Sunday, February 10, 2008

The big WGAW membership meeting

Back from the big general WGA membership meeting to discuss the proposed new contract. It was held at the Shrine auditorium, which was the perfect venue because (a) it’s large enough to accommodate the entire guild…along with the 5th Army, (b) most writers spend their Saturday nights in downtown Los Angeles anyway, (c) it’s close to historic Felix Chevrolet on the “big cat corner” of Figueroa & Jefferson, and (d) it’s the cite of the American Music Awards.

The turnout was excellent. Estimated at 3,500. CAA was not present handing out churros but all writers were given colored wrist bands and if you got a green one you were entitled to a free lap dance. I didn’t see Larry Gelbart or Frank Pierson but I did see Diablo Cody. There were also beefy security guards. Where were they during negotiations? Outside were disappointed photographers and film crews. Who the hell cares to see writers at a writers meeting? Where were the actors???

I didn’t know what to expect with this briefing. Similar meetings in past strikes have turned very contentious. Those security brutes might be needed. The pattern was usually this: the president and board spend the first hour selling the deal. The vibe is positive. Then the floor is opened for questions. Here’s where the mood turns. The first few queries are polite. Then about fifteen minutes in the first F-bomb is dropped. The questions get angrier and writers begin listing their credits (as if it gives their opinions more weight ‘cause they wrote six episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE).

The membership gets rowdy, the negotiating committee is under siege, and the whole thing turns real ugly.

Since a number of writers had issues with the current deal on the table I wondered if this would become a repeat of “Hollywood Palladium 1981, 1985, and 1985 part two”. Happily, it was not.

From the introduction of the negotiating committee there were standing ovations. It was like a Tony Bennett concert. There was even an enthusiastic standing 'O for the actors. When have writers ever in the history of man done that?

A major concern was addressed right off the bat. Members feared this deal was being rammed down their throats at the AMPTP’s insistence. Was the board going to vote to end the strike on Sunday before members had the chance to vote? WGA president Patric Verrone assured us that no, in an accelerated process writers would vote within 48 hours of the board meeting. So at the earliest, the strike would be over by Wednesday not Monday. That still would salvage the TV season and the Oscars. Joan Rivers is breathing easier today.

The main points of the deal are that it gives writers jurisdiction over new media and a share of distributor’s gross, which is hugely significant since any other formula is just monkey points. By establishing precedents the guild believes it is now in position to share the revenue from emerging marketplaces such as the internet. The deal is hardly perfect. There are a number of holes (which the committee candidly acknowledged) but considering we were negotiating against mega conglomerates who would just as soon break the union, this deal is at least a start and livable.

Chief negotiator David Young (pictured right) laid out the deal. Noting that his background was in the garment industry, a writer near me said one of the concessions we got was that doors would remain unlocked during business hours.

About an hour in Patric Verrone was handed a note and announced that someone was live blogging and would they please stop it. I was worried that everyone would look to me, and I would have to say, “Hey, guys. I don’t even know how to text message.” Rumor has it the culprit was some clown from the LA TIMES.

Lots of people lined up for questions, but they were primarily seeking clarification of specific deal points. And no one shared their credits. I have to be honest. The sound system in that cavernous barn was horrible and I couldn’t hear half of what anyone was saying. And numbers and formulas were flying around and after a half hour my head was ready to explode. I decided it was time to leave. It was pretty clear that the membership is behind this deal and if I got out before 11 I’d miss any street gang drive-bys.

So peace and harmony could return to Hollywood as soon as Wednesday. And will last all the way to June. Let’s hope SAG is able to make their deal without another work stoppage. But if there is, I’ll be the first to grab a sign and join their picket line. I doubt if the AMPTP would give a shit but the photographers and news crews would be pissed because I’m blocking actors.

15 comments:

Gail Renard said...

Good luck and I really hope you'll all get a settlement you can be happy with and will be back at work soon. The world needs you! (And I want to see what happens on 30 Rock.)

branfordbob said...

WGAW:
Deal...or No Deal?

Jimbo Jones said...

I'd say we've learned one thing from this strike: Daily Show needs no WGA writers. I find it to be funnier these days than ever, so whomever is doing the writing, keep them and let those overpriced WGA guys hit the trail.

John said...

If any of the writer/producers don't like the deal Young negotiated, they could always rename their production outfit the Triangle Shirtwaist Co.

Tim W. said...

A meeting being stopped because someone is live-blogging. It truly is the 21st century, isn't it?

Dwacon® said...

Crossing my fingers...

D. McEwan said...

Jimbo, you can't be serious. Although The Daily Show has remained a good show, you can not truely believe it's been just as good as it was, since the quality drop is extremely noticable, primarily in the form of the ENDLESS amounts of filler and milking. Gags that would get 30 seconds before, now get whole 7-minute segments. That Stewart-Colbert-O'Brien feud schtick was dragged out far beyond it's limited comic possibilities. PLEASE bring back the Daily Show writing staff right away. (Strike not over until Wednesday? Daily Show won't be back to normal until next week.) And BTW, no "Overpaid WGA guys" write for The Daily Show. It has a basic cable budget. Those writers are underpaid. The people writing CBS's Monday night sit-com line-up are overpaid.

Ken, I agree that a writer with only 6 Twilight Zone credits, or even 7, would not carry more weight with me. Only George Clayton Johnson has a mere 7 Twilight Zone writing credits, and I've met George. He's the last living hippie. (He's also, at 78, still active, having written for George Clooney's three OCEAN'S movies .)

However, the opinion of anyone with more than 7 Twilight Zone writing credits would, in fact, carry a lot more weight with me. There are only four people on this list: Earl Hamner Jr. (8 episodes), Richard Matheson (16 episodes), Charles Beaumont (22 episodes) and of course, Rod Serling (148 episodes. That's not a joke. 148 episodes!!!) Serling and Beaumont are dead, so their showing up at a WGA meeting would be impressive just in and of itself. The Tony Randall column a week or two back provoked mention of 7 FACES Of DR. LAO. Beaumont wrote it. He was a brilliant writer.

I've spent time sitting around, chatting about this and that, with Hamner and with Matheson. Both fascinating men. Hamner also managed to create little nothings called THE WALTONS and FALCON CREST, so his opinions on TV writing and contracts are clearly worthless.

As for Richard Matheson: he's nothing less than a legend. (He could say "I am Legend" if he hadn't invented the phrase over 50 years ago.) I have a shelf full of his novels, and a larger shelf full of DVDs of movies he's written. (And, in a closet, a cardboard box full of old VHS copies of those movies.)

TWILIGHT ZONE was a cream show, only extremely good writers got to write for it. Which means naturally, that no one has only 6 Twilight Zone credits, as, in order to get those credits, they had to have written a lot of other good stuff, and to have gone on to write a lot more great stuff.

So I'm afraid that the opinions of a writer with TWILIGHT ZONE credits would carry a lot of weight with me.

I was going to exclude writers from the 1985 TWILIGHT ZONE revival, but glancing down the list, I kept seeing names like Ray Bradbury, Harlan Ellison, and Ted Sturgeon, so I can't exclude it. I am excluding the 2002 revivial. The list there isn't anywhere near as exhalted. (Although 2 episodes are credited to Pen Densham, the former owner of my living room sofa. Yes, at this very moment, one of my kitties is napping on a couch formerly owned by a TWILIGHT ZONE writer.)

But if they've only written 6 episodes of YES DEAR, screw 'em!

A tentative "Hooray" for the end of the strike.

VP81955 said...

While I'd love to see you guys go back to work ASAP, part of me wouldn't mind seeing the Oscars forced to go to plan B. No actors, no red carpet, no glitz, no bull. Just movies. (Admittedly, probably no ratings, either, but it might set millions of dimwitted, celeb-obsessed Americans straight about focusing on the process and the art instead of the glitter.)

Heck, if I were running the show, I'd go back to that second-floor ballroom at the Roosevelt Hotel and just hand out the awards, as they did when this all began in 1927-28.

Dhppy said...

I can't be the only non WGA member who's a little bummed that the strike is ending. I liked feeling like a part of the team, carrying a sign and having the occasional chat with some guy from some Disney Family show I never knew existed. Now, I'll just go back to walking in circles in my apartment. Alas.

Sorry our paths never crossed, Ken.

Jake Hollywood said...

While this deal may not be a situation of ramming it down our throats, there certainly is/was a ticking clock alarm set to go off by Wednesday.

This isn't exactly the deal (I bailed early from the meeting, so I guess I shouldn't be complaining) I'd hoped for. And talking to other, more prominent writers, many of whom agree that it's not even a good deal--I'm no showrunner, nor do I writer for TV so my opinion matters little...

But I do know enough about commerce--internet commerce--that flat fees and 17 day promo windows are money making machines. I know that internet ad rates went up 78% this year and that ad revenue from internet is expected to topple $768 million dollars this coming year. And that was before the streaming of TV shows.

The studios got a gift.

Also, I know that even though we're voting on Tuesday to suspend the strike or not pending ratification, that it matters not all. Especially considering the leadership already suspended picketing for the next two days. So much for trusting us, eh?

I know that the favored nations handshake will never find its way into the language of the contract.

And I know that settling for this "deal" was a mistake. We had our chance to make real history, to regain our self respect, and I know that the AMPTP is laughing at us. And they should be--we deserve it.

Oh, one more thing: how the fuck did Diablo Cody become the face of the WGA and the toast of Hollywood?

Anonymous said...

This was the greatest labor action in history. We are far more important than air traffic controllers and we won. Solidarity forever!

Anonymous said...

Joel Stein from the LA Times was the live-blogging clown. Nikki Finke called his humor column "unreadable." Ouch.

D. McEwan said...

I was wrong in saying George Clayton Johnson still working, at least in film & TV. He's credited on all the OCEAN'S movies because he wrote the original story for the original OCEAN'S 11, so he gets a "Based on a story by" credit on all of them. But he hasn't a fresh credit in 30 years.

Dhppy said...

Oh, one more thing: how the fuck did Diablo Cody become the face of the WGA and the toast of Hollywood?

Silencio! Grease up that stripper pole and get to spinnin'!

Karen said...

What kind of a geek does it make me that I laughed loudest at your colleague's Triangle Shirtwaist Factory joke??