Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The latest from the line

Funniest moment on the picket line at 20th on Tuesday: I was walking behind legend Alvin Sargent (SPIDERMAN 2, ORDINARY PEOPLE, episodes of ROUTE 66, etc.) who was drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. Moments after he had finished, fellow scribe Allan Katz came over and put a penny in his cup.

For many, this strike is like the 60s all over again except without teargas and hair.

It was “bring an actor buddy to strike” day although I didn’t see many thesps at my location. If you want to get actors out on the line stage “bring a camera crew to strike” day.

Why does the media even bother to print press releases when everyone knows they’re bullshit? Who other than an idiot believes the AMPTP was very “disappointed” that the recent talks broke down? The fact that they themselves caused the breakdown didn’t figure? When it’s public knowledge that they’ve hired an expensive spin PR firm why does the media then buy into it, reporting what they say as if it’s news? Their new insulting proposal was a “new economic partnership”. Gimme a break.

Oh, that’s right. The media is their bitch.

Here’s a more accurate account of what went down:

The AMPTP, in its well orchestrated game plan to bust the union, broke off negotiations Friday, blamed the WGA for the rift, dismissed all of the WGA’s proposals outright, and left the scene chuckling among themselves that “this should fuck over their Christmas but good”. Plans are to let guild members suffer, spread fear through the media, go on expensive holiday vacations, and then resume talks in mid-January just in time to salvage their TV season and clean house of producers who have deals with them.

If one of the goals is to break our spirit, the AMPTP’s tactics are having just the opposite effect. Turnout at strike locations has been excellent. Especially in New York, where despite the freezing temperatures and sleet (orchestrated by the AMPTP), over 300 picketers showed up at ABC Daytime in Manhattan. (Picture courtesy of Tom Straw)

Whoopi Goldberg, co-host of THE VIEW came out with hot chocolate for the picketers. Sherri Shepherd didn’t realize there was a strike. Elisabeth Hasselbeck started shooting at them.


Captain Obvious said...

Go Whoopi! Yes I agree, Ken, there's definitely a counter-culture, counter-establishment air to all of this.

Unknown said...

I'm impressed by the show of solidarity the WGA has shown but I must admit I'm beginning to miss my tv shows. In your opinion, how long do you think this strike will drag on for?

I'm not sure if you've covered this in one of your posts before but what is a typical shooting schedule like? (i.e. how will lack of writing now affect the Fall 2008 tv season?)

Anonymous said...

Hang in there, Ken!!!

Rob said...

The problem here is that the suits don't care. They now have a convenient party to blame for their woes.

The decision makers at the networks, studios, etc are not going to cave for awhile. They've made their bucks, and they know they're pretty safe because it's those pesky writers who struck.

It's a fact of life anymore that the average laborer gets no love and the average suit gets a golden parachute, even when they screw up. Best of luck, but I think this one is going long.

Anonymous said...

I know what you are going through from 2002-2005 I worked on a negotiating committee to get a first contract in my industry. Our corporate employer was well versed in the kind of tactics you are seeing.

What I learned was how close a union campaign whether it is to get a first contract or your 20th is like a political campaign. It makes sense to have spin people working the media. WGA should do it too.

One of the processes I learned was the "wheel of power” which was a process where you put your target in the center then in a spoke like fashion you list all of the people or groups that affect change in your adversary. It could be their customers, the clergy, and competitors. Then you devise tactics to get these people to put pressure on the target. It beats continually picketing as the only tactic.

We also did some picketing in the form of the old Burma Shave signs that I'm sure WGA members could make hilarious.

Scott said...

As much as you dismiss the AMPTP's press release, unfortunately your view has to be dismissed as well. They're both biased. This isn't a bad thing, it's just the way it is. Have the WGA issue their press release when the AMPTP releases theirs. The truth will probably be no where near either one but at least intelligent humans (those that are left) will be able to determine the reality themselves.

Anonymous said...

Is it true Hillary advisors are doing PR for the AMPTP?

howie said...

Chris Lehane, a PR consultant who has worked for the Clintons, Gore, Kerry, and Wes Clark among others, has been discovered to be working with the AMPTP. His form has since lost its contract with the union organization "Change To Win".

I suspect he'll lose some others accounts based on blogger reaction to this news.

howie said...

Obviously, "form" should be "firm" in the above post.

VP81955 said...

We also did some picketing in the form of the old Burma Shave signs that I'm sure WGA members could make hilarious.

Great idea -- go for it!

Anonymous said...

The AMPTP page is up at: http://www.talkentertainment.com/

Unfortunately, this type of free advertisement will not do WGA any good. The page does have a Talkback section, even though I don't know many who use/read that section.

Cathy Fielding said...


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the very fact that the AMPTP (as an alliance of corporations) is putting up a united front against a single guild - the WGA - illegal? If this is the case, then why doesn't the government step in?

Earnest said...

I wish I'd had the guts to actually talk to someone on the picket line! I might have gotten to meet you. I was the short black guy who was picketing at Fox on Tuesday. Today, I'll be picketing at Paramount.

Anonymous said...

I saw you on BBC World News last night. Nice to put a face and voice to this blog.

Uh, you look much younger then I figured. Maybe you did write M*A*S*H at age 4. :-)

I will be picketing in support of The Unit's writers at CBS Television City on Friday. Sometimes you just have to take a stand. Good luck.

Anonymous said...

Yes, I caught you (and the blog) on BBC News last night as well.

I think I'm going to Paramount today. I hear there will be Salsa dancing at the Paramount (Bronson) gate.

Anonymous said...

Puh-lease, "anonymous", Ken Rove has obviously found his place with the AMPTP.

Anonymous said...

I thought of something the other day that could possibly be a factor in the strike. As we all know, movie theater attendence has been dropping the last few years (mostly due to outrageously overpriced and underentertaining movies). What if the plan of the AMPTP is to let all the TV shows go to reruns and see if, with nothing new to watch, the public is forced back to the theaters?

Perhaps I'm giving the producers credit for more convoluted thinking than they deserve, but I certainly wouldn't put such deviousness past them. I think we should all stop going to the movies until the strike is over.


Anonymous said...

Slight typo at the end of your post Ken. You said Elizabeth "sharted" shooting. I'm assuming you meant "started". However, had she in fact been shooting shart, that would be a joke-worthy event all the WGA writers would scab to tell!

Julie O'Hora said...

Of course Sherri Shepherd knows there's a strike, Ken. She's just reluctant to join the line 'cause if she walks too far, she might fall off the edge of the Earth.

Anonymous said...

Next time I teach labor relations I need to mention that only one side tells the pure truth—all the time.

By Ken Levine said...

Had to delete another idiot anonymous commenter. What is it about the concept of leaving a name is so hard to comprehend?

Anonymous said...

The reason people are leaving anonymous comments is because you have a double-standard. You let people leave anonymous comments as long as they agree with your viewpoint. If they don't, then you try to put up a roadblock to their posts.

Your view is as biased as the AMPTP's is. If the WGA thinks they're going to get jurisdiction over reality shows, then they are very sorely mistaken - that will never happen, even if the producers have to hold out for the next two years.

Richard Cooper said...

John Anonymous,
Is that your head or is your neck blowing crystal ball bubbles?

Cage Free Brown said...

sheesh! what's with all the "Tokyo Rose" comments lately???

"surrender, writer boy!"

Anonymous said...

Several anonymous posts have not been removed: 12/12 6:23 a.m., 7:35 a.m., 8:32 a.m. Apparently Ken only deletes "idiot" anonymous commenters - the ones he doesn't agree with. Nice selective enforcement of your "one rule," Ken

maven said...

Keep strong! Fans are behind you. Don't let any wedge in your ranks. That is exactly what the AMPTP is hoping for.

As a self-professed tv-a-holic and "just a fan" (whose father was a long-time WGA member), I'm hurting with no new episodes (and the dread of what's going to happen to LOST and 24), but I've actually started to read more books.

Richard Cooper said...

Using handles like "demon" is pretty much the same as using anonymous... Personally, as a civilian TV viewer only, the writers are obviously going to win this one because the studios are flaunting their greed and playing dirty. It's so sad and wasteful, really, because some poor, objective arbitrator will be inevitably forced to rip the studios a new one.

gwangung said...

Nice selective enforcement of your "one rule," Ken

His blog. That pretty much defines selectice enforcement.

Gotta be pretty stupid not to realize that.

Then again, look at your position...

Anonymous said...

The AMPTP hired advisers to Hillary Clinton. That explains the Nick Counter pantsuit.

dal said...

Ken, Yoga, of all things, offers an alternative solution to the WGA writers strike!
Below is an Open Letter to the writers titled "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge".
The latest impasse at the WGA -studio talks seems an unfortunate development, adding even more stress to those out of work.
I thought the writers could use a little holiday cheer and career optimism for the New Year.
Yoga!? The strike is about ruthless, unfair moguls withholding fair compensation for WGA writers. Plain and simple...dollars and cents.
And so it may be-though the spiritual psychology of Yoga tells a somewhat different story...a story with a very happy ending, providing each writer makes a conscious choice to balance low ground writing with High Ground writing.
It's this story that I believe stressed-out writers will find inspirational, not because it's warm & fuzzy like a Hallmark card, but because it presents to individual writers the only viable alternative solution to the WGA strike.
The challenge to writers I offer in "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge" requires no Yoga, no meditation, no pretzel bends...nothing like this. It's simply an awareness of the consequences of script writing not only to society, but to their own personal creativity and spiritual identity.
As the author of an upcoming book about Yoga psychology and everyday life, including careers and creative thinking, I wrote "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge" in the spirit of compassion for all who are stressed by the strike, intending to provide hope, inspiration, and a challenge to writers to use the strike as the greatest opportunity of their lives to claim the true High Ground.
Ken, I'm certain many writers will find this novel approach to the WGA strike a valuable source of creative career empowerment.

Tim, the Yoga teacher

"The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge"

So you've been on strike for 6 weeks...yet another impasse, mutual accusations of bad faith, with both sides striving to maintain the high ground-however they define it.
What to do?
Keep picketing, write about your feelings, make alliances with other Hollywood unions and new media outlets-that's about the best you can do as one writer among thousands.
Or is it?
Within each of us-yes, even members of the WGA and, astonishingly enough, moguls-exist two polar opposite psychologies: low ground and High Ground.
No surprise there. Every spiritual tradition talks about these two psychologies.
Low ground psychology reflects nature's psychology of competitive advantage and survival of the fittest. Low ground psychology is everybody's go-to psychology, the stuff of everyday life, the fabric of society-and Hollywood, too. Every one of us, without exception, spends most of the time living with low ground psychology.
Low ground psychology writes scripts expressing the message of the media low ground. Through movies, TV, video games, music videos, and the internet, the media low ground is conveyed in scripted scenes that portray: Shooting, violence, explosions, sexual assault and exploitation, battles, horror, gangsters and other assorted psychologically damaged people, loveless relationships, crimes of all kinds, soulless sitcoms, murder mysteries, emotional manipulation, hopelessness, and gratuitous suffering.
High Ground psychology reflects the spiritual psychology of love, compassion, and peace. Everybody's experienced moments of High Ground psychology-though regrettably, just moments. Few of us spend much time living with High Ground psychology, though when we do, it's memorable.
High Ground psychology doesn't write many scripts. However, those scripts that do express the message of the media High Ground convey the very opposite message expressed by the media low ground.
You're a striking writer...bills are due...you have to make money-and fast. And the last thing on your mind right now-perhaps the very last thing-is love, compassion, and peace.
So what does the "media High Ground" have to do with the WGA strike and you making money?
Scripts have consequences-not simply as marketable products, or as cultural trend setters, but for you, personally, as the writer. You reap what you write. Every time you write and promote a low ground script, you take the low ground in life. Every time you type a scene containing the typical lowlights of the media low ground, you're one step further removed from the source of ultimate creative happiness-your High Ground self.
Truth is, both the WGA and the producer/studios thrive in low ground psychology. Writers are asking simply for "fairness"-a fair share of monies derived from their intellectual property. But isn't most of your scripts low ground psychological garbage? Are you fighting for internet residuals for a script about yet another violent buddy film, or the latest shoot-'em-up star vehicle, or yet another demeaning sitcom?
When you're mud wrestling in the low ground with the moguls, covered in low ground filth...when both you and the moguls have a mutual interest in more explosions, more violence, more horror, more blood, more screams, more terror, more sitcom empty laughs...how can either of the sides, especially the writers, claim to negotiate with "fairness," "truth," "good faith," "sincerity," "honor," and "principles."
These good and uplifting psychological states are exclusive to High Ground psychology. They're not to be found anywhere in the low ground. And if you, as writers, don't take the media High Ground by writing scripts that promote the opposite of low ground script trash, don't expect "fairness." At best, down the road, you can expect a slightly favorable shift in competitive advantage with the moguls. Yet even this temporary advantage will inevitably degrade over time, leading to more of the same...more contract disputes...many more low ground scripts...more negotiating treachery...and more creative stagnation.
As you walk the picket lines, have you had a chance to step back and view your chosen profession from a higher perspective? You design products that studios build. Millions of people eagerly pay money to look at the finished product. They enjoy... seeing people murdered, hearing the incessant blathering of hoodlums & the dispossessed, spilled buckets of blood, being horrified, hearing profanity, vicariously experiencing sexual violence, watching explosions, riding an emotional roller coaster, seeing murderers brought to justice, and watching aimlessly mindless and soulless sitcoms...all in the name of "entertainment."
And they enjoy all of this-thanks to you!
Your scripts have consequences- to society, to you, and to your personal sense of work fulfillment.
Perhaps, while walking the picket line, an unexpectedly cold gust of wind brought you out of your reverie...shortly, you became aware of something truly cold within your heart and soul...the remorseless emptiness of an opportunity missed. Did you glimpse your future, as a Hollywood writer with a career as a low ground script writer? Did you, perhaps, sense there's a better way to write for a living, and that the path you're currently on will never, ever, bring you closer to true career satisfaction?

Take "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge": "In 2008, for every low ground script I write and promote, I'll write and promote a High Ground script."

Accept this Challenge right now-and see what happens to your sense of self worth and your creative output.
What's a "High Ground script?" Look at the scenes of low ground scripts listed above. Now, create the opposite of these scenes. Use your imagination. What's the opposite of a murder TV show, or a violent act, or an explosion, or gangsters, or soulless sitcom families? You're a creative writer- create it!
When you agree to take "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge," expect a profound change in your writing psychology. Everything will improve-your sense of self worth, your creativity, your connection to something larger than your self, your interactions with studios, and even your personal life will improve markedly.
Oh...and one more thing, yes, you can make more money than ever before writing High Ground scripts! High Ground psychology is infinitely more creative than low ground psychology- it's good for your writing and great for your bank account.
Will there be a market for your High Ground scripts? Fair question, short answer: Not immediately. With few exceptions, studious make money with low ground scripts-and this won't change anytime soon. So, writers, create your own new media markets! Those of you who do take "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge" can create new ways to market your High Ground scripts. And as the studios discovered long ago, when you create the market and own the channels of distribution, you make the most money and you become...High Ground moguls!
Writers, you have a choice of futures...
Continue writing media low ground scripts, serving and reinforcing the base instincts of society and the moguls, pleading for a fair share of monies for your latest murder mystery script, cursing yet at the same time beholden to studios, cashing-in on the low ground of life, subject always to the survival-of-the-fittest ruthlessness of the low ground script marketplace, and knowing that, ultimately, as a Hollywood writer lunching at Nobu and driving a shiny new black Mercedes, you'll always be a powerless cog in a soulless media machine.
Or, you can choose the incredibly brighter future as a High Ground script writer.
Trust thousands of years of spiritual traditions when they promise you that High Ground psychology works as advertised. Take "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge," and be prepared to experience creative empowerment the likes of which you've never enjoyed before.
Nothing that you've ever written to date...not your best proposal, scene, re-write, or script...will compare to your life as a media High Ground script writer. Nothing!
For most WGA writers, right now the strike means financial hardship and psychological stress.
Yet, paradoxically, the strike also presents the greatest opportunity of your lives to claim the High Ground. No, your choice won't directly affect the moguls in their negotiations. But it will affect you and your psychology of writing –and that's all you can control anyway.
So, enjoy your holidays, writers!
Stand serene on the picket lines, allow joy in your heart, write empowered with your Higher Self, connect with that greater something, and walk forever the High Ground of life fearing no one and no thing, by boldly writing compassion, love, and peace into some of your scripts.
Try "The 2008 Media High Ground Challenge": "In 2008, for every low ground script I write and promote, I'll write and promote a High Ground script."
You'll be glad you did!
Best regards,

Tim, the Yoga teacher

Rob said...

Isn't the primary outcome of this strike dictated by one thing... people quickly get tired of watching crap. The reality concept is played out. How many variations of following "real" people around or placing them in situations where they have to kick each other out can the public stand?

estiv said...

I thought I'd seen everything, but I've never seen yoga spam before.

TCinLA said...

Being a big believer in not reinventing the wheel, here is a comment that needs to be read, written by Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer. Like it or not, Craig speaks sense here, and our 1935 Socialist Workers Party organizer in a bad suit who we call our President (Patric) had better consider this material.

Negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA are over.

They’re not permanently over, but let’s steal a page from William Goldman and call them “mostly dead.” That’s what our “here” is right now.

Our here is nowhere. We’re on strike, there are no talks scheduled, the companies have presented an unacceptable, regressive proposal that they know is unacceptable and regressive, and we have precious few cards left to play.

Ah, and then there’s the issue of the DGA.

So, what’s “there?” There is where we have an acceptable, signed contract.

Patric Verrone believes the answer to getting there from here is to stay the course. Whatever got us to this point is what we ought to keep doing. Unity, faith in leadership, picketing, rallies, a steadfast resolve to maintain our current proposals…oh, and no dissent, please.

This issue of dissent is a tricky one, and I have to give Patric credit for managing to find a new way to discredit anyone who disagrees with him. The meme is simple. Disagreeing with Patric is what the companies want you to do, and the companies are greedy jerks. Ergo, agree with Patric or you’re a company-loving jerk.

Or as he puts it:

We will not fall for their “divide and conquer” tricks designed to separate Guild leadership from membership, members from one another, writers from our supporters, and truth from innuendo.
Hmmm. But, and I know, it’s crazy…what if you think the companies are wrong and greedy and selfish and unfair AND you think Patric is wrong too? What if you’ve honestly considered his strategy, rejected all “tricks” and PR and spin…and still come to the conclusion that his strategy is flawed?

Keep your mouth shut?


Discuss it with him? Write him an email?

Done that a few times. Not much effect.

Look, these things have to be talked about, and they must be discussed in the open. I’m doing my own version of back-room muttering (there are many, many things I do not write about in here…I’m not a journalist looking to publish scoops…I’m a writer looking to influence policy in my union, as is my right), but there are some things that need to be spoken out loud in order to influence and persuade. Yes, I’m trying to influence and persuade. Yes, I think my perspective and the perspective of those that think like me is one that’s more likely to get us a deal we can accept. You may agree or disagree. Nonetheless, neither you nor I nor any dues-paying member of the WGA has a responsibility to silence and complicity if we think there’s a better way of approaching things.

Patric is a smart guy and a nice guy, but he’s not the Oracle at Delphi. There may be a better way. And if we share a common goal, which is to elicit as much money as possible from the companies, then we owe it to ourselves to talk about how to get there. If we can’t share in a community of open, sunshine-through-the-windows debate, then bad stuff is going to fester. I know that some of my fellow writers think I’m a bad guy. That I want to foment rebellion.

I sure as hell don’t. I want the opposite (and the thought of any Union Blues style fissure in the membership deeply concerns me…I’m the loyal opposition, not the “screw you, I’m holding a gun to your head so I can get back to work” opposition). I want exactly what Patric wants, in a way. I want unity, I want progress, I want a good deal…I just think that his way ain’t working. In fact, I think his way is hurting us now, and hurting us in a fashion that could leave permanent scars.

Will that statement give comfort and aid to the AMPTP?

The greedy, rapacious, vindictive, disrespectful, deceitful, amoral-when-they’re-not-immoral, conniving and imperious AMPTP?

Gee, I hope not. If they feel like linking back to my remarks, 50,000 people are gonna get a faceful of what I think about them, and as you can see, it’s not particularly warm and fuzzy.

Still, we have to make a deal with them, warts and all. That’s something Patric and I agree on.

Let’s talk about how we might be able to get there.

But First, Why Are We Here?

An important question.

When you talk to members of the Negotiating Committee, they will tell you, regardless of their relative militancy or moderation, that the AMPTP was generally unrepentent. They pulled fast ones, lied, stonewalled, and ultimately stood their ground with an offer that is, essentially, contemptuous.


Here are the possibilities.

This offer is their actual bottom line, and they would rather watch the town go up in flames than budge from it.

This offer is merely the opener, and a better, smarter group of negotiators on our side would have been able to get them off of it and closer to something acceptable.

This offer is a red herring designed to distract us from their real position, which is that they don’t want to make a deal with our union at this time.

I think possibility #2 isn’t likely. Regardless of David Young’s inexperience in these matters, there are too many smart and temperate people in that room. Tony Segall, John Bowman and quite a few others are well-versed in the fine art of negotiation and diplomatic derring-do. Believe me, if I thought our NegCom was just a bunch of dummies, I’d say so (I know, big shock). They’re not. They’re smart men and women. So…

Possibility #1? Nah. I think we can reject that one out of hand, not only because their last proposal was the first of its general format, but also because they didn’t even bother to call it their “last, best and final” offer, which is one requirement to attempt to get the NLRB to declare an impasse and allow management to unilaterally impose that deal on our union whether we agree to it or not (Did you know that could happen? Well, just another thing to keep you up at night.).

So let’s consider #3. They didn’t want to make a deal. And why not?

Few reasons why. From 2005 to the start of our negotiations, the companies watched in growing anger as we attacked their advertisers and executives with a corporate campaign, interfered with their product integration plans by traveling to Europe to lobby against laws that would allow it in content, filed overtime lawsuits against the companies that provided them with reality programming, sponsored groups of reality employees who barged in on their conferences in protest and fomented a strike at America’s Next Top Model, all in an effort to organized reality employees…in an effort to improve our strike threat.

We failed miserably in that goal, but not before really pissing them off.

After two years of this, I suspect the companies arrived at one or all of the following conclusions.

Patric and David Young are crazy, and we can’t make an acceptable deal with crazy people.

Patric and David Young must be punished for what they’ve done, because if we don’t punish them, they’re going to keep acting like this, and maybe SAG will get some kooky ideas in their heads too.

Patric and David Young will never accept our actual bottom line, which is the deal we will never offer better than.

Mind you, I’m talking about how they think. Patric and David aren’t crazy. And using negotiations to punish a union for strident activity is, well, probably cutting off one’s corporate nose to spite one’s face.

However, if they came to believe that we would never take their bottom line, well…the AMPTP does have options. They don’t have to bargain with us. They may have decided to smack us around like a red-headed stepchild as a warning to the DGA and SAG (”Don’t let this be you!”). The obvious strategic implications are one reason why I hope the DGA and SAG don’t allow themselves to be intimidated by the way our negotiations have fallen apart.

Or maybe they just figure that the DGA will accept their bottom line, so why bother with us?

Regardless, it’s not too late. Using the aforementioned as basic assumptions about the nature of the now, let’s think about how to reclaim a little self-determination here.

A New Goal

Prior to the collapse, our goal was simply to get a good contract.

Now, post-collapse, it should be to negotiate our own contract before the DGA does it for us.

Once the DGA sets a rate, pattern bargaining and common strategic sense tells me that this will be the rate, come hell, high water, brimstone, nuclear explosions or anything else we or SAG might throw their way. I know our side has announced loudly that they won’t take any old deal the DGA makes, but I’m here to tell you that if the deal locks in a formula…

…it’s over.

So, let’s talk about what it might take to get us back to the table, and get the AMPTP off their bullshit proposal.

For starters, we need to stop obsessing over this nonsense phrase “we can’t negotiate with ourselves!” It’s meaningless. If you create a set of demands, and the other side refuses those demands, what are you going to do? Hold your breath for a year? Of course not. You have to evaluate your demands, and remove some while maintaining your leveraged threat against the other side.

In this case, our strongest leveraged threat is gone. The WGA is never as strong as it is right before a strike. Once we struck, we fired the big but sole bullet in our gun. It hit them, they flinched a bit, but they’re definitely still on their feet. So now what?

Time to get dramatic.

First, let me say that I’m operating under an assumption that we cannot “outlast” the companies. There are a few writers out there who think that if we strike long enough…perhaps a year or two years or twenty years…we will destroy the companies, or bring them to their knees.

This will not happen. Ever.

These companies do not have knees.

We’re dealing with nearly a trillion dollars in market capitalization. Unlike 1988, when we struck for 5 months, they have more options to bolster their schedules. The very libraries we want to get more of a piece of are the things that keep them afloat even when the pipelines run dry. As one studio chairman told me a few years ago, “The only way to reliably make money in this business is to have a library, and to not produce new material.”

Some writers think the shareholders will rise in revolt.

They will not.

The shareholders that matter are the large institutional investors with major positions in the big congloms. If you think they weren’t told about the AMPTP strategy, positions and bottom lines long before we ever got the news, I’d suggest you’re wrong. I think those investors know exactly what the companies are doing, and I think they love it.

Investors, as a rule, HATE labor unions and tend to revolt against companies who are too soft on unions. Not too hard.

Okay. So…

We waited until late in the game to negotiate. They didn’t move. We threatened a strike. They didn’t move. We threatened Teamster support. They didn’t move. We got the showrunners to walk out entirely. They didn’t move. We staged huge rallies and had well-organized pickets at every studio in town. They didn’t move.

Now what?

Now it’s time to dramatically reduce all of our demands down to the only one that matters, in an attempt to wrest this negotiation back to our union and away from the DGA.

What We Shouldn’t Be Asking For Any More

Let’s start with an easy one. We’re asking that we have the right to sympathy strike when other unions go on strike.

Uh huh.


Look, let’s put aside that no Hollywood union has had that right in the last fifty years. Why in God’s green earth would the companies agree to this? They already think we’re strike-happy as it is. Will they willingly make it worse?

The reason this is still on the table is because Patric believes, I think, that we need to remake ourselves in the image of more aggressive trade unions like SEIU.

We don’t.

Ain’t gonna happen, and if dumping that is a prerequisite for discussions, we should dump it.

Next, we’re asking for jurisdiction over animation.

Most of what they companies say is calculated horseshit, but they’ve kinda got us on this one. IATSE has jurisdiction over theatrical animation…and that’s when it’s union at all. Like Patric, I’m a member of IATSE Animation Guild Local 839. Like Patric, I find their contract to be inferior to ours. Unlike Patric, I’m not willing to throw a few more strikers on the fire in a bizarre attempt to undo everything that labor law compels. IATSE owns that space, we don’t, game over, move on.

And then there’s the question of reality television.

I admit it.

I thought he was faking.

Let me rephrase.

I thought Patric was willing to organize reality inasmuch as reality workers could serve as a strike wedge against us, but I didn’t think he’d be willing to pull the pin on that particular grenade and drop it down our collective pants.

On Friday, Patric apparently said that we (that’s all of us in the WGAw and WGAE) won’t accept any contract that doesn’t grant us jurisdiction over reality writers. I say “apparently” because I wasn’t at the Fremantle Rally, but I got this one from about seven different writers (at least one of whom is a Patric supporter), and it was reported in the media as well.

So let’s stipulate that he said it, and he believes it.

That’s just nuts.

First, by the rules governing labor-management negotiations, the AMPTP doesn’t have to address issues of jurisdiction at all. They can simply say “not talking about it,” and if we insist that it be addressed, then we’re the ones negotiating in bad faith (and there are consequences). Second, we’ve been whomping on this one for over two years now, and the horse isn’t just dead…it’s a finely-misted goo by now. Third…

…and this is the one that kills me…

…the very reality writers Patric wishes to strike for are the same people who are currently and actively undermining our strike.


I’m editing my movie in an office building that hosts a good number of reality productions.

Place is a frickin’ beehive.

So the deal is that we spend millions to organize reality employees, we expend any goodwill we had with the companies to do it, we get nothing out of it, the reality employees steadfastly refuse to walk out of their jobs en masse, they continue to work merrily away while we go on strike, thus reducing the efficacy of said strike…and we’re supposed to keep striking for them?

Hell to the no.

We need to drop the reality demand now. It’s a loser.

What’s Left

Residual rates for reuse in New Media, and jurisdiction over original work for New Media.

Those are the biggies. Everything else should go.

Let’s focus on the stuff that matters.

How We Can Rescue This

First, let’s embrace a fact.

Fact: everything that we thought would have a positive impact on the companies has, in fact, not helped us in any important way.

Not unity, not picketing, not rallies, not positive PR, nothing.

That’s not to say that unity and picketing aren’t important. I don’t discount the positive feelings writers have taken away from the last month. That feeling of community and action is surely real.

But it’s a feeling. And you can’t fill those green residuals envelopes with feelings.

Somewhere along the line, we got suckered into a strange rhetoric, by which the means of the strike actions became the end. Our communications marked our “victories” in measures of rally attendance, picket attendance, positive PR, support from actors…

…but none of that is goal material. It’s “try and get you your goal” material. The truth is that we can’t claim any real victory yet, because we haven’t had any real victory yet.

But we can.

First, I think we should probably stop picketing. It didn’t work. I don’t think that’s going to change, and there’s that old saw about repeating the same thing and expecting different results. That’s not to say that we should stop acting as a community. There are other ways we can support each other through a difficult strike. Picketing is one of them, but it’s not a particularly efficient use of our time or our energy. Will the companies view this as “weakness?” Who cares? What, they’re going to make an even worse offer? No. Far better to continue to promote our best and brightest and most successful as consistently backing the strike.

I’ve always said, our union’s strength isn’t in its quantity, but its quality. Our best show of strength is not a turnout of 4,000 members of our union, but a turnout of 400 of our most coveted members. Those are the writers the companies fear losing, and those are the writers the companies hope will turn coat.

Second, we need to get some influence peddlers to help us.

Much has been made of the companies’ decision to hire some of the brightest and most effective influence peddlers in the business (some people call them “PR” people, but that’s too simplistic when you’re talking about individuals who can get Hillary Clinton or George W. Bush on the phone). I happen to know that our leadership was approached weeks ago about hiring a similarly powerful influence peddler to help them bring real political pressure to bear on the companies (YouTube videos are great and popular, but something tells me you need to sit in Henry Waxman’s office and scare him a little before he decides to bring some real pain).

Our leadership said, “No, not interested.”

They should get reinterested immediately. There’s no shame in getting help. We’re writers. We all have agents. Our Guild needs an agent right now, and badly.

Third, we need some new people on our side. Specifically, we need dissenters. Loyal opposition. Our room seems to be a bit too bubbly. My experience with leadership was that they were disinterested in bad news, overvalued good news, and hated to “think like the companies.”

That was a big one with them. “Why should we have to think like the companies? That’s our problem! We think too much like the companies! We should think like a union!”

Yes. This is true. But the purpose of thinking like the companies isn’t to be them, but to anticipate their responses and exploit their weaknesses. We need more writers in that room who disagree with the strategy-to-date, if for no other reason than it hasn’t worked.

By the way, this isn’t me asking for the gig. I don’t belong in that room for a lot of reasons. But others do, and I think recomposing the NegCom at this juncture is a smart idea. We need fresh horses who aren’t saddled with the emotional baggage of the last year.

Finally, we need a real dialogue with the DGA. Yes, I know…easier said than done. And sure, maybe they’re the enemy of a good deal. If so, keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Finding a power-broker who can bridge the gap between the unions might be part of the equation. Perhaps a lawyer, or a universally-respected hyphenate (Steve Zaillian, I’m thinking of you…).

Now, maybe none of this will happen, and we’ll continue to paddle into the wind. But I’m an optimist. There’s still a chance to get things back on track. Our leadership may have to swallow a little pride, but pride’s easier to swallow than failure.

And failure is what I’m desperately hoping we can avoid.

By Ken Levine said...


No, I deleted your post because you signed it anonymous. You'll notice I didn't delete your latest post.

Opposing views are welcome if the people identify themselves.

Anonymous said...

Is it true the Directors Guild is not only ready to start negotiations, they actually have it story boarded?


The Curmudgeon said...

Freezing temperatures and sleet in New York in December were "orchestrated by the AMPTP?"

Wonderful, wonderful stuff.

But if they orchestrate it in L.A., too, that's when it's time to cave.

R.A. Porter said...

Is Craig Mazin *really* that foolish? Or perhaps he didn't see the "animated" feature Beowulf. I know not a lot of people didn't, so perhaps I shouldn't be surprised. Interested movie. Not covered by the WGA.

Craig wants people who think like the companies involved in the negotiations. Good. I can think like the companies. Step one: make all films and television shows "animated" as soon as possible so I can kick the WGA out of Hollywood. Step two: laugh my ass off because the WGA listened to Craig and took coverage of animation writers off the table. Step three: profit.

(For those playing along at home, the three-step profit process was modeled after that of the underwear gnomes from South Park. Unlike the animated gnomes, I actually had a step 2.)

Vincent Holland-Keen said...

As someone outside of the business and even outside of the country, I probably have nothing new or insightful to say about the situation, but a number of thing have struck me about the strike:

From my viewpoint, the only leverage the writers have is the strike, the only time it was worth starting it was when they did (otherwise greater stockpiling would have taken place) and the TV companies won't truly feel the bite for weeks yet, probably months. It'll take even longer for feature production to hit serious problems, but, on the other hand, they don't have the luxury of replacing new scripts with re-runs or reality shows. If the AMPTP members don't see any hit on their share price or advertising revenues until then, what's their incentive for negotiating in the meantime when there's a chance that the WGA will cave in and they'll have cheaper deals to pay out for over the duration of the next contract?

Aren't viewing figures for re-runs going down because of the increasing prevalence of DVD, PVRs and the internet? If that's the case, new and original programming will become more important in future and that demand won't be fulfilled solely by reality shows. Whatever the doom-mongers are saying, I can see the role of the writer being marginalised any time soon, or indeed ever.

While I can understand the issues about jurisdiction over animation and the fact that the AMPTP aren't obliged to discuss them during contract negotiations and that IATSE would get antsy about the encroachment on their turf (which, by all accounts, they haven't tended very well), the example of Beowulf mentioned in a comment above surely makes this an issue that needs to be addressed. After all, didn't Zemeckis himself forcefully assert that this was a motion-capture film, not an animation.

Is the WGA talking to the DGA? It seems pretty much a given that if the DGA make a deal on new media, it'll impact the writers. While the DGA probably don't want to undermine negotiations by discussing their demands in advance, it would be nice to know if they're going in with a similar starting position to the WGA or whether, for some odd reason, they've decided they'd be happy opening talks by asking for smaller residuals.

I could go on, possibly about yoga, but I'm sure I'd just be repeating more of the things that are already being said ad nauseum elsewhere.

Jack Ruttan said...

Ha. This little comment box is getting a workout. I thought it stopped at 250 characters, or something.

Go writers!

Anonymous said...

I find this whole strike thing very sad indeed. This strike affects so more than just the writers and actors, and the big heads in the suits. This stike affects millions and millions of people.Im begining to think they have forgotten all about all these people. You know who we are, we the people that sit at home nights just to watch your shows. And you know we the people that pay to see your movies. I think they need to get there butts back in that room and work all this crap out and do the right thing for everyone. Doing the right thing can not be all that hard.Matter of fact it should be the easiet thing to do. But then this is not a perfect world and doing the right thing can really be the hardest thing for some of you. Get your butts back in that room and do not come out till your job is done. If not there might not be anyone staying home to watch your shows or even give damn that you had anything to do with it. Im not sure i understand all that is involved in this or all the reason behind it, but i do know RERUNS SUCK AND SOME SHOULD NEVER BE SHOWN AGAIN.