Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Put Your Faith in a Loud Guitar

Well, we are at the end, ladies and gentlemen.

Not to be dramatic, but at the stroke of midnight... all hell may break loose.

Of course, midnight October 31st is when the WGA contract officially expires. It has been a grand game of chicken. With a lot of inexplicably anti-writer sentiment in the press.

Contrary to popular urban myth, not all writers are living high off the fat of the Hollywoodland.

Bracing myself here. The past few weeks might as well have been strike-time for me, because I haven't had work. If the strike hits... I'll need to be more financially responsible. To weather the indefinite winter ahead...

Hey, scab writers: don't do it. I got pissed off by this website initially, before I clicked through and realized it was a gag. There are enough horror stories about scab writers during strikes to put anyone off. But there are a lot of desperate, short-sighted people out there.

Death of October, man. 2007. That's fucking heavy.

Things are gonna get easier...

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Peace at Any Cost

Howard A. Rodman's op-ed piece in the LA Times.

The AMPTP put a lot of rollbacks on the negotiation table. They took ONE off this week. Some people consider this a victory and feel that the WGA needs to make a compromise in return.

In effect, the AMPTP took $100 out of our pocket, gave us $10 back and is saying, "Hey look, we gave you $10!"

I don't want a strike. I can't express that vehemently enough.

I've voted YES on a Strike Authorization Vote in order to try to avoid a strike.

This whole thing is an absurd game a chicken and the union has just got to stay together.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Digital Tomorrow

Another good article explaining the big issue, for the writers.

"Digital media is indeed small now, but so was homevideo when the guild struck what it considers to be a disastrous deal on that front in 1985..."

It's important as all hell, and I'm a union guy now, but the prospect of a strike at the end of the month is scary as a shit to me...

Friday, October 12, 2007

There is No True Love

Why does October always have to be such an uncertain month?

No updates for a while because the increasingly real threat of a WGA strike has disrupted momentum.

This is a (slightly edited) comment posted on Craig Mazin's blog The Artful Writer, written by "member". It articulates what's at stake:

The AMPTP came to the first negotiating session with two proposals. One was to keep things basically the way they are now save a few small increases while putting off the issue of internet downloads for a few years while a “study” was done to try to determine a business model and assess its potential profitability. Then they said, If you don’t agree to that, then THIS is the deal we are offering you, and they handed over a lengthy proposal which does away with residuals unless a particular movie or television program is profitable. As I’m sure you know, under Hollywood accounting methods, almost nothing is ever conceded to be profitable. In other words, this proposal was a big F You to the Guild. The message was: accept our study group, or you will be much worse off the next three years then you were the previous three because you will never get a residual again.

I — and most Guild members — interpreted the no-residuals proposal as a non-serious offer. They knew we would never agree to that and it was not put forward for us to agree to. It wasn’t even a severe opening negotiating position, it was just them showing us how tough they are and how they have contempt for us based on our spineless approach to negotiations in the past.

But this time is different. Patric Verrone was elected by members who knew that he was saying things needed to change and we needed to stop getting pushed around. Patric promoted David Young to run the Guild and David’s experience comes from leading unions in the construction trade. I know that Craig doesn’t think David is the right person to lead us but David is the first person in the 15 years I’ve been a WGA member who seems to me like a leader who is neither too cozy with the AMPTP, nor a wimp. Whether or not he is the best person to lead us right now, he has led unions in strikes before, and will know what to do if that’s the path we need to take.

Since David is new to entertainment, the AMPTP decided to test him — and by extension Patric. So they essentially gave us a take it or leave it proposal without the take it part. For 20 years the WGA has taken a deal rather than strike. Six years ago we caved at the last minute rather than walk out. As far as the AMPTP is concened, why should they give us anything other than a small increase if we are not willing to strike. They think we will cave at the last minute, or even if they don’t think we’ll cave, they are going to force us to actually take the serious and perhaps dangerous step of striking to see if we actually have it in us to do it. For if we don’t, then we have no leverage, because a strike is our only leverage.

Now, if we do go ahead and strike, well, then and only then will they start to negotiate in good faith. And I don’t blame them. If we are unwilling to strike then we have no leverage to get anything more than the type of deal we took three years ago. If we want more than that, we’ll have to strike to even get them to start talking seriously.

I guess I should address the question of why we need more this time. No one can accurately predict when all TV and feature distribution will move to the internet, but it has started already and is only heading in one direction. Eventually television will all come to your home or your iPod over the internet. DVD’s will go away and movies will come to you over the internet, whether for temporary rental or permanent downloads that you will own. Companies like Netflix and are already positioning themselves for that day. Even movie theaters will eventually be showing their movies through digital projection systems rather than with film projectors — indeed, that transition is already underway. And if internet transmission of content is the cheapest scale under our contract, don’t think that the studios won’t start saying that it’s not TV, it’s internet since it comes to your TV through the internet now. Ditto they’ll say the movies you see in the theater should be paid at the internet rate not the theatrical rate since they are being transmitted digitally over the internet.

In the past, whether with homevideo/DVD or cable TV, as new technologies came along the Guild was slow to ensure that these new methods would be covered in our contract at a rate that would compensate us fairly. And since we didn’t lock up these new technologies when they were fresh, by the time the next contract came around and the studios were making a ton of money from these new technologies, they were unwilling to come up in the rates they paid us. Thus DVD’s, which now account for more profit per movie release than the theatrical exhibition of that film, pay us an incredibly tiny amount of money. This was a huge mistake the Guild made back when and the leadership feels — and I think most Guild members agree — we can’t let this happen again.

It is all going to the Internet. ALL OF IT. The studios know it and that’s why they are saying, drop the idea of getting this covered now or we will drop residuals. So that’s where we stand. You could view it as deterrence or mutually assured destruction. Or, we could show that we are willing to strike, which would eventually start to harm their bottom line and bother the CEO’s and their Wall Street supporters, and then, maybe, either after a short time or a long time, they would be willing to negotiate with us.

Sure the costs of what we’re asking for are small in the overall scheme of production costs. The studios have already slashed writing costs to the bone. Do you know people on sitcoms? I do. The staffs are half of what they were five years ago, and the writers are making half of what they used to make. Development deals in TV, once the main source of financial security for television writers, are virtually unheard of nowadays. But the way the studios see it, whatever they give us, they will have to also give the directors and the actors. And while I’d still argue it won’t be that much relative to the bloated costs of production these days, it’s more than the studios are willing to accept.

There is of course also the issue of machismo, or whatever you want to call it. The AMPTP negotiators and the studio and network heads fancy themselves as tough. They’re not going to be pushed around. They’re going to show us who’s boss. They’re going to drive us to our knees and teach us how the bargaining game works and then get a laugh when we beg them to give us any deal. I hate to say that this machismo is such an important factor in all of this, but it is. So unfortunately we need to be tough, too. In the past we haven’t had leadership willing to be strong if need be, but now we do. And I feel we are only asking for strike authorization now because without it we will not be taken seriously by the other side and will not be offered even a fraction of what we desperately need — which is to establish a fair and reasonable formula for the internet before it’s too late. And I also feel that we will only strike if the AMPTP is refusing to negotiate in good faith on this issue, and if a strike is the only way to get them to start a good-faith negotiation. I know Patric somewhat and he doesn’t strike me as a rash person. Not at all. He strikes me as practical person. I believe he is a lawyer as well as a writer, or at least he went to law school. He knows what a strike could do to people’s livelihoods and careers and I feel that he will proceed cautiosly and only do what is necessary. But for us to make any progress on the issue of the internet before it is too late, a strike — or at minimum a strike authorization — may be necessary.

Even Craig, certainly no fan of Patric or David, has said we should (if with noses held) vote yes to at least authorize a strike. If our current contract only paid us well for broadcasts on black-and-white TV sets, or films shown on hand-cranked nickelodeons, we writers would be in bad financial shape. That is the situation we are facing — we’ll have a brand new contract, but by 2010 it won’t have a fair rate of compensation for 90 percent of what we now call film and TV but what the studios will be insisting is Internet, which will be paid at a terrible rate.

These are not a bunch of nut jobs running the Guild right now. Maybe some on this website will tell you they are, but they were elected with overwhelming majorities both times they ran because almost all of the membership realizes we have to hold firm now, or the WGA as we know it could be gone.