to initiating negotiations was a major disappointment, although not surprising. The missed opportunity to make a industry wide breakthrough deal, bolstered by, or in concert with, WGA -SAG unity, is still difficult to accept. They were given a chance to hit a home run, but from the information/deal points we've been provided, it appears the DGA settled for a single, or maybe even a bunt. TBD.

Captain Obvious said...

"So if TV writers - who stand to win or lose a lot depending on how hard we push on this issue - say they cannot accept this part of the DGA proposal, then I can't either."

Phil's definitely on the same page.

All for one, and one for all!

High-fives all around...

unidentifiedman said...

I'm a DGA member and I'll vote to ratify because this contract represents a major step forward. it guarantees jurisdiction in new media. after a lot of careful and expensive research, the DGA sees this as a transitional contract confirming immutable principles and establishing opening price points. please note that the contract also provides a major bump in basic cable rates indicating that rates should and can climb as a given business develops... and I see no reason to believe that the same won't happen as new media develop, yes, that process has begun but it has a long and uncertain way to go. picasso was asked the hardest part of making a painting. his answer was, knowing when it's finished. the strike may have made this deal possible, so, declare victory. inevitably, there will be a point of diminishing returns.

fmc said...

I am not a WGA member. I work in the industry and I have had it with your strike! I can no longer support you. 10,000 WGA are sinking 200,000 non WGA. This strike is going on too long and my future is in jeopardy. Why should we, how can we, support your future, when our futures are in jeopardy. You are never going to get the deal that you want, so just get the best deal that you can! End this!