Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Writer's Strike

As most of you probably know, the Writers Guild of America (both East and West branches) are on strike against the media producers (the AMPTP). Being as I am a kind of backdoor member of the WGAw, I support the union, and I thought I'd speak to it a bit.

First, these days, Hollywood isn't so much about making movies as making the deal, and it is all about the pie, and who gets what slice of it.

The writers -- without whom there would be no teleplays or screenplays, and thus no movies but documentaries, and no television, save the vile and onerous "reality" shows -- are once again being told to bend over and hand the producers the soap.

WGAw writers, on average, make about $60,000 a year. Better than being on the dole, but hardly enough to be considered serious wealth.

The crux of the strike this time is the same as it has been in the past: Everybody wants a bigger piece of the pie, and at least some of the producers would happily take it all.

The specifics of this round concerns the internet. Producers sell streaming video, for which there are commercials and for which they are making a shitload of money, only the writers don't get any of it.

When videotape came out, the producers said to the writers, "Gee, we don't how much money is gonna be involved in this, probably not much, so hold off on asking for any of it, and we'll hash it out later."

Home videotapes made a lot of producers filthy rich, and the writers got screwed.

When DVDs appeared, the producers said, "Hey, yeah, there might be some money here, but, you know, the formats haven't been nailed down, so, hold off on asking for any of it, and we'll take care of you later."

Uh huh. And guess who also didn't make any money from that.

And now, the associated producers are saying, "The internet? Well, yeah, there might be some money in that, but probably not all that much, so why don't you hold off and --- "

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me fourteen times, what, I am an idiot?

Well, yes, but not totally.

That's what the writers are trying to get: a piece -- a small piece -- of the internet action, which is already making producers rich.

There are other issues, but that's the sticking point. Just so you know ...


Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

Rock on, WGAw and e.

Todd Erven said...

I find it amazing how fast the "Top Dawgs" always screw over the people who enable them to make all their money.

Dan Moran said...

I wrote a tv pilot summer before last -- a friend wanted to know if a producer friend of his could option it, about a week ago. I'm not in the guild (at least, not paying dues, though I was in it once) ... but good Lord, that's a level of trouble I don't need in this life. I'd love to sell that pilot, but at the cost of being one of the most despised people in Hollywood (in the very unlikely case it got made) ... no. I don't need the money, and life is too short to be despised by half the people I know.

It's a good strike. I have no idea how it'll turn out, but it's the right time for it.

Steve Perry said...

No problem with being a scab, Dan'l -- if you wrote it more than six months before the strike was called, it's legal. Lot of guys on the picket lines have stuff being produced.

Couldn't do rewrites or more work, if you were in the guild, and probably wouldn't want to since you live in town, but you are morally okay if somebody goes for it.

Sean said...

The irony is, the writers want a % of the profits. They aren't making the product (their ideas, stories, characters) more expensive... they want to "get their beak wet" if the production is successful, gets another season, has a sellout DVD, is available on PSP, etc.

Pay on performance!! - the better (or in Hollywood's terms more popular)their work is, the writers should share in that success.

Ideas (whether a character, your opinion of a product like the iPod or a patent) have value - they become a currency unto themselves. If the producers are calculating the value of a property as a "life cycle" (the movie, the Cable rights, the DVD sales, the merchandising, the video game, the cross promotions and then rinse and repeat with the sequels) then they should include the cost for the writer in that calculation throughout the whole lifecycle.

Steve Perry said...

Yep, the producers *should* share the booty with the writers, but greed is the name of the game down there.

Dan Moran said...

6 months? I did not know that. This certainly qualifies.

I'd love to sell that option. My production track record is awful, but my option record was 100% ... up to this last piece, which people keep speaking well of and doing nothing with when time comes to take the next step ...

Steve Perry said...

Yeah, options are like free money -- if they don't get it up and running, you get it back. I've sold a few, and on one book, five or six times now ...

Tiel Aisha Ansari said...

According to legend, Leadbelly sold "Goodnight Irene" to several different recording studios. Made all the recordings the same day, then split with the money.

Considering he was probably being paid about $5 per song, I'd have to say more power to him. Those guys had never even heard of a union.

Mike said...

Every time a new technology comes along, you always get two views from the entertainment industry: 1) This technology is gonna wreck our profits and 2) This technology probably won't be a big deal. Reel to reel tape, digital audio tape, video tape, CDs, DVDs, MP3, the internet; you always get the same mutually exclusive stories. In the case of digital audio tape, the industry was so worried about illegal duplication that we ended up with "studio standard" tape that wasn't even supposed to work on home equipment. And in every case, industry profits have increased.

It's a radical notion, but it sure seems to me that the people who actually create the material ought to get some of the profits.