Friday, November 30, 2007

Ideas are worth something.

I sometimes check out, and read their strike coverage.

Invariably, as soon as there's a strike story, someone with a grudge against writers complains about the WGA. Or the writers.

To them, I say this: Come up with an idea.

Here's the harsh reality of the writer's strike. Ideas cost.

Whether it's a marketing idea at Coke, or a new drug that cures cancer, or that widget that rolls the toilet paper backwards you finally sold to QVC, ideas cost money.

But when those ideas are whimsy, or imagination, or something intangible, like a TV show...

...when those ideas are jokes, which everybody thinks they can come up with but most people can't...

...when those ideas are stories, which are difficult to construct...

...that's when everybody starts thinking maybe they should be free. After all, nothing was invented, or built or sold on a shelf, right?

To every person who says that the story tellers in our society don't deserve a cut - a REASONABLE FAIR SHARE - of the income that we generate, I say "eat me."

Just because something is fun doesn't mean it's done for free. And trust me, after an afternoon of network notes, it ain't all fun either.

I stopped painting with my fingers and writing stories to pin up on a refrigerator a long time ago. Do I do stuff for fun? You bet. Do I do it for a mass audience? No.

You want to make up your own stories for free, you can put 'em on YouTube. You know, YouTube, where Viacom pulled their content because it was interfering with their revenue streams.

Me, personally, I like being paid for what I do, and I'd like to make a little bit more in success.

I know I'm not curing cancer.

But with any luck, I'm defeating boredom, one script at a time. Or maybe I'm making your kid laugh. There's nothing I like more than running into a parent that says they watch something I wrote with their kid, and they enjoyed it.

It's the "over and over" again part that gets me sometimes.

Still - I've learned to accept it in animation. I got into knowing the deal and while I'd love to change within, it is what it is.

But for the small group of people who think writers are being selfish in defending themselves against the encroachment of the internet, the loss of their residual viewings, or the right to be paid for downloads, you're being selfish. You're the one who wants something for nothing.

This town is built on ideas.

And those ideas are worth something.

People who make those ideas feel for those who have lost their jobs because of the strike. It would be awesome if that vocal minority of those who GOT jobs because of those ideas felt for the writers, as well.


Anonymous said...

I agree that you should be properly compensated for your writing. I really wish that the powers that be could stop being jerks and reach an agreement already because many people in the industry that aren't writers but are being effected by the strike anyway might want to feed their kids this Christmas. I am hoping that this can be resolved by years end because if I wrote skits, scripts, jokes or any of that stuff for a living I would be going out of my mind right now waiting for someone to do the right thing.

Steve Hulett said...

Here's the deal.

There is no fair compensation. Or unfair compensation. Or exactly the right dollar amount, or exorbitant charges, or anything else.

There is only "what the market will bear," and what individuals and unions have the leverage to negotiate.

I say this because seven years ago, when confronted with "it isn't fair that animation writers don't get residuals," I responded with:

"Know what I don't think is fair? I don't think it's fair that the Epstein brothers and Howard Koch wrote Casablanca for a flat $1500 a week (each) in 1942, and the movie has been making millions for Warner Bros. ever since. And their heirs get nothing."

But whattaya do? The 1942 Screen Writers Guild collective bargaining agreement didn't have a provision for residuals.

Which isn't to say that I don't wish that it did, or that there shouldn't be a continuing push to get residuals, but only that "fairness" has nothing to do with most things in life, and certainly not residuals.

What I really think is lousy and unfair is that corporations have the right to own copyrights or patents in the first place.

But they can, courtesy of Federal law, and so here we are. In the good old U.S. of A., in 2007.

Steve said...


This is where you and I differ in opinion. What a union can or cannot negotiate is one thing.

But fair is another.

You get what you negotiate for. I get that.

But you should be negotiating for what's fair. Anything else is settling.

Steve Hulett said...

Yeah, I understand your thought. And I don't disagree with it.

The difficulty is: one man's definition of "fair" is just that. One man's definition.

You can find people who think being paid once for a script is completely fair. You can find studio execs that cling to that position, broadcast that position.

(Of course, they abhor the idea of a twenty-year-old buying a DVD once and then reselling a copy over the internet for profit. That's piracy!)

Let's strip it down to the essentials: You can yell "unfair" all you like, but there's no objective standard for "unfair" or "fair."

Under your definition, TAG and the WGA have been "settling." And maybe they have.

But I don't think the conglomerates care one hell of a lot. They want what they want, and they have the power and deep pockets to (often) get it. Some might be even happy to concede that no resids is "unfair."

They still won't pay them.

Matt Wayne said...

Of course, $1500 per week in 1942 is like $20,000 per week in 2008.

Heck, $1500 per week doesn't sound bad today. In fact, next August the 839 weekly minimum for a writer goes up, and will exceed $1500 for the first time.

A lot of more writer-friendly environments, like magazines, will pay more to "buy out" the rights for a work, as opposed to a default deal in which the writer retains subsequent rights and takes less money.

If somebody wanted to pay me a premium to forgo residuals, say, $20K a week, that would be very different. As terrible as the studio system was 65 years ago, it's worse now, especially for cartoons.

Anne B said...

Actually, the standard in magazine contracts used to be for "first North American reproduction rights". But these days most magazines are asking for the right to reprint in all media existing now and in the future, in perpetuity, etc. without raising rates. The terms have gotten worse in most cases, unless you are a famous writers and can negotiate a contract different from the usual deal.

Anonymous said...

creator ideas
story ideas
character ideas
writer ideas
network executive ideas
network executive assistant ideas
script coordinator ideas
PA ideas
designer ideas
animator ideas
layout ideas
painter ideas
in-betweener ideas
color stylist ideas
overseas studio financing ideas
network marketing ideas
promotion ideas
budgeting ideas
scheduling ideas
etc, etc, etc...

Steve said...


Maybe you're being snarky, but just in case, I'll break down my thoughts:

creator ideas - Gets residuals based on points on the back end/merch.

story ideas - Residuals based on rerunning. And just to say it, this includes board artists.

character ideas - Gets residuals based on spinoff of character. If pre-existing character, then it's writing residuals.

writer ideas - Residuals based on rerunning. And just to say it, this includes board artists.


network executive ideas
network executive assistant ideas
script coordinator ideas
PA ideas
designer ideas
animator ideas
layout ideas
painter ideas
in-betweener ideas
color stylist ideas
overseas studio financing ideas
network marketing ideas
promotion ideas
budgeting ideas
scheduling ideas


That being said, anybody in the "Paid For Services Rendered" area can absolutely be a creator/writer/create a character person. But they have to do that, in my mind, to deserve additional payment for the work done.

- Steve

Anonymous said...

I disagree a tad Steve - I believe character designers deserve residuals. Kiddies ain't buying lunch boxes with scripts pasted on the side. For the record - I ain't a charcacter designer.

Steve said...

Then we agree to disagree.

I think if the person who created the cartoon, and the style it sets, deserves the residuals.

Anybody else drawing is following his style.

That being said if a person designs a character that's simply sold as a toy, or a lunch box, or as a t-shirt design (See the "I just threw up a little in my mouth" bunnies) then they get a cut of that merch.

You CREATE the idea, you get a residual (hence the idea of a story board artist creating a character, or a writer creating a character). You interpret that person's idea, that - to me - is a job.

I know we're splitting hairs, but that's where I split it.

Anonymous said...

I see your point if the designer is brought in to create characters based on an existing style, but there are shows that a character designer, who isn't a show runner is brought in to set such a style, those are who I feel deserve residuals.

Steve said...

Hmm... you make good points. I don't entirely disagree. A few thoughts:

I think it depending on the production.

In some case, they're not coming in dry. They're drawing based on an existing idea, and an existing script. Right? (This is a script driven show) Because if it's NOT a script driven show or idea, the artist has already come in with ideas for the art that a character designer would refine.

And since, on a show where the bible or a final script has been created, a creator (and a network development person) are giving direction (probably to the point of ad naseum) as to what style of art they want, and so forth.

Therefore - I think that falls under "contracted to do a job."

But I do see your point, and maybe that's something someone with a much more established character design style - say a John K, or a Seth MacFarlane, or a Stephen Hillenburg - could specifically ask for a piece of the back end for their input. Because someone is specifically asking at artist for their take specific take on an unfinished idea.

In this case I would say "you get what you negotiate for," in the same way that creators have to negotiate for the size of their backend.

This way, if somebody with nothing more than a vague idea for their cartoon reaches out to an established somebody with a solid vision for characters, that artist and their representation has the ability to ask for something.

And if they're reaching out to somebody to do something "in the style of," then they've already done a lot of that design thinking for the character artist and suddenly, it's just a job.

What we're talking about in any contract, where residuals would be triggered, are "minimums." The LEAST anyone can be paid.

There are minimums, like someone like I would get if I had suddenly pitched and sold a live action drama... but J.J. Abrahms or Josh Whedon would make a lot more than me because they're established as capable of creating hits in that genre.

Character designers getting what they can negotiate for.

What do you think of that?

Anonymous said...

"Character designers getting what they can negotiate for. "
so why cant everyone do that? why do we need unions at all? why is everyone so dependant on these little clubs and so afraid to negotiate for themselves?
if animation writers are going to get residuals than storyboard artists should to and i've never heard of that happening and it probably never will happen because animation is considered a lesser medium than live action stuff.
i think the union should allow members to elect to forego the benefits package or create a smaller benefits package in exchange for residuals to their work. that way people who actually do more creating can reap the benefits of their creativity and those who just want to do the job and get a check can do so as well.

Steve said...

Because we're talking about creative jobs in a creative industry.

If you want to give your line producer a cut, go for it. If you want to be a line producer negotiating for a cut of the backend, good luck.

There's a difference between splitting hairs and being a lousy devil's advocate. I think you're being the latter. :)

Anonymous said...

...or you might say that you can only negotiate what you can afford to, and same goes for the corporation. This is traditionally done with lawyers and agents, and in Hollywood, you can throw managers into the mix, too.

The studios use their Harvard grad lawyers and the - No wait, that's the WGA writers. No wait...

Hmmmm...what's really going on here?

Anonymous said...

anyone with a law degree in TAG? anyone? don't be shy now. raise your hand. harvard lampoon experience? anyone? bueller?

Matt Wayne said...

Here's the thing, though: Suppose you're the artist on a Superman comic. You didn't create any of the universe, or any of the supporting characters, yet you own the copyright on the pages you draw until you sign it away.

What you don't own is the trademark--the names Superman, Clark Kent, Lois Lane, their distinctive likenesses. So even though you have the copyright to your pages until you sell it, you don't have the right to sell copies of your work featuring other people's trademarked characters.

While the person creating a show has both the inherent copyright and trademark (until they very likely sign it over to the production company), subsequent writers and artists playing in that sandbox have inherent copyrights of their own, which they sign away for either a paycheck or a flat rate.

This inherent copyright is why showrunners can't steal fan-fiction stories posted on a website (not that they ever would, because most fan-fiction is godawful). They're using your trademark without permission, but having the trademark to Superman doesn't give you automatic copyright on every Superman story, which is why the separate rights of TM and © are asserted in different places.

Now, all these rights are usually signed over to media conglomerates the second a writer or artist invoices. But in the case of every writer or artist, it's fair to get back some of the value of what they're signing away in the form of a residual or royalty.

And in the case of Superman artists, they do collect a royalty based on the number of copies sold, and another fee for subsequent uses of the work. Not that comics companies are particularly fair to creatives, it's just cartoons are terrible.

Once you get this, it's pretty obvious that both writers and artists aren't getting fair value. And if you're like me you start to think, "Why, oh why didn't I take those LSATs? I could have made such a nice living!"

Anonymous said...

I'm all for negotiating for the best deal - I just figure if there are standards set by the union that artist is a member of, then it is easier to forgo attorney's fees or agent's commissions, since the union is supposed to be the bargainer.

I agree if the show is set in a style and then one comes along to carry on that style, that is more of a contract/work for hire kind of thing.

But I have witnessed shows where a writer has a concept and pitch and then is married to a designer to create those characters, and as many know the right kind of designer can add ideas that help shape the characters that will be in the show, which would've possibly not have been there before.

These are the folks who I feel deserve residuals.

Matt Wayne said...

To me, this isn't about who's making the most genuine contribution. That's too subjective to ever make a hard-and-fast rule about.

Every expression of a unique idea, in words or pictures, belongs to its creator by law and in fact. This extends to every single different take on the Simpson family rushing to the sofa.

Artists and writers have an inherent copyright to their work that shouldn't be given away without regard to its use. In many European countries, it's impossible for an artist to sign away all rights in perpetuity. And yet, EU media companies seem to do okay.

We have an inherent right--for lack of a better term, a moral right--that we give away too freely.

Anonymous said...

Matt, where talking about two different points. It's up to the artist whether or not he/she wants to sign off that copyright and/or trademark.

Personally I have projects that are all mine, which I intend to produce and exploit for me. I also have projects which are for sale, which includes all rights.

Like real estate my property is for me to do with as I please, but if I want to hire a landscaper or interior decorator to increase the value of the property, then I negotiate with them one on one.

The system we have now is that TAG negotiates service contracts for us, and if certain job categories aren't defined as to recieve residuals, then those artists/writers are up against a wall to ask for them, as a opposed to a WGA contract where it is expected.

Anonymous said...

At most studios, the executives DO believe that the ideas are all theirs. This is because technology has opened the door for them to pretty much write and direct the shows themselves, without doing much more than having quicktimes of animatics e-mailed to their summer homes. If you haven't noticed all of the Hollywood celebrity 8.5x11 glossies of your typical television CEOs, then you haven't been paying attention to what is going on.

In the Devil Wears Prada, Meryl Streep pronounced that the out-dated sweater her assistant is wearing was a bad rip-off of a line of designer-wear that people like her handed down to the great unwashed. And we are supposed to cheer her for this.

What the film blatantly failed to point out is that the designer-wear that people like her supposedly created was ripped off from some young anonymous regular at Club 54, who people like her figured was going to die of a drug overdose anyway.

This is the truth of what is really going on across the board.