Monday, November 19, 2007

Progress report

And there is progress to report on the strike front. The Guild and producers have agreed to return to the bargaining table next Monday. Hopefully everyone's yummy Thanksgiving dinners will have them in high spirits and ready to hammer out a deal. Never underestimate the power of stuffing, I say. And hopefully it's not just a ploy to get the showrunners back on the job (as they've agreed to do if the producers came back to the table) and get the last few scripts in the can before non-reality series grind to a complete halt. Their walkout was one unexpected twist that may have brought a little more pressure to bear a little sooner than expected. Not enough to cause any real "pain" to the studios but not an insignificant gesture either.

I walked Friday morning at Paramount. Got to meet John (as great as you would expect from his blog), a writer/producer from Journeyman and Sports Night (among many other projects), and one of the directors of the series Sabrina the Teenage Witch (he worked with TV's Frank!). And JJ Abrams brought us donuts, apparently -- without his glasses, I didn't recognize him (which supports John's Theory of Screenwriter Invisibility I suppose).

In the meantime, I'll link to this article, which Max notes really lays it all out in terms of what's at stake for writers and non-writers alike. The coverage out here in the trades and the LA Times has been stupendously pro-studio and Toni tells you just why that might be.

With the parties talking again, maybe the parties' stockings will be stuffed by Christmas with a big fat new minimum basic agreement that fairly compensates everyone for their works in whatever format they may be sold or used.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Melrose placed

Following in the short, circular paths of John August, Josh Friedman, Ken Levine, Scott the Reader, Julie the Script Whisperer, Fun Joel, Kira, and thousands other Guild members, I took some time out of my Veterans Day to grab a sign and do a few circuits at the Gower Gate of Paramount Studios. I ended up not walking the full four hours because, unbeknownst, they moved the shift times back by three hours.

I wasn't there long enough to strike (har) up conversations with the others on the line. But there were many honks of support, even where we were on one of the side streets off Melrose Avenue. When they moved us all to the Melrose Gate for the last 15 minutes of the day, things got much more lively. Lots of chants, lots of honks, and even Strike Dog. The first shift now starting at 6:00 a.m. actually fits my Friday schedule pretty well, so I am hoping to make it a regular, if not weekly, thing while the strike is on. And even though I'm not union (yet), the organizers are happy to have as many bodies on the line as possible. So if you are in L.A. and believe that writers are entitled to fair -- heck, any -- compensation for the use of their works in the series of tubes, just find your nearest studio and walk right up. It's just that easy.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Remember, remember the Fifth of November

Like most non-union writers, the WGA strike probably isn't going to have a huge impact on my life or career -- yet. And yes, as of this posting early Monday morning, the strike is happening. The decision was made on Friday and the time was set for Monday morning. Apparently there were some last-minute attempts at working out a deal but those attempts failed. If, as reported, they involved John Wells being the go-between for studio heads and union moderates, it may be for the best that an eleventh-hour deal wasn't reached. At least if it meant avoiding a repeat of Wells's last brokered deal that averted a strike in 2001 (now seen as a big loss for writers on DVD residuals).

Residuals are the heart of the dispute this time around as well. In a nutshell, writers want a better deal on internet downloads and other new media. The Alliance Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) initially wanted to just kick the can down the road with a "study" of how the new content delivery was going to work. Which was then upped to "if you don't accept that, we'll scrap the whole residual system altogether." Having the predictable effect of galvanizing rank-and-file support for the Guild leadership against the AMPTP. The producers took the residual rollback off the table (good) but remained adamant about keeping parity between the rates for DVDs and downloads (not good).

Could the union have done more to move negotiations along prior to zero hour? Probably. Trying to double payments for DVD residuals, at this point, is a losing battle for a a few reasons. First, one of the few things I learned from my employment lawyer colleagues is that, in collective bargaining when a concession is made, it's hard to later revisit that issue in subsequent contracts. The DVD residual ship sailed a long time ago. That's a chit that the WGA (and I assume at some point will) throw to the producers. Second, although it's not going to happen overnight, the DVD format will go the way of the CD, VHS, cassette tape, LP, cylinder, etc. Eventually, everything will be digital, online, downloadable, and stored on other media. It's already happening with standard definition DVDs. They've only been around a little more than 10 years. It took 30 years to kill videotape. Format life cycles are getting shorter and shorter. Even if a single hi-def DVD format emerges victorious, I'd wager it only prolongs discs' as content delivery by a few more years. Other union issues, such as organizing reality TV/animation and product integration into works, are potential concessions that could be made in the interest of furthering discussions. The future residual rate for downloads and new media is where the action's at.

But because downloads are the future, that makes it all the more crucial for the union to get this one right. As a writer hoping to one day be a union member, I think it's worth going to the mattresses over. Easier for me to say, since I only have a mere expectancy in future residuals of any kind. There are a lot of people in town who work below the line on tv shows and features who could really be in for a hurting if the strike drags on. Which it very well could. Although a quick deal may, theoretically, be in the work, I have to think the guild would not use the nuclear option of a strike if it didn't intend to cause the AMPTP some measurable harm. Most immediately, the remainder of this television season and pilot season (which starts in January) for next fall's schedule. So now that the strike is underway, absent a total 180 by the producers on linking DVD and new media, I expect it to last at least until after the holidays. A tough situation for all concerned. It's not a fight that anyone on either side of the table really wanted (as far as I can tell). But now that it's here, a fight worth putting bodies on the line to win.