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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Strike Round-Up # Whatever

This is going to be a long one and a bit rambling, but I hope you'll read it all. There may be some good nuggets buried in here!

Once again, it has been too long since my last strike update. I keep bookmarking interesting pages, and by the time I'm ready to post, at least 1/4 of them are no longer relevant. I'll try to do my best here!

So, the AMPTP walked out. Again. And again they blamed the WGA. This after the AMPTP offered a half-baked (or at least half formed, as they told the WGA they'd come back with the other half and then never did) "New Economic Partnership" proposal that they claimed broke new ground. By offering the vast sum of $250 for unlimited usage of streaming vids, the only new ground I can see them breaking is in how insulting they can be. Furthering that insult, they kept in their clause about no payments for whatever they deem to be promotional. So basically, writers shouldn't even count on getting that treasure trove if a $250 payday.

An explanation of the $250 proposal:

But when the AMPTP walked on Friday, they blamed the WGA. They used words they didn't really understand to characterize the WGA. They said that there were six points which were roadblocks to them closing a deal, and that they refused to negotiate until the WGA completely removed these issues from the table. Well, let's take a look at what's wrong with this claim.

The day before the strike started, the AMPTP got the WGA to remove DVD from the table, claiming it was the roadblock to moving forwards with negotiations. "The" is a definite article (though I know studio execs don't know grammar as goodly as us writery peoples do), indicating it is the only roadblock, not one of many. The WGA agreed to take it off the table and were thanked with the AMPTP's generous quid pro quo offer of... nothing. Guess that wasn't the issue after all, huh? So DVDs have been put back on the table.

Now they say there are other issues that are the sticking points. Should we believe them this time? I doubt it. But whether or not we believe them, there's a more important issue at play here.

In the four days between the AMPTP's offer of $250 and the WGA's response to it, Nikki Finke reported that an AMPTP insider said something to the effect of, "I hope the WGA realizes this is just an initial offer. They should negotiate with us and bring a counter offer." Seems logical, as that is, in fact, the definition of a negotiation, and what most collective bargaining entails. By coming to the WGA and saying, "We won't negotiate until you take these demands off the table," the AMPTP is removing themselves from the standard procedure. Rather than saying that these are points which are up for negotiation, and which we are prepared to offer x in exchange for their removal, they are saying their negotiating method is to ask the WGA to remove those points in exchange for nothing at all.

So let's examine the most prominent of those points, reality TV and animation.

Why does the AMPTP insist on excluding reality TV? Obviously, the biggest reason is they'd prefer to save as much money as possible, and that's acceptable -- they are running a business. But I think there is another reason that should be debunked. If they admit that reality TV is "written," then how can they continue to call it reality? My response: who cares? Viewers will continue watching! After the WWF was forced to admit in court that its wrestling matches were completely staged fabrications, viewership didn't drop. Nobody cares if reality is actually reality, and in fact, the average American would probably tell you outright that it isn't, if you asked them. So get over it!

Still, while I disagree with the concept, I can hear and understand the arguments and think that reality TV may be a lost cause (until the producers are charged with the numerous labor law violations and/or Congressional hearings they are likely facing). Animation, on the other hand, makes no sense to me whatsoever.

I believe I said it once before, but it is worth repeating. As it stands currently, the same writer could write two different movies for the same studio, one animated and one live action, and be covered for one and not the other. Does this make any logical sense? You want o claim that reality TV editors aren't really writers? I disagree, but I can accept it. Try explaining the animation situation logically!

And it is sad, really. I know a guy who has written some major animated features, and he told me once about how he is stopping writing animated films and only doing live action. Why? Because it was not economically wise for him to keep writing animation. His live action films have done well, but at his core he is an animation writer and always has been. Why should he be forced to change what he writes simply because of an idiotic provision of the contracts?

Furthermore, with the advances in digital FX technology, more and more film are becoming categorized as animation, when they really aren't. While Beowulf's MoCap technology still included a lot of real animation, a large part of it wouldn't traditionally be categorized as such. What about Transformers? How much of a film will need to be digitally created before the AMPTP classifies it as "animation" thus removing the need to compensate the writer fairly?

So, can we see what the AMPTP is really going for here? They clearly want as much as possible in as many ways as possible. What do I mean by that? Well, in their spin on this past week's nonsense, the AMPTP sent out this letter. Notice what they say they believe: "writers should be compensated from the revenues created by new media." Notice what they didn't say: "fairly" next to that word "compensated."

They also purport to care about the fact that "tens of thousands of below-the-line workers are seeing their health insurance jeopardized by the continuing strike." Of course, that must only hold true for some workers, not those who are full-time freelancers, aka "permalancers." If they cared about them, this walk out at MTV Networks would never have happened.

Maybe they really are possessed by evil demons of greed. Perhaps more exorcisms are necessary.

Footage of the exorcism at Warners:
(Check out Friend of Fun Joel, writer Father Stephen Susco, in this vid.)

So, how long will this all last, really? No one knows, but it obviously looks like longer rather than shorter. From talking to a lot of people, I hear lots of varied (and well thought out) opinions. Some say that the fact that the AMPTP walked out now is a good thing, indicating they may be ready to settle it by mid January some time. The idea there is that they walked out as a strategy to weaken the WGA's resolve, then plan to return after 4-6 weeks and settle it. If they were really planning to hold out until March or later, they wouldn't have walked out yet. That's one theory I heard.

Another theory relates largely to this up coming weekend. Some think that the entire reason that the AMPTP forced the strike (and let's be honest, they made it pretty hard for the WGA to not walk out) was so that they could take advantage of force majeur clauses in numerous contracts. Force majeur is a legal term that allows for the dissolution of contracts when an outside "major force" beyond the contract's parties' control prevents them from meeting their obligations. Typically this refers to so-called "acts of God," but the studios have already begin to invoke this clause in some cases (or at least warn that they will). I am not an expert on the legal issues, but for whatever reason, the studios will be able to invoke force majeur beginning December 15 -- this coming Saturday. So keep your eyes peeled about that.

What does this have to do with the strike? Some believe that since most of the studios are now owned by huge multinational conglomerates, this is their first opportunity to "clean house" as they do in so many other industries when they move in. There are numerous "vanity contracts" floating around Hollywood that cost the studios lots of money and net them nothing in return. Once they can invoke force majeur, they will be able to dissolve many of these contracts.

Now, I have no idea how much these contracts actually cost the companies, but it would have to be a lot to make it worth the hit that the strike is inflicting on the studios. And make no mistake -- while the strike is not going to shut down these companies for good, it is certainly hurting them right now. Want some examples?

For starters, though a bit outdated, check out this drop in stock prices. As predicted, networks are starting to refund huge amounts of money to advertisers.

NBC's plan, after refunding $500,000 to each advertiser:

And the studios and networks who are represented collectively by the AMPTP may be splintering somewhat. So while they try to drive wedges between the various groups of writers by focusing on animation and reality TV, they may in fact be the ones who are dividing. Many have even questioned how it is that they are allowed to negotiate together -- in every other industry, that is called collusion. The United Auto Workers, for example, negotiate with each automotive company separately.

The AMPTP recently redesigned their website (and no, I'm not referring to this hilarious spoof website which has been blogged about ad nauseum in the span of just one single day), and on it they include a nifty counter akin to the "national debt counter" that used to sit a block from Times Square in NYC. Amazing how they can do the math on that, but can't possibly figure out how they can make money off the Internet! Well, I think the WGA should put up their own counter, showing how much it is costing the studios and networks. $500,000 ad refunds, canceled film productions, weak movie box office (potentially due in part to no late night TV promotions) and dropping stock prices has to be adding up.

Okay, so that's where I stand for now. We must stand strong and united, until the AMPTP decides to negotiate in good faith. Finally, let me leave you with some of my favorite videos and other links. Some are entertaining, some are insightful, some just are.

A great aggregation of media sources and vids about the strike.

A proposed solution, if you just believe:

The Strike and Your Marriage:

More on proposed solutions, by various genre writers:

Rumble in the Negotiating Room:

Pets on Strike:

And my two faves, so far, from the Speechless Without Writers series:

...and this vid below for its punchline...

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