Saturday, November 03, 2007

On the eve of the strike

Hello from the fabulous Embassy Suites at LAX where my Sitcom Room 2 seminar is in full swing. As the students busily rewrite maybe the worst scene ever written (I wrote it) here are some personal observations on the eve of the WGA strike:

The fact that the producers had no desire to meet over the weekend to possibly reach an eleventh hour settlement is all you need to know about their sincere desire to settle this.

The last strike in ’88 was a killer. But there are some differences. Last time we went out in March, just as the TV season ended. That’s like the Major League baseball players association going out on strike in November. The only way studio and network executives would’ve seen our protest signs in ’88 is if we would have picketed the Four Seasons Maui.

Another difference: in the 80’s there were splinter groups of self serving writers who opposed the strike. Not this time. I have never seen the guild so unified, never seen the membership so strong in its resolve.

A number of non-guild members have asked what they can do? First off, thanks so much for your offer and support. I would say write editorials, blogs, letters-to-editors – anything to help educate the general public about what’s really going on here.

Gee, I hope Paul Haggis got his James Bond script in on time. And Paul, if you decide to join us in picketing you can’t park in your space on the lot.

Leave it to Hollywood. One of the big questions about the strike is what affect it will have on the Oscar telecast? Of course, this is the same industry that when President Reagan was shot, one of the trades had this headline: OSCARCAST POSTPONED. And then below in much smaller type: PRESIDENT SHOT.

The producers say we already receive royalties from DVD sales. There are no less than fifteen box sets of TV series with my scripts in them. I haven’t received a dime. I have gotten $0.19 from American Airlines for showing eight of my episodes on maybe 10,000 flights. If I save my AA royalties for 147 years I might be able to buy a snack box.

The studios could generate about $158 million from selling movies online and about $194 million from selling TV shows over the Web. So you can see why paying writers even a small royalty would financially destroy them.

And forget syndication. Networks aren’t even rerunning primetime hits. Writers could always count on a nice residual from a second network run but now popular shows like 24 and LOST go straight to the net and don’t even get a rerun.

Bottom line: a year from now the WGA, SAG, and DGA will have some deal in place, some participation formula that covers DVDs and internet delivery systems. Wouldn’t be easier for all concerned if they just negotiated something now? Why do we have to drag a dead horse across the finish line just to shoot it?

28 comments :

RAC said...

Here's an idea: What if each writer buys several thousand sets of DVD boxed sets from the Chinese bootleggers for pennies on the dollar and then set up shop on Ebay? Then the writers' could send $0.19 checks to the producers every year or so.

Danny Cohen said...

I think your point at the end is the best I have heard. Just get it over with already and save time and worry. The writers are not going to cave, and the producer's stance is logically flawed, like my mother-in-law.

Anonymous said...

"Bottom line: a year from now the WGA, SAG, and DGA will have some deal in place, some participation formula that covers DVDs and internet delivery systems. Wouldn’t be easier for all concerned if they just negotiated something now?"

You know that's what I've been reading about the Israeli-Palestinian issue for years.

Hopefully this will end better.

Go WGA!

Anonymous said...

It's a bit offensive to compare a spat over TV scripts to the bloody and endless conflict in the Middle East. This affects TV - it's far more important!

Gail Renard said...

I think the major difference in this strike, as opposed to the 1988 one, is the advent of the Internet... which not only is the cause of the dispute but also, I think, will be its saviour. Thanks to the Internet, you can all join together and rally 24/7; share the latest info; and huddle together for support. And your blog, Ken, will be vital in spreading the word and uniting writers everywhere, so keep those homefires burning!

As I've written, the Writers' Guild of Great Britain is 100% behind you all, and we're in constant contact with our members, giving them updates on the WGA situation, and also warning them against the dangers of breaking your strike. We've also gone on telly here supporting your position, all the more so because the British Guild has succeeded in obtaining all the DVD/ Internet and mobile downloads fees that you're are fighting for. Quite decent royalties they are too, and we've had them for a while.

Just for the record, I found out that one of my old series was released on DVD through your blog... so thanks, Ken! But at least my agent was able to follow it up immediately and get the money which is due to me, and to every writer whose work is being exploited. You in the WGA should have the same right. And as we say here, best of British!

Diogo said...

Oh, really Gail? Was that the series I told you about? That's nice. (and no, I'm not about to ask for a percentage). Nice to know that I could help. I can just imagine those guys going like "how the F did she find out" lol. Glad to know I could help a writer get what's due to her.

Gail Renard said...

Yup, it's was you, Diogo, and I'm very grateful. I tell all my friends about you! It's a great example of how writers even when we live in different countries protect each other when we work together.

bobjones said...

I read your article in The Toronto Star about the strike and while I appreciate your dilemma about getting 19 cents, it's not less in Canada. The Canadian dollar is worth $1.05 American. Maybe you should write here.

Diogo said...

I'm curious Gail, in England, when you receive back pay for video or DVD releases, you get paid as being part of the whole staff of writers, or do you only get paid on the episodes where you get credit? I ask this, because, I know that british series usually have only 1 writer, but the one we talked about had multiple, and they usually have no more than 6-10 episodes, but that one got more. Unfortunately Portugal does not have any laws in regards to payment for released materials in video or DVD (nor that much original material worth releasing, frankly), we relly on adaptations of foreign shows, made by portuguese actors, or just plain transmission of american or british series. Glad to know things aren't as bad there. God, I miss England.

A. Buck Short said...

Ken Levine wrote…
OSCARCAST POSTPONED. And then below in much smaller type: PRESIDENT SHOT.

Not as good and example but, I was once on a set at the top of a skyscraper, with a beam structure cheating an ironwork construction site. The TV and radio stations were predicting a hurricane for the following day. The powers that be, otherwise the most considerate of producers, still thought it best to leave the next day’s exterior call “up in the air,” because there had been nothing on the hurricane in the trades.

Sebastian said...

See this is a post that I can agree to.

Look at how Bob Sassone puts it all the time. "Producers bad. Me more money want". I can completely agree to what the WGA wants now because you explained it in detail where the problem lies. The way we consume TV has changed and that's why the way writers get compensated has to change. It's as easy as that. I haven't turned on my TV for over three weeks now and I watch at least 5 hours a day. Go figure.

Gail Renard said...

To answer your question about the way British writers are paid, Diogo, you're correct that a writer only gets paid royalties on episodes where one can claim sole or part credit. Personally I'd be richer if I claimed for Ricky Gervais's episodes.

Diogo said...

Does Ricky Gervais actually have that much success in England? I know he is famous, but, I notice that his humor is not one that usually pleases the whole family, like say an episode of "Only Fools and Horses". I love him, don't get me wrong, but he seems to appeal in the majority to the younger crowd. I enjoy "The Office" as does my sister, but, my folks can't stand it (the american and british version by the way). They actually can sit through an episode with that uncomfortable silence, as if nothing is happening. They claim that they (David Brent, and Michael Scott) are such sad sacks that they can't laugh at it, it's just embarassing. And the same thing with "Extras". Andy Millman is just sad to them. they can't see the humor that comes from it, when the character is that needy.
Personally I can't wait for the last episode of The office to be released on DVD, so I can finnish my collection (overpriced, I'm sure, but whatever) Maybe I'll throw in Ricky's live shows as well. It will make for a nice present.

Cathy Krasnianski said...

Ken,

As a non-WGA writer who will be supporting the ranks on the picket line at Sony, I hope to see you among us!

William G said...

The WGGB posted a press release about how they stand in solidarity with the WGA.LINK Nice to see the international support.

I was kind of surprised to see that Writers Guild of Canada didn't do the same, although the last posting on their site is from August 10.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, I just want the studios to hire a bunch of non-union writers to replace the striking writers and learn the hard way. Unless of course the non-union writers are awesome and the union is rendered obsolete, in which case, tough cookies I guess. :P

I'm on the WGA's side on this one, I'm just not a big fan of unions or strikes in general.

Mary Stella said...

I agree. A deal will be struck in the future so why not negotiate in good faith and effort now!

May the strike be short and the picket signs really creative.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Residuals, that's the key. That's why the producers have taken it to the brink. They want to get to the point where the writers will accept a one-off deal on DVD/internet that doesn't involve paying residuals. They will pay the existing workers just enough to get them back while making conditions for those afterwards worse. Happens all the time.

Alto2 said...

Thanks for distilling the issues into identifiable form. I have nothing to lend you and your colleagues but my support, but you have it wholly. TV sucks this season, anyway. The writers of "Cane" should have been fired before they were allowed to go on strike.

Gail Renard said...

Sorry to be a blog hog, but just to answer Diogo's last question, Ricky Gervais has a cult BBC 2 audience. He says himself that whatever he does he'll get 4 million viewers in Britain, which is highly respectable but not necessarily huge. BUT Gervais's fans are the ones who buy DVD's and downloads, so he's done very well on those; plus the changed format deal to America for The Office, etc. So we don't need to take up a collection for him. I love stories about rich comedy writers; my definition of a happy ending!

Anonymous said...

"There are no less than fifteen box sets of TV series with my scripts in them."


no fewer

Anonymous said...

4 cents a DVD seems rather low. To put it in perspective, I'd like to know what Ken got per episode to produce, say, ALMOST PERFECT. $50,000? $100,000? How many episodes were produced? Over 30. That's more than most people make in a lifetime. Which would he rather have? A big producing salary or dvd's?

Anonymous said...

Hi Ken

This afternoon as I was parking my car across from Universal in the Valley I got a call from another writer friend who I was to meet on the picket line. He said one enterprising brownnoser at U called MTA to ticket all the strikers cars who park in the MTA lot across the studio. I saw it with my own eyes that a parking attendant was having one of the best days of his life. I park there all the time and I rearly see MTA attendants.

Anonymous said...

Question: how does this effect shows filmed in Canada? Since that's about half of TV these days. Are Canadian writers who work for American companies part of the WGA? Or do they not use Canadian writers in the first place?

dday said...

My example along the lines of Oscarcast was when I went to Loyola Marymount for a pre-Iraq War vigil, and we walked up to where a lot of people were congregated and asked if this was the place, and they said, "No, this is Robert McKee's Story Seminar."

"Unnecessary death and destruction? I have problems with my third act!"

Anonymous said...

The producers' pigheadedness reminds me of a wonderful line from the film "Impromptu":

"You're a menace to the future of art."

Rogers said...

4 cents a DVD seems rather low. To put it in perspective, I'd like to know what Ken got per episode to produce, say, ALMOST PERFECT. $50,000? $100,000? How many episodes were produced? Over 30. That's more than most people make in a lifetime. Which would he rather have? A big producing salary or dvd's?

Yes, Ken, you've already been paid the value of your work as determined by the free market! Go now! You no longer have any right to participate in the free market!

First off, the idea that it's either/or shows both a ridiculous misunderstanding of how the industry works and also an axe to grind wielded in your clueless hands.

But good point, assuming Ken was paid $100,000 dollars an episode, which is bluntly a laughable amount. But okay. Three million dollars, that's -- well minus commissions, roughly twenty percent, so two million four hundred thousand -- no, wait that's two season, so --

1.2 millions dollars a year, before taxes, for over two years of Ken's thirty year career, many of which he was between gigs? Why, that's almost as much as some successful real estate agents make! And, again, that's assuming Ken was making a per episode fee that was almost unheard of ...

Fair residuals allow writers to work longer careers, creating more shows that employ more writers, below the line production staff, and more product for corporations to sell and create shareholder value. Your resentment has no value,

Moonlight said...

Hello Ken ~

Thank you for explaining the issues. I wish you, and the WGA, well during the strike!

XO ~
Kandye

http://moonlightfan.blogspot.com/