Friday, November 2, 2007

Confessions of a Triplicate Mind: Day 1

So, here we are, at the beginning of what could be a long and messy strike. I say "could be," because I tend to be an optimist about stuff, and I'd like to believe that perhaps the WGA's brinkmanship will be rewarded with serious negotiations...

...but I have my doubts, because so much money is involved.

It's gone past the simple negotiations of one piece of talent, one representative, and 12 lawyers and business affairs people (slight sarcasm, yah, but you get my point) to becoming a larger debate about writers and writing.

In a world where a dog skateboarding on "You Tube" is seen more than "Viva Laughlin" on CBS, how do you define the importance of writers?

But then: The above question says more to their importance than their irrelevance, I think.

The debate isn't about the now: Now, it's all about reality shows and dance contests and all that crap that I hate. (Honesty.) It's about what happens when the pendulum swings back and suddenly, people want scripted things again in a digital age. Or if, I suppose.

It's about what ideas are worth in success, which is the frustrating part. Nobody's asking for a ridiculous amount more upfront (I think). They're asking for a little bit more in success: In success, I might point out, where everybody's making more money.

But then again, good TV is like creating a really good new medicine. A lot of money up front to create it, and then a lot of time to see if that's paid off. Look at Studio 60. The whole season is out on DVD right now, BTW. Get it, if you'd like a set of coasters with creator commentary.

So as this thing starts, I have three minds, all of which I'm trying to balance, all of them which I'm going to have to strive to remain ethical and consistent with, which won't be easy.

* The WGA mind - which supports my union, supports it's members and is proud to be part of something bigger than myself. As a friend of mine said today - others have walked this line and fought this fight for me, it's only fair that I do the same.

* My Hyphenate Mind - Which is about to executive produce my first live action, WGA covered single-cam,era idea, something that I've waited my whole career for. It's been very hard to watch this unfold at the exact same time - a little like getting a holiday gift and then realizing it came from China and it's chock full of extra lead.

* My Union 839 Mind - Which continues to produce cartoons in the midst of all this, because the cartoons I produce are not covered by the WGA. 839 is part of the IATSE which I always tend to find myself conflicted over - they represent writers, but we're 8% of their 839 (am I right?) - and we're not even called writers. We're... "Story Persons" or something like that. And you don't need to be a forensic scientist to know the divisions between writers and artists within 839 is deep indeed.
There are good things about 839 - but I also tend to find animation representation to be super limited - a small number of agents, and a limited number of talented people that are in bed with a small number of companies, which creates an "eggs in one basket" mentality that makes it very hard to push for "in success" pieces of the pie.
Everything substantial I've ever gotten in animation - outside of their Health care - has been through the effort of an agent, a lawyer, and individuals in a larger company that believed in me outside the parameters of my union minimums. And that, by the way, includes the studios I work for.

And within all of that, I have friends who are producers and directors, family, co-workers, people I work for, people who work for me... all of whom have their own individual agendas inside a million larger issues.

It's no wonder the debate has gone to brinkmanship... there are too many moving parts. Everybody has to fear the car falling apart, or nobody's gonna take it into the shop.

There's so many sides to this it sometimes feels as though my head's going to explode, but it really boils down to attempting, to the best of my ability, to act with integrity and be proud of my actions when this is all over.

It's day one.

That's where my mind is at. All three of them, actually.

How about yours?

- Steve

P.S. Sorry about the duplicate Emails. Outlook for Mac is ASS.


Tim said...

I so glad I have standup to fall back on. From what i gather the DVD sticking point is over 6 cents per DVD sold. Right now the writers get only 2 cents per unit and are asking for that to be raised to 8 cents per unit sold.


Tim said...

What is your guess on the "over/under" on how long the strike will last? My guess is 4 to 6 months.


Eric said...

I hope it's shorter this time around. The 80's strike lasted -- what was it? -- twenty-two weeks.

I heard the Teamsters union is encouraging its members to honor the picket line. If that happens, it could really grind the studios to a halt. How you gonna shoot that reality show with no one to drive the cameras over?


Alex said...

Unless I'm reading this wrong, it's terrifying to think that one possible outcome of this strike -- however unlikely -- is that the reality writers could emerge with Guild coverage, while animation writers remain exactly as they are now.

Brian said...

I have to admit it's strange seeing the news coverage on the impending strike - all those writers. Television Writers. How can I not feel a kinship? These are "my" people... well sort of. Yes, we are all television writers, but these are WGA writers on primetime shows (and the like) and that's a significant dividing line.

I hope the WGA takes a firm stand – they are fighting the good fight here and I hope the greedy studios make a reasonable concession.

I believe that, while the WGA strives to increase their share in the success, the studios are looking for a day when all manner of residuals and profit sharing is pretty much abolished. To that end, I can understand why they'd be willing to stonewall over a measly .08 of the money they're practically printing with DVD sales. And in the digital age, why would they even want to let the genie out of the bottle for ANY kind of profit sharing on downloads and the like? Right now the door's closed and locked - the last thing I expect them to do is invite in the thin edge of the wedge. Of course, if that door remains locked now, we will all be left out in the cold in a world of digital distribution.

Some of you already have one foot firmly planted in the land of WGA representation. I am not one of those people. I imagine that, like many of the rest of you, I've spent the duration of my career slowly edging my way up the ladder as a writer and, one day, I expect (hope?) to grab a rung with WGA status. Should that day come for any of us tomorrow, we will obviously benefit from the stand that the WGA is taking today. Until then, I'll just keep pushing my career and go where the employment leads take me.

For me, this strike feels like I'm sitting at the "kids’ table" of this industry feast and over there, on the adult table with all the adult portions, Aunt Betty is refusing to pass the turkey until she's assured a reasonable share of the gravy. More power to Aunt Better – she’s not just protecting her own portions, but her strike is also paving the way for future diners. I just get uneasy when I'm told that, in the meantime, she might get hungry and start eyeing our own meager ladle.

Here’s hoping we can all toast to a successful resolution sooner rather than later.

Anonymous said...

they represent writers, but we're 8% of their 839 (am I right?) - and we're not even called writers. We're... "Story Persons" or something like that.

Or something like that? Even a cursory glance at the TAG 839 CBA shows that animation writers are labeled, get ready . . . animation writers! Ta da.

And while writers might be 8% or whatever, animators are probably just as small a percentage. Board artists are probably a bigger percentage. Character TDs are probably a smaller percentage. Clean up artists are now a small percentage. Checkers are a tiny percentage. And so on, for color stylists, layout artists, modelers, etc., etc. There's no one profession within animation that dominates 839.

The fact is, animation is the most collaborative artform yet invented, and we rise or sink together.

Steve said...

The above comment is absolutely correct. The title is "Story person/animation writer."

That being said, today's drama is brought to you by the debate about writing - be it animation, live action or otherwise.

Remember: I believe directors and storyboard artists qualify as writers, just like script folk do.

I wish IATSE / 839 wasn't so adversarial with the WGA. Because it's all writing. And where there is strength in unity, there's the opposite in acrimony.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious -- in what ways has local 839 been adversarial with the WGA?

Steve said...

Jeez, I'd say right now, wouldn't you?

Anonymous said...

Uh, no, I wouldn't. How is 839 being adversarial? TAG has done the same thing every other union in town has done -- clarify for it's membership what their contractual requirements are, and are not. Steve Hulett has expressed his hope that the writers get the deal they want on DVDs and internet/new media.

Is this like the Fox News and the Bush White House, where if you're not 100% behind everything happening in Iraq then you're a friend of Bin Laden?

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget that one of the very first things our WGA cousins gave up in their last negotiation was their attempt to cover animation.

Steve Hulett said...

one of the very first things our WGA cousins gave up in their last negotiation was their attempt to cover animation.

My prediction is that, when the dust settles, WGA will again give up its attempt to cover animation.

Patrick V. is passionate about the subject (I'm told), but passion only carries you so far.

By the by, I'm not anti-WGA. I'm anti the WGA claiming to control writers working under another union's jurisdiction.

Happily the WGA now agrees with that position. They've revised their strike rules so that WGA writers working under an IA contract are free to do so.

Tim said...

I can't get this thought out of my head that this whole strike is just a smoke screen for the networks to dump bad deals that made and cut costs by breaking the writers union. I hope I am wrong... but i don't think I am.