Wednesday, February 07, 2007

How to avoid a strike

The WGA announced its fifteen member negotiating committee for the upcoming contract discussions with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers. Talks begin in July. It’s an impressive group of writers who will face an incredible uphill battle despite merely wanting a deal that is both fair for its members and beneficial for the industry.

The big issue will be all the new alternative forms of entertainment. Ipods, the internet, video-on-demand, cable repeats of first-run episodes, and God knows what else that hasn’t been invented yet. I myself am working on a video straw. You suck on it and the show goes right into your brain. I haven’t gotten it to work yet and have had two hernias but nothing great comes without failure.

The point is the Producers will claim these issues are too complicated. How can they negotiate untested marketplaces, new formats, new delivery systems, and video straws that may seem stupid today but are the future of entertainment tomorrow? They need years of careful study and market analysis.

Well the truth is there IS an easy solution. Easy and simple and fair.

For every dollar the Producers make from a film or TV product, no matter what the means, just give the writers an equitable percentage. Same with directors. Same with actors.

Easy. Done. Let's sign it and all go out for a pizza.

The Alliance could of course play hardball. Who can hold out longer, a writer with two kids in private school or Sumner Redstone? But the Alliance also has to take into consideration the possible irreparable damage a long strike might cause. Breaking unions, demoralizing artists – at the end of the day if you don’t have the people to make the product then what do you have? Is 1 or 2% more ownership of pie-in-the-sky formats worth that risk?

This is crucial time in our industry’s future. Please let it not be destroyed by greed. There’s enough to go around. There really is. Even if no one knows what they’re selling.

20 comments:

TCinLA said...

Ken:

I know you have been around long enough to remember the Great Writer's Strike of 1988, the one that turned everything upside down and eventually made it virtually impossible for a writer who didn't have a trust fund that enambled s/he to come work for free to break into the business. I don't see any (or very damn few) folks making it into the business with non-trust fund backgrounds like I (and likely you) had when we did it.

Looking back at the stupidity of the Guild and the mendacity of the AMPTP in that strike, there's more than enough blame to go around, except it was the writers who got screwed and the AMPTP asshats who got even richer. And nowadays, given the kind of scumballs who want to be career studio executives, it'll only be worse.

Unfortunately, the greed of the AMPTP and the moron stupidity of too many legend-in-their-own-minds WGA members will work to fuck things up, just like the idiot SAG strike in 2001 put 10,000 people (most of whom weren't SAG members) who used to do commercials in Los Angeles out of work (guys like me who did the writing, people like my significant other who wree the crews, etc.).

I mean, you have been in this business how long, and you think a nice, simple, fair, intelligent idea like yours has the chance of a snowball in hell of getting anywhere?

I'm sorry to sound so negative, but too many people in this business (and you probably know more of them than I do) base their personal images on winning by seeing someone else losing for anything rational and intelligent to ever have a chance.

Miles said...

Despite what tcinla says, I say amen to your post. Let's bring back rationality. It's overdue in Hollywood, in foreign affairs, everywhere.

crujones said...

I used to watch "Divorce Court" as a kid (it was wish fufillment regarding my parents marriage), and it always struck me as especially sad and funny (mostly sad) when a couple spent tons of money on fancy lawyers to have a knock down drag out fight over scraps on the table -- like who got to keep their inoperable Toyota Chinook.

That's what these upcoming negotiations are like to me. A big, loud fight over a leaking, cramped RV that even meth lab operators look at and think "Man, that thing is a piece of shit...that only two million people tune in to watch at night because they'd rather play video games or zone out on YouTube."

You get the analogy.

Harold Hecuba said...

Amen, Brother Levine! From your hilarious lips to God's (or, in this case, Moonves/Murdoch/Zucker/ABC Guy's) ears. Nobody wants a strike, but if there is one, it won't be us writers' faults. It'll be started by those fat cats in their thousand dollar suits and their stupid robot cell phone head-things sticking out of their ears like Mork from Ork or something. They make me sick! (BUT HOW DO YOU REALLY FEEL?)

Sorry. Flew off the handle again. Keep fighting the good fight, Ken!

Scott E. Amundson said...

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Adman said...

New from Sony...VSII
The Video Straw II.
Your choice of hot colors,
and best of all,
now it's Herniaproof!

zazupitts said...

My observation: either own the content or own the delivery system; everything else is a j-o-b, which is subject to the vagaries and whims of The Man.

So, write that novel or create that show during the inevitable downtime between Strike and Sanity.

Anonymous said...

Ken... I can't disagree with you, but I also think it's fair to point out that the WGA went on strike in the 1960s to GIVE UP the royalty and obtain the residual. Probably one of the worst decisions ever made in labor history, but the reason why the WGA is in the position today is because it didn't feel like being an owner would ultimately be more rewarding than getting a fixed rate for the first couple of network re-runs. The perpetual residual wasn't won until 1976.

JohnE said...

"at the end of the day if you don’t have the people to make the product then what do you have?"

I am convinced of two things:

One, that most people have a perception that entertainment is somehow magically manufactured for their pleasure on some corporate assembly line. It doesn't occur to them that real, live human beings with talent and a need to put food on the table actually sit down and create the stuff.

Item two: the people who actually run the industry seem to believe this is how their business should work, and they wait feverishly for the day when they can do business without having to use (or pay) these pesky 'content providers'. (Witness the crowing a few years back about how drama and comedy were dead and that game and reality shows were all anyone wanted or needed.)

Some dreams die hard.

The Curmudgeon said...

For every dollar the Producers make from a film or TV product, no matter what the means, just give the writers an equitable percentage. Same with directors. Same with actors.

Your proposal sounds far too logical to have any chance whatsoever of success.

VP19 said...

Scott E. Amundson said...

A strike must happen for the survival of the strong.


Somewhere, Ayn Rand is smiling.

Eric said...

New from Sony...VSII
The Video Straw II.
Your choice of hot colors,
and best of all,
now it's Herniaproof!

Too bad it's incompatible with all the previous Video Straws.

Both the studios and the guilds need to be careful over the next few years. We're reaching the point where the audience won't care if what they're watching was produced on the back-lot of Paramount with all-union labor and no expense spared, or on a computer in Lubbock, Texas with a cast and crew of one.

Writers are probably in a better position to keep themselves relevant than most of the other Hollywood unions, but they should heed the lessons of other American industries strangled by union demands, workrules and bad management decisions.

Anonymous said...

I disagree. Of all the Hollywood unions, the Writers Union has proven itself to be the most fractured, backbiting group of the lot. It SHOULD be the most relevant union. But it isn't, because it keeps consuming its own power. (Witness the mess over the attempt to bring reality writers into the fold - disaster.)

Walt said...

(Witness the mess over the attempt to bring reality writers into the fold - disaster.)

Not to interrupt, but is there a quickie cheat sheet non Hollywood types could read on this?

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

Won't this just prolong the inane reality show concept?

Alaskaray said...

If you try to watch reruns of Northern Exposure via the video straw, is there a risk of brain freeze?

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but you can put your feelings for reality tv -whatever they are, however outdated they may be - on hold and admit, hell DEMAND, that fellow writers ought to be compensated fairly for work that they've done. That our sad sack union has not even accomplished that gives me no confidence in their ability to take on the producers in this fight for far bigger money.

And for the record, I hope the super awesome negotiators prove me wrong.

Jesse Wendel said...

Not to interrupt, but is there a quickie cheat sheet non Hollywood types could read on this?

Walt -

Former WGAw board member Craig Mazin has a good explanation up at The Artful Writer.

la guy said...

That's a great link Jesse.

I have direct involvement in a number of "reality" shows (Reality is a very broad category so I can't speak to all of them) and on many of them the writing is done by producers of various stripes. I think it's going to be difficult for the WGA to co-opt them into the union because they do make a lot of money, not necessarily for their writing, but in their overall capacity as producers. And second, I have to say that while there is a certain art to staging the action, the "writing" skill involved in these shows is minimal. They generally all follow the same template and writing consists of intro's and throws to commercials.

While it would undoubtedly help WGA's cause to have solidarity with the reality shows, I don't see it happening in a meaningful way.

The other issue that I think all three guilds are going to have to face is the voting rights of non-working members. It's one thing for a majority of auto workers to collectively decide they want to strike when they all have a stake in the outcome, but WGA, DGA and especially SAG, you could have a militant majority who aren't earning a living at their chosen craft and torpedo the jobs of those who are.

I know it's at odds with the democratic process, but it seems potentially dangerous for the guilds to be at the mercy of the non-working members. Maybe they ought to establish a threshold of earnings in order to be able to vote.

Paul Duca said...

I read that Thomas Edison made something like 6,000 attempts before finding the filament that made the light bulb practical. It's good that each failure didn't mean he'd have to wear a truss--otherwise we'd be surfing the Net while candles flicker.