The writers strike rhetoric has escalated to a different level.
What began as a labor dispute over wages and residuals has morphed into a battle of egos and a fight over the nature of the creative contribution to entertainment content. As Mark Williams points out in his Union Roundup column in the December 17 issue of Below the Line, for many writers this has become a culture war in which they seek to preserve their status as equity owners in the content they help create.
For the rank and file, that equity takes the form of residuals. The studios would like to minimize those payments and limit their extension into new media such as the internet, which they’ve called a promotional adjunct to mainstream distribution. The writers want to ensure that residuals are extended into new media, which they say is a growing source of revenue for the studios and networks.
Contrary to popular belief, claims the WGA, it’s not only writers who benefit from residuals (see Tim Day’s commentary on page 14 of the same issue). IA members and Teamsters, they say, also benefit from residuals—although not in the same way. Rather than being paid directly as cash, these residuals go directly into those unions’ pension and health plans.
Hence, the argument goes, all workers should back the writers’ fight to preserve and increase their residuals because the outcome of these negotiations will have an impact on “residuals”—i.e., pension and health payments—throughout the industry.
Not everyone agrees. The other day Below the Line received an angry letter from a cinematographer. We didn’t publish because he wanted to remain anonymous, but his feelings are indicative of the way many below-the-line workers feel as they see their jobs evaporate.
He said, in essence, that comparing the kinds of residuals writers make to the residual payments that go into IA pension and health funds is comparing apples and oranges because IA members’ PH&W “is attained by working a set number of hours a year, not by how much our projects gross.”
These are complicated issues that we’d like to examine further in the pages of Below the Line as well as on this Blog. We invite members of the industry to participate in this dialog by sending us their comments.