Sunday, December 23, 2007

IA, AP, WGA and minimums

So, Yahoo/AP was doing a story about what a bleak Christmas it was going to be for Hollywood. Since this started, I think, in a pretty fair manner, I read it.

Liked some, annoyed by others, had my own very unscientific calculations I wanted to toss out based on what they were tossing about as fact. Why not? Everybody's doing it!

"By SANDY COHEN, AP Entertainment Writer Sat Dec 22, 12:39 PM ET

LOS ANGELES - Nearly two months without paychecks. Scores of shuttered shows. Thousands out of work. The Hollywood writers strike suggests a bleak Christmas for many in Tinsel Town.

But just like a movie script, this story has a twist: many striking writers remain upbeat despite the financial and emotional strains the walkout has brought to the season."

Hey, now that's a pleasant surprise. Most of these articles go into the strike talking about how the writers strike is screwing over everybody and NOT the writers. At least this one is taking pains to point out, hey, the writers are feeling financial and emotional strains as well.

And it's talking about them being upbeat. Usually it's how, now that the strike is nearly 50 days old, the writers are starting to fold. So, two paragraphs in... maybe this will be a little even handed!

Since members of the Writers Guild of America went on strike job Nov. 5, more than $350 million in wages have been lost, said Jack Kyser, chief economist for the Los Angeles Economic Development Committee.

Ouch, there's a pretty big number with no real breakdown on what that means. Writers wages? Producer wages? Studio bonuses? A little help here. That's a mighty big number. Eeep. This article might be teetering.

Writers, though, are accustomed to sporadic employment and saving their pennies, and they're inspired by the feeling that they're helping their profession and the labor movement at large.

Yay! Something that doesn't portray writers as effete hat wearing idiots! We actually DO understand that our jobs are transient! And we do believe that this strike is about more than whether or not have to choose between Bentleys and Lamborghinis! I like you Sandy Cohen, AP writer.

"We're swept up by the romantic notion of being on strike and doing the right thing," said Luvh Rakhe, a writer and strike captain for the ABC show "Cavemen." "By strengthening the union movement in Hollywood, everyone who's in a union benefits."

Ugh. "Cavemen." Still, "Everone in a union benefits." This is true. After all, for every one cent the writers guild manages to secure, every other guild gets their raises as well, including IATSE (who gets 4.5 cents, really.) So, hey! Maybe IATSE'll figure out that this is everybody's fight!

But not everyone sees it that way.

Oh, balls.

The strike against the studios has also forced nearly 40,000 "below-the-line" workers — including electricians, carpenters, welders and prop masters — out of work, according to the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees. Unlike the writers, who are buoyed by feelings of righteousness and will presumably benefit from the strike's outcome, these workers are simply jobless at what should be a festive time of year.

Um... the writers are jobless as well. And the writers are jobless because they're fighting for something they believe in. Just because they're on strike, doesn't mean they have jobs. By the very definition of strike, they don't.

The strike has been "devastating" for IATSE members, said spokeswoman Katherine Orloff.

"They've not only lost their paychecks, they're losing hours that contribute to eligibility for health insurance and pension coverage," she said. "Everybody wants to go back to work, whether they support the strike, don't support the strike, are angry at producers or are angry at writers."

Thank you, Katherine Orloff. Yes, everybody wants to go back to work. While we're pointing out the obvious, we all need air, puppies are adorable, and cancer is bad. But it sure would be nice if IATSE could muster even the tiniest piece of support for the WGA by digging at the AMPTP for their part in this.

But as we've seen before, nobody in IATSE management seems to be wired for that. It's too much of a pissing match now.

Christmas presents are hardly a concern when "people are going to start losing their homes and their businesses," she said. "Gifts are almost frivolous ideas at this point. This is about survival."

So the WGA is responsible for the sub-prime mortgage crisis? Who knew?

Most writers and below-the-line workers earn middle-class incomes. The average writers-guild member's salary is $62,000 a year, according to the WGA. IATSE salaries are similar. Strike or no, employment is inconsistent for both groups, with nearly half of writers-guild members and 10 to 15 percent of IATSE members without work during the year.

Anybody else catch that?

Writers make what IATSE people make, but 35% MORE WGA people are out of work than guild members. Especially when we start, WE MAKE THE SAME MONEY. WE HAVE THE SAME UNPREDICTABLE LIVES. WE'RE THE SAME F***ING PEOPLE TRYING TO MAKE DO HERE.

"As a writer, you have to develop the instinct of squirreling money away," Rakhe said. "You're just used to a lot of uncertainty in the first place."

The WGA prepared its members for the possibility of a strike a year in advance, so many writers saved money and started buying Christmas presents early.

And what did our guys do in IATSE? Saved up venom. You would think with ten times the members, maybe they could have armed their weapons and took a defensive crouch.

"This is the worst holiday in this town that I've ever experienced," said Jim Brooks, longtime writer and producer of "The Simpsons." "This is not dancing-in-the-street time. This is shuffling in a line, carrying a sign time."

Studios, though, are still celebrating, with Disney, Universal and Paramount throwing big holiday bashes like they do each year.

Of which I went to one of those parties. It was nice. I had a lovely slice of Turkey and a whiskey sour. And then I went home.

Those same studios, said "Law & Order" scribe Joe Reinkemeyer, are the "Grinch that stole Christmas from all of Hollywood."

However, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which represents the studios, blames the writers.

"Because they walked off the job, tens of thousands of other people who had no stake in this dispute are losing hundreds of millions of dollars," said spokesman Jesse Hiestand. "Many of those other workers will never have the kind of six-figure incomes enjoyed by WGA writers and it is a real shame that the holiday season is being dimmed by the writers' decision to go on strike."

Note here that when the studios talk about it, the writers are now making six figures and the IATSE folk will never see that kind of money. That's gotta be encouraging for IATSE members to know they have a ceiling that they'll never break out of and, chances are, their union probably won't strike over.

It's still horsecrap. Anybody want to toss out some numners as to what Editors make? Animation writers? Animation people? All sorts of other IATSE jobs? Using their minimum agreements to see how it goes? Let me help here.

Six figures is about 1923.00 per week. However, when I was struggling, I didn't take my vacation week. So I made 54 weeks of checks over 52 weeks. Now, that weekly goes to 1851.00.

My choice, but if we're in a world where we're tightening belts, that's a good way to do it. Anybody want to fill in the blanks with some real numbers on residuals?

Not minimums, but what working IATSE people are paid on a weekly basis. For the sake of our discussions: Board artists, color stylists, art directors, Prop designers, etc.

How close are WGA and IATSE when we're in the world of minimums?

The difference is, I think, the WGA low number may very well be the IATSE high number when it comes to the creative side of the entertainment industry.

But it's also the difference between working on an idea and creating it. The person who created it - be it Caveman, Law and Order or Judging Amy - will ALWAYS get more because they're at the top of that pyramid, with writers pretty close behind. So to me, this article says a few things:

* Writers and IATSE members aren't as far apart as you'd think, especially fiscally. Remember, these agreements are about minimums, not maximums... so we're all starting at the same place.

* Writers and IATSE members start to take different roads when there's opportunity to be exploited. Writers created starts them reaching for higher rungs on a ladder, and those rungs get pay increases on an exponential level, because those pay increased are negotiated by agents, not someone willing to say "2% more? Sure, that's good this year for everyone."

* Writers and IATSE members are at the mercy of each other. If IATSE were to go on strike for something, WGA would shut down as well. The only difference is, if there were a different union that was less contentious, you would see writers support. Imagine how fast this strike would have been over if IATSE's 150,000 members started backing it.

- Marmel

Tired. But wanted to post a non-micah post. Let the clearly less explosive debate begin.

13 comments:

Vincent Waller said...

What? I like Cavemen.

Anonymous said...

"Um... the writers are jobless as well. And the writers are jobless because they're fighting for something they believe in. Just because they're on strike, doesn't mean they have jobs. By the very definition of strike, they don't."

But they continue to receive residuals and if I understand correctly their union is helping. The same can't be said for any 'below the line' that have been adversly affected.

Bob Harper said...

"Writers and IATSE members are at the mercy of each other. If IATSE were to go on strike for something, WGA would shut down as well. The only difference is, if there were a different union that was less contentious, you would see writers support. Imagine how fast this strike would have been over if IATSE's 150,000 members started backing it."

Could you clarify how studios couldn't order more scripts if the IATSE went on strike. I can see how it would affect talk shows but episodic television and features could still be written, couldn't they? Unless there's some provision in WGA not to write anything during such a work action.

Steve said...

A union of 150,000 people - that include above and below the line people - could grind this town to a halt.

You know all those people who are saying "we can't work while the writers are on strike!"

Imagine if they were on strike. Reality, Talk, Game Show...everything screetches.

That's all I'm saying.

The THREAT of that would be huge.

But that ain't happening.

Bob Harper said...

But still, writers could work for Animation, Features and Episodic Television, so a WGA shutdown is more devistating to IATSE than an IATSE is to the WGA. And apparently the only ones who are truly weathering the storm are AMPTP.

Another question - if WGA can negotiate with Letterman, then could they do the same for each producer? If that were to happen, would that in effect weaken both the AMPTP and the WGA?

As far as the threat of an IATSE strike goes - IATSE can't strike while under contract just as WGA can't strike again until their new contract were to expire. Like when animators went on strike - WGA, SAG and everyone else kept on trucking.

I think the animosity all unions have towards each other is foolish and unfortunate. Each has to look out for their own, I guess, but I think I'm inclined to opt for the other way out.

Anonymous said...

From my understanding most of the below the line unions have 'no strike' clauses just as TAG does.

Steve said...

But most unions aren't vehemently against the WGA, and sidling up to the studios, as IATSE does.

That's my point of contention. Not a "no strike" clause.

It's one thing to not be able to strike, and another to be cheering against fellow workers.

Anonymous said...

I doubt most below the liners ever feel like 'fellow workers' to the writers.

Whether it's their own doing or not there is a class system in films. It's not a 'all for one, one for all' system as in the rest of society.

Steve said...

Anonymous says:

"I doubt most below the liners ever feel like 'fellow workers' to the writers. "

Whether it's their own doing or not there is a class system in films. It's not a 'all for one, one for all' system as in the rest of society."

Well, I don't think "the rest of society" is very all for one, one for all either, but that may or may not have been sarcasm.

But you can dig into all the jokes about "the dumb girl who came to Hollywood and f**ked the writer" to know how writers are looked at. (By the way, it's not a dumb girl, but I've 'PC'd' the joke for the sake of it being 2007).

All I'm saying is - yes, there's a pecking order. But to me, it looks like a pyramid. There's a person on top. That person's second in commands have less power than he or she, and so on and so on and so on. But in the end, the person at the top - the showrunner for the sake of our debate - has all the power and all the clout.

That being said, the only reason that showrunner is a gabillionaire is the WGA negotiated backend that person gets. At least on their first show.

Without it, Mark Cherry makes dickall on the breakout success of "Desperate Housewives." He gets his producers fee, and a script fee.

With it, through ownership, he makes millions. A percentage. A fair share in success because he had an idea that nobody else had.

This is what the fight is about.

Anonymous said...

"With it, through ownership, he makes millions. A percentage. A fair share in success because he had an idea that nobody else had.

This is what the fight is about."

So you're saying that Cherry couldn't have negotiated the exact same deal he has now without what the WGA is fighting for? I can't imagine his deal had anything at all to do with the union - more likely his agent and lawyer.

BTW is was a mistype...I did mean that the rest of society also functions in a class system. And it was my point that this is most likely why many below the liners are not 'cheering' for their fellow workers.

Kevin Koch said...

That being said, the only reason that showrunner is a gabillionaire is the WGA negotiated backend that person gets. At least on their first show.

Hmmm, I'm skeptical about this, too. One of the complaints I repeatedly saw over at Artful Writer is the schism between successful TV writers and successful movie writers -- the movie writers resent how the TV writers, when they get successful and become showrunners, take most of their payment as producers, not as writers. The resentment seems to be twofold -- they don't have to pay WGA dues on it, so they don't support the WGA to the degree that the movie screenwriters do, and it also makes them more management than writer (which was a huge issue in the '88 strike, and so far has been a non-issue in this strike).

Anonymous said...

Kinda haveta agree with Kevin. So many of those writers on live action dramas -- they want to "produce" as well as "direct." They double and triple dip. I heard the last two seasons of Angel turned to shit because the writers all insisted on getting producer credits so they could direct their own episodes.

Also, the wga writers -- I'm really not impressed with them. I met a few on a live action drama series --- they work in big teams, I was surprised how bad they are, compared to individual writers who work in animation who really have to work their asses off because we rarely have the resources. And yet, those live action guys still get the big fat checks...

Kevin said...

I don't blame some live-action writers for wanting to produce and direct. I'd want that, too.

And I'm certainly impressed with WGA writers, at least the ones who create shows like "Deadwood" and "The Wire." I've also gotten to read live-action screenplays by non-WGA writers trying to break in -- it's amazing how awful they can be.

No one is born being a WGA writer - most work their asses off for years before making the writing sales that get them WGA membership. It's a brutal competition that weeds out most hacks. That doesn't mean the anything written by someone who holds a WGA card is automatically good, nor that anyone who's written for a WGA show is going to be any good at animation writing.

I think we agree that writing for animation is significantly different from most live-action writing, and that good animation writers rarely get the respect they deserve.