Saturday, January 19, 2008

Barguments over the strike

So, I live up in the Valencia/Stevenson Ranch area.

This is, I think it's safe to say, where successful but not mega-rich people in the entertainment industry live.  The below the line folks who are doing well on a week to week basis, or, for the sake of arguments, animation show runners who have been doing animation show running for nearly a decade.

I like it here.  I could use a few more decent restaurants, but the "Claim Jumper Buffalo Chicken Tenders" are pretty good.

But... I am outnumbered here - more above the line than below, more IATSE than WGA, more people affected by the strike than people striking.

There are a couple of places I hang out, and invariably, when somebody hears I am a writer, the discussion goes one of two ways:

Sometimes it's: "How are you handling the strike?"  And I have to be honest, that aside from the time I put in striking with, or working with, the WGA... it's not hitting me.  I work in animation, and animation writers are not on strike... at least the ones who aren't covered by the WGA.    Our shows continue, if we're not prime time.

But mostly it's: We don't like you.  You're killing us."  And this is the reaction I get more than not.  And I always - ALWAYS - engage those people in a discussion.  Because yes - to the hair stylist and the production person that I talked to over the past week - I get it.  You're jobs are either on the bubble or drying up, and your life is on the line.  And I don't think there's a single writer on the face of the Earth that isn't sorry for that.
     But also invariably, when I talk to them, I point out that for every penny the WGA negotiates for, the other unions also get.  IATSE, for example, will make 4.5 cents for every penny the WGA manages to get.  It's pattern bargaining.  For the WGA's sacrifices, despite IATSE's lousy support, they win.  As does every other union.  We were the first union to have to fight the digital download battle.  If it wasn't the WGA, it would have been SAG.  
   And if it wasn't the WGA, the DGA deal would have been a big, steaming pile of ass, as opposed to what seems to be a pretty good starting point for a renewing of talks.
   And I get that writers are paid more than most.  But that' s because - in prime time and in animation sometime - they created it.  They created the show, or created the episode.  It started with them.
   When a person creates a new drug, or invents something like the artificial heart, nobody begrudges them getting a big cut of the profits.  But because writing is considered a "fun" job, the fact that writers are fighting for what they believe is their fair share is considered greedy.
   Nobody gets mad at the person who invented the cell phone because not anybody can invent a cell phone.  But everybody - on some level - can write.  Either a letter.  Or a blog.  Or a note.  Consequently, it doesn't feel important.

   As a writer - as somebody who tries to create things that become television shows - I get that I have a blessed life.  I get that I'm one of a small group of people who will ever come up with an idea, get the chance to develop an idea, and then get it on the air.  It's fun, but it's not easy.
  But that idea - IF IT SELLS - employs people.  It creates jobs.  From producers, to writers, to actors, to caterers, to make up people, to electricians, and more.   That is a fortunate byproduct to the fact that I'm trying to create something I'm passionate about.  
  Any writer that tells you they write to create jobs is a liar.  But any writer that doesn't understand that their work is putting food on people's tables is a dick.  This strike falls in the middle of those two concepts.

   The pyramid STARTS with the creation of the idea, and it widens out to include hundreds of people.   But then, the people making the most money off the show - the studios or networks - seemingly want to marginalize and be greedbags to the very people who started that employment train in the first place.

   I explain that - and I take the time to point out that writers aren't looking for pity.  All I'm saying is, they do not deserve scorn.

17 comments:

Kevin Koch said...

"I point out that for every penny the WGA negotiates for, the other unions also get. IATSE, for example, will make 4.5 cents for every penny the WGA manages to get."

The flip side is, will those extra revenues more than make up for what's been lost since October? At this point, the health and pension trust funds of the IA have taken such severe hits that there will be copays on our health plan. We don't know how bad it will be, but it's already bad. In a few months, if the strike continues, it will be a major crisis.

We'll never know how good a deal the WGA and the DGA could have gotten if the strike hadn't happened, but there is the possibility that, if the strike goes on for a few more months, any incremental benefits of the strike will never exceed the current losses.

Steve said...

Kevin;

We already know what kind of deal the DGA would have gotten without the WGA. Historically, they have been fold monkeys.

You know what the deal would have been without a strike? The deal that was offered, and the six bullsh*t ultimatums that the studio threw down before they left.

It would have destroyed writing as a career, and the ability to be rewarded in success. It would have made it a job.

We may have our differences on this, but be honest. Without this strike, the DGA deal sucks. With this strike, yes, people have been affected. But things will be improved as well.

Anonymous said...

Those are both very weak arguments. Kevin just punched holes in the 4.5% concept - I notice you didn't try to use the straw man argument 'if our residuals go away so will your benefits'. I'll giver you points for that, at least. The truth of the matter abouyt creater/writers is that's a small percentage and those that are creaters usually have deals that are way beyond anything this strike could possibly hope to get them. The vast majority of writers are hired hands and given projects and told what to write.
There seems to be a lot of hubris going around on the writer's part since the DGA settled. The only way they can save face is by saying the deal the DGA got (that a lot of the writers are currently pissing and moaning about) wouldn't have happened if it hadn't been for the WGA strike. That's a little hard to know for sure and it certainly can't be considered a FACT as many of the writers would like to think. Just because someone writes it doesn't make it a fact...;)

The DGA spent 2 mill looking into the internet and the WGA spent nothing (or I assume since they're not telling anyone they did).
I can say just as suredly that the DGA wouldn't have gotten as good a deal without doing their reasearch as the writers are saying about the strike. No one will ever know for sure so it's silly to talk about it.
But as long as we're making grand statements I predict that the strike will last only a couple of more weeks and they will drop the animation writers as an issue ASAP(and probably the reality shows)if it means getting back to work.
And the first day after the strike the courier services will be working overtime delivering scripts and revisions that are suddenly finished in record time.

Anonymous said...

Why is it I've never heard other above the liners (directors and actors) bitch and moan about residuals? It seems like the only ones I ever hear complaining about it are the writers - and those BTL that don't get any, of course.

Steve said...

You never hear them bitch and moan about residuals because their residuals, I think, end up in their pension and health.

Writers residuals' end up in their pockets, which gives them the ability to take care of their families and themselves in the NOW.

And the BTL people do get them. But IATSE puts them in their pension and health, which - if I'm not incorrect - is lower than the WGA's pension and health.

Steve said...

I think, anonymous before the anonymous, that we'll have to agree to disagree.

I think if the writers hadn't struck, the DGA deal would be different.

And Kevin's point about monies lost is valid, but a little disingenuous as it blames the WGA, not the AMPTP. That's actually been my problem with IATSE all along - they're a union that seems to be siding with management.

Do you know why the AMPTP will settle this thing by May? Because the last thing they want is for Actors and Writers to strike together in June.

IATSE's contract is up a year after that, right?

There's a reason the contracts are scattered while the AMPTP negotiates in unity.

It screws US.

Anonymous said...

"You never hear them bitch and moan about residuals because their residuals, I think, end up in their pension and health."

Nope. Directors and actors get mailbox money just the way writers do. They just don't complain about it.

"And the BTL people do get them. But IATSE puts them in their pension and health, which - if I'm not incorrect - is lower than the WGA's pension and health."

So why do you and the other writers go on about how happy everyone else should be because of the residuals being put into HW&P if they're not as good as you get - plus your mailbox money?

It sure seems to me that the WGA had been planning this for a long time and thought they could crush the studios and can't believe the studios called their bluff. What research DID the WGA do before they decided it was ok to put everyone out of work so they could make a grand statement? Was the only research they did was listen to a bunch of CEOs brag about how much they would make to the shareholders?

Steve said...

I can't speak to what "research" the WGA did.

I'm not following intricacies like that, either.

All I know is this:

The people who create deserve to participate in a meaningful manner.

I don't even understand why that's a debate.

Anonymous said...

Actors DO bitch and moan about residuals, and maybe even more than writers. The "word on the street" so to speak is that even if the writers fold and take the DGA residual rollback deal, the actors will never accept it and will strike.

DGA, on the other hand, is made up of a majority of people (ADs, 2nd ADs, etc.) who don't get residuals and therefore don't give a damn about them.

Steve said...

Yup.

And I'm WAAAAY too pissed off about the Packers for a calm discussion about this.

I'm sure the WGA will tag in on this tomorrow.

Bob Harper said...

It's okay Steve as a Cowboys fan I feel your pain...

Kevin Koch said...

I think it's rather glib, and not necessarily true, that the DGA have been "fold monkeys." I know that's the WGA mantra, but I think it's an example of sloganeering, meant to bolster the troops. Oh, and the WGA has done some folding, too. The WGA has traditionally done some really stupid things, and their long-time war of words with the DGA is near the top of the list.

I have absolutely no doubt that the shitty deal the AMPTP was trying to give the WGA wasn't a serious attempt at negotiating. They had already accepted as a foregone conclusion that they wouldn't be able to reach a deal with the WGA till after they had a deal with the DGA and maybe SAG, too. So they could afford to play hardball with silly offers to the writers. Lots of people saw it coming, and if frankly played out pretty close to the predictions.

I do think the AMPTP was surprised by how early the strike came, and how cohesive it was, and that that allowed the DGA to get a somewhat better deal. But I don't think the AMPTP ever thought any Hollywood labor organization was going to accept some of the nonsense they were baiting the WGA with.

And to the last anonymous, is the word on the street really that it's a "roll-back deal"? Are people really that stupid? The parts of the deal that will be common to SAG, DGA and WGA appear to be mostly better than the WGA was trying to get. The leaders of WGA and SAG would have already decried an obvious roll-back deal. They aren't. Time to take a deep breath and actually look at the deal.

I'll bet the chances of a SAG strike just went up in smoke, and that a lot of people are going to be looking to de-escalate the nasty rhetoric so it won't feel like a defeat to take the DGA deal. The WGA leaders are already making a big point of how important the WGA strike was for this deal (i.e., claiming partial credit, which is fair enough). Otherwise, they've been super quiet since the DGA deal broke, and they're already in at least informal formal negotiations with the producers.

Steve said...

For the record, I don't think the new deal is necessarily a roll back deal.

I think there are two camps - and one camp considers paying for internet new money, and the other camp considers using their material on the internet instead of airing it in a second window a rollback.

I don't know what the answer is.

I appreciate, Kevin, your admission that the WGA strike created pressure on the DGA deal. I also believe if the AMPTP came to the writers with this deal, there wouldn't have been a strike.

But they risked millions in ad paybacks against the idea that the writers would fold: And they were wrong. And the studios / networks have been taking it in the shorts accordingly.

This strike will be over before SAG has a chance to merge with the WGA and form a category 5 labor hurricane. I believe that. It's done by May.

I think TAG and IATSE have a responsibility to their writing membership to fight an equivalent battle, and prove they weren't simply nibbling at the balls of the big media.

This is my opinion.

I have always believed that change can come from within TAG, or without (WGA). But Change is due.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, please note that I said "residual rollback" not blanket rollback. DGA (with strike leverage behind them) got a good deal for themselves. And on a number of cross guild areas they got exactly what everyone was looking for. But DGA diverges from WGA and SAG on residuals.

Steve correctly points out that it comes down to if you believe Internet is new gravy or will soon replace TV residuals. The PR campaign to stop the strike will spin that it's new gravy, but most writers are smarter than that and realize they are currently looking at $20,000+ dropping to $1200. They are not hardliners and in fact hope the DGA deal can still be used as an overall template as long as this (and a few other writer specific areas) get fixed. But they (and the corresponding folks at SAG) are prepared to stay out as long as it takes to fix those points in the DGA deal.

Anonymous said...

2-3 weeks and WGA will be back at work fixes or not. There are plenty of voices of reason in the WGA that will overwhelm the hardliners that are ready to stay out indefinitely.

Anonymous said...

Like John Wells and Craig Mazin? Right.

Either it is a major residual rollback or it isn't. If it is, they can hardly be called hardliners.

We shall see once the fine print gets in and the WGA negotiating committee can study it. Right now, both camps should know they are merely speculating since they're both just working off of a press release.

Steve said...

Moving this discussion to the of the page.