Tuesday, April 16, 2024
Subscribe Now

Voice Of The Crew - Since 2002

Los Angeles, California

HomeBlog the LineUnion Roundup: Of Moments, Movements, and the possible DGA Endgame

Union Roundup: Of Moments, Movements, and the possible DGA Endgame


Written late last week, this is the Union Roundup column from the latest street issue of Below the Line:

Mark London Williams

So the second round of WGA/AMPTP “talks” have failed, and the great Hollywood Shutdown of ’07 will become the Shutdown of ’08. Both sides are accusing the other of bad faith, at a minimum, or even deliberate deception.

Michael Winship, president of the WGA’s eastern wing, sent out a letter to members with the first words being “they lie.”

“They,” of course, referring to the AMPTP.

The AMPTP, for its part, claims the writers have blindsided them, bringing up issues that are more cultural, than pragmatic.

Indeed, the NY Times’ ever-able Michael Cieply, in an interview with WGAw “prexy” Patric Verrone, reported that “during an interview in his office here, Mr. Verrone described the looming negotiations with employers as a confrontation much grander than a simple fight over pay formulas. This battle would be about respect.

“Writers, he said, were looking to restore a sense of leverage and status that had been lost as ever-larger corporations took control of the entertainment business. He described Hollywood as teetering on the brink of a dark age, as far as creative types were concerned. ‘I think if they could do this business without us, they would, and so making our task as mechanical and simple and low-paying and unartistic as possible,’ Mr. Verrone said.”

These thoughts were echoed in another piece that ran in the San Francisco Chronicle’s open forum, by “Bones” writer Noah Hawley, who contrasted his work as a novelist with that as a television scribe:

“As a novelist I am used to owning my work. Though a publisher receives the lion’s share of revenue for each book sold, I retain the underlying copyright…There is a reason these companies make us transfer copyright of our work to them. Ownership of creative content has substantial value in Hollywood. Ask any writer who has created a tent-pole movie franchise, or a blockbuster television series…Currently the authors of these works share in this revenue. But that will change if the back-end residual structure of our deals is eradicated.

“…They can see the day when the television set and the DVD disappear. When first-run movies are released for purchase online the same day they premiere in theaters. On this day, all media will effectively be transmitted to your home by computer. There will be no such thing as a screenwriter or a television writer. We will all be Internet writers. And once that happens these media conglomerates will become, in a very real sense, the sole author and owner of our work, entitled to 100 percent of the revenues they generate.”

All that is lucidly laid out, but the most telling paragraph in Hawley’s essay comes next:
“Writers will find themselves moving into a very specific ghetto of the American business world: that of the salaried employee. It is an identity that once had prestige and promise, but now in the era of multimillion-dollar CEO salaries feels like a trap. We will receive a fee to write a script, and then our creative and financial interest in the project will be over. “

So now we are back in the same territory broached by Verrone in his NY Times interview. We, are, in fact, in the middle of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel, “Player Piano,” wherein a ruthless corporate state has automatized nearly all work, and “workers,” as such, are reduced to drug-addled, distracted masses with little to do. And Hawley sees the writing on the wall – the sweatshops in China and the five year olds pumping out all those Wal-Mart specials, the union busting that has preceded apace since Reagan came into office in 1980 – and he is rightly scared. As is Verrone.

This strike, according to them, is as much about not being merely “just another GE” (or Sony or Viacom or Time Warner or….) employee as anyone else.

But the problem is, fighting a cultural war is different than striking for specific pay or work conditions. Fighting a cultural war – dislodging an uncaring corporate economic elite that owns the media, outsources work, reduces wages, and is more than willing to see both climate systems and local economies unravel if it means more profit (to admittedly conflate all corporate sectors with one another) – well, for that you might have to get less comfortable.

In other words, if your goal is to remake an economic system gone wrong, you may have to consider that you can’t perhaps do that, while retaining your home in Pacific Palisades, your Blackberry, and your swell new Lexus.

And if what you are doing is striking over larger perceptual issues, you need to enunciate that more clearly for the crew folk, and gophers, and drivers, and freelancers, etc., etc, — —everyone thrown out of work — since they are sacrificing right along with you.

If you are, in other words, the Wobblies – and let me be clear, I like Wobblies – you should make that clear, rather than leaving everyone puzzled over why the hell you can’t arrive on an agreeable formula for internet streaming.

This is not to exculpate the producer/owner side of the current strike. Far from it, given the steady stream of reports chronicling the AMPTP’s “take it or leave it” stance in their negotiations with writers.

But both sides need to know what in blazes their goal is, before entering negotiations. Otherwise, if the goal keeps shifting – as in an endless fight in a bad marriage, where unrelated issue after issue keeps being flung across the room so the anger can never end – nothing can ever be accomplished.

Toward that end, then, it would seem the very first step toward getting this settled is for an entirely new slate of negotiators to be installed by both sides. There is now too much personal enmity between the WGA’s David Young, Verrone, the AMPTP’s Nick Counter, and everyone else who has squandered the entire past year, in terms of getting a settlement.

Like in that proverbial bad marriage, they are all too enmeshed with each other, and can no longer divide legitimate “issues” from each other’s personalities.

So UR is calling for a reboot of the entire negotiating process — which may come, of course, when the AMPTP starts their imminent talks with the DGA, about which, the latter guild said in a letter to members, “Because so much time has gone by without any resolution, we find ourselves faced with some hard questions. Is a fresh perspective — and additional muscle — needed to get the job done? Is it our turn to sit across the table from the AMPTP? What we know is that we cannot abdicate our responsibility to our members by putting their fate in the hands of another union whose tactics and strategy we have not been able to influence.”

If the WGA plans on fighting a broader battle than that – and given the general collapse of the planet’s social/economic/environmental systems, there’s certainly a case to be made for broad, urgent, necessary battles – they owe everyone an explanation of what’s at stake, and how long they think the duration should be. And we also need to be clear –especially to the A-listers — that you really can’t change the social order, while still going out to dine at Bastide.

On the other hand, given how deliberately American unions have been picked apart, there’s a reason that only athletes and writers – still collecting residuals – can actually afford to strike at all. We’ll have more about that next time.

Hang in there.

- Advertisment -


Beowulf and 3-D

By Henry Turner Beowulf in 3D is a unique experience, raising not just questions about future of cinema, but also posing unique problems that the...