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Union Roundup: The Royal Family Helps Disney Strike a Blow Against Florida as Bob Iger Snaps Ike Perlmutter


In this spring of brewing discontent, where showbiz news — company layoffs! Old models no longer working-or-are-they? Possible strikes! — moves speedily, the Disney company, it would seem, is making its own moves as relentlessly and sharply as a cross-cut finale from a certain Francis Ford Coppola film. 

The Mouse House made concurrent, overlapping headlines midweek by simultaneously informing many of their formerly key executives that things weren’t personal, it was just business, while simultaneously invoking the British Royal Family — yes — to do an end run around the Florida Governor’s right-woke crusade against them.

As for the layoffs — reinstated Disney CEO Bob Iger has promised 7,000 of them are coming (and this is before a strike!) — it turns out those weren’t restricted to rank-and-filers. Ike Perlmutter, the billionaire former-investor-in-distressed properties, who’d leveraged his way buying a bankrupt Marvel in the ’90s, later famously selling it to Disney for $4 billion dollars, was let go, or finally pushed out, depending on your view of things.

As the Financial Times reports: In 2015, Iger reorganized Marvel to allow film producer Kevin Feige to report to the head of the Disney studio rather than the Marvel chair — a move that is said to have outraged Perlmutter. That reorganization also left Perlmutter with a smaller role as chair of Marvel Entertainment, a unit with a few hundred employees overseeing comic book publishing and consumer products.”

Well, okay. Perhaps that one was personal.

The comics side is now headed into the broader Disney Entertainment group, while consumer products — like that Groot plushie on your bed — will be subsumed elsewhere.

As the FT article also — dryly? — notes, “other Marvel executives are also losing their jobs,” including, among others, several C-suites worth of VPs over at ABC News, the extent of which “astonished staffers at the network,” according to CNN.

Kim Godwin
Kim Godwin image via ABC News

ABC President Kim Godwin said that “while these actions are never easy, they are a necessary step[…] as we chart a sustainable, growth-oriented path forward for the entire organization.”

As ever, it remains easier to find public appeals to sustainable growth, or certainly action labeled as such, as people are losing their jobs, rather than in the context of, say, trying to stave off climate collapse.

The specter of inexorably rising seas, however, turns our gaze inevitably to Florida, and as just as Disney was busily shedding suits, it also made news on the other coast for seemingly outwitting Presidential wannabe Ron DeSantis, whose crusade against the company recently manifested in the governor’s takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District board, that Walt-era construct that issues bonds and permits for the county infrastructure around Disney’s tourist-fueled Xanadu.

DeSantis’ vendetta, however, may “have backfired due to a prior obscure agreement that new governor-appointed board members say stripped them of their power.” A Business Insider piece, says the “contentious agreement, approved without fanfare a day before DeSantis assumed more control of Disney’s land […invokes] an obscure property law known as Rule Against Perpetuities,” stating that Disney’s control will last for “‘twenty-one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.'” All of which makes Disney basically its own government, once again, leaving DeSantis’ hand-picked, donor-heavy board little to do beyond maintaining roads and “basic infrastructure,” according to one of its members.

The whole “descendants of King Charles” aspect seemed, at first, like the whole thing might be an elaborate April Fools’ joke or an idea from a jettisoned draft of A Streetcar Named Desire before Tennessee Williams decided to have Stanley Kowalski talk about the “Napoleonic Code” instead. But no.

As the Guardian explains, ‘Royal clauses’ of this kind are used to avoid rules in some places against contracts that last in perpetuity. The British royal family was chosen for the clauses because information about the family tree was readily available, but also because of the “better healthcare available to, and longer life expectancy of, a royal family member compared to a non-royal,” according to the law firm Birketts.

Needless to say, in an effort to save face, DeSantis’ various spoke-folk have proclaimed the Disney battle now moves to the courts, but in the likely event Disney still prevails, one might imagine a certain now-indicted Florida resident, currently running for President, being more than gleeful to rub the Governor’s nose in such a last-minute reversal.

WGA logo

As for how Disney, and its fellow AMPTP members, will ultimately react to the current demands of the WGA, and whether Hollywood is headed for another strike, our colleagues at Variety held an informative webinar over at LinkedIn the other morn. It was a good rundown of the issues, and histories, involved, in an hour-long conversation between co-Editor-in-Chief Cynthia Littleton, senior media reporter Gene Maddaus, and moderator and analyst Gavin Bridge. You can find it here.

Littleton, among the various insights of the trio, observed that one is “working harder to stay at the same level… which certainly isn’t unfamiliar to most of America” — something affecting not just writers, and not just a certain faction of people in L.A. wondering if their mortgages in Encino or Santa Monica, and their kids’ school tuitions, are just too high (though those are good things to wonder about) — along with noting that “since the days of the player piano, it’s been a constant dance between creatives and technology.” But in addition to what the main trio was saying, there was a lot to be gleaned from the busy chat running alongside the stream, at a much livelier pace than usual, according to Bridge.

Among the comments, which you’re also encouraged to scroll through, was one producer saying “the problem with all these guys is that they’re taking hostage 100 [sic] of thousands of studios employees and it’s always recurring,” with a London-based content maker later replying that other disciplines in showbiz also feel the effects of fewer episode orders, and much shorter “seasons” — like the actors (whose own union contract, of course, expires, along with the DGA’s, in the summer weeks following the WGA’s):

“Fewer episodes per season means fewer guest [star] and co-star [roles] for the ‘work a day’ actor, and fewer recurring opportunities, the slow disappearance of ‘syndication’ means disappearing residuals, also streamers have really been playing a game calling roles ‘hefty co-star’ versus guest stars — it’s meant a real pay cut for the average working actor. And so much more… but that’s another live stream.”

Indeed. The future is likely to have no shortage of urgent live-stream subjects.

Towards the end of this one, though, another of the commentators — himself an award-winning producer, who now also teaches at UCLA — said “pals in unscripted have told me that the studios have not been bulking up, contrary to popular opinion. So far, the major buyers aren’t changing buying behaviors in unscripted, but have slowed way down, already, in scripted — mostly for the reasons Cynthia mentioned. They’re just cutting costs across the board. Everyone is retrenching and regrouping.”

Retrenching, regrouping, and laying off — which is pretty much where we came in. “Fasten your seatbelts,” as one WGA member once wrote for Bette Davis. Though it appears that more than just the night ahead is going to be bumpy.

MLWIncrediHeadMark London Williams is a BTL alum who currently covers Hollywood, its contents and discontents, in his recurring “Across the Pond” dispatch for British Cinematographer magazine, contributes to other showbiz and production-minded sites, and musters out the occasional zombie, pandemic-themed, or demon-tinged book and script, causing an increased blurring in terms of what still feels like “fiction.”

Mark London Williams’ Union Roundup column will appear every Tuesday. You can reach him to give him tips and feedback at [email protected]. He can also be found on Twitter @TricksterInk.

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