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Table of contents for Writers Strike 2007-2008

  1. The Cinemoose Guide To The Writers’ Strike
  2. The Cost Of The Writers’ Strike
  3. The Writers Went On Strike And All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt

Let me start out by saying that, in general, I’m against unions. Never liked them. I understand the need for them, but despise them. Why? Because at some point, all unions and union leadership become less concerned with “banding together to improve working conditions” and more concerned with “We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!”.


Not that I side with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers, but in my opinion, the Writers Guild of America (WGA) is the latest case of a union trying to stay relevant by flexing its muscles and making a publicized grab for power. With the writers on strike fighting over their share of internet and new media rights, the Moose thought it would be a good idea to explore the current key demands of the Writers Guild and whether or not those demands are reasonable.


Union Support

WGA Proposal: Prohibit discipline of writers who honor picket lines of other entertainment unions.

This is the right for writers to sympathy strike when other unions go on strike. This is also a right that no union in the entertainment industry has had for over fifty years. This is an unnecessary demand that doesn’t help the screenwriter’s working conditions or pay. This is purely a play for power by union leadership.

“We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!”.


Jurisdiction and Animation

WGA Proposal: Modify the definitions of “television motion picture” and “theatrical motion picture” to expand coverage of the MBA to all theatrical and TV animation except those that are covered by other labor organizations.

IATSE Animation Guild Local 839 has jurisdiction over theatrical animation, not the WGA. It is not up to the AMPTP nor is it within their capacity as the negotiating arm of the studios to offer jurisdiction over workers already covered by another union. So why demand this?

“We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!”.


Jurisdiction and Reality Television

WGA Proposal: Add a new Sideletter clarifying that the definitions of comedy-variety, quiz & audience participation and “other non-dramatic programs” include reality programs, and provide examples. Also, add “Story Producer” and “Supervising Story Producer” to lists of acceptable forms of credit in the MBA.

According to the rules of labor-management negotiations, the AMPTP does not need to address any issues of jurisdiction. So why is this an issue in these strikes? Because reality television is a life line for the studios and networks in times of strike. While it’s true that reality television does employ writers, these writers are more producer/editor oriented than pure scripters. This demand is really a play for more power for the Writers Guild for future negotiations and a way to bring more revenue in to the guild via more union dues. Verdict:

“We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!”.


Non-Traditional Media Residuals

WGA Proposal: We propose all TV and theatrical content earn a residual payment of 2.5% of the distributor’s gross for re-use on non-traditional media, including the Internet, cellular technology and any other delivery system not already covered in the MBA.

The Writers Guild wants its members to be paid for their work when shown on the internet. This seems like a reasonable request. However, people are used to watching things on the internet for free and thus no one has yet discovered a business model that is able to really monetize content distributed over the internet.

The largest online revenue stream, iTunes, represents less than 0.3% of all distribution monies to be made for content created by Guild members. That’s not a lot of money. And while there’s no arguing that the internet may represent the future of distribution revenue, it’s not there yet. So why has the WGA made this central issue of their negotiations? Why does the WGA say that their careers and livelihood depend on this issue?

What this issue is really about is the poor contract that the WGA agreed to 25 years ago for home video. While DVD has become the largest revenue stream for movies, WGA members only receive 4¢ per DVD sold. That’s a crappy deal. The WGA remains pissed at how bad their deal was and do not want to repeat their mistake with new media.

This sounds reasonable until you realize that this contract is only good for the next three years. The WGA strike is sacrificing the real and substantial money that its members make now for writing content for movies and television for a percentage of a distribution platform that is not yet profitable.

For every week that goes by, a writer is not getting paid for work that he would have had. Let’s see, what’s the minimum pay for a writer for an episode of a half-hour television show on network television: $20,956. What is the WGA striking for? A percentage of internet money that isn’t there. Hmmm, it doesn’t seem like the WGA is acting in the best interests of its members, does it?

So, what, then, is it that the WGA is really fighting about?

“We’ve gotta protect our phoney baloney jobs, gentlemen!”.


In Conclusion

While there are other demands on the table, most of those demands are not what divides the WGA and AMPTP in negotiations. Instead of fighting so hard for money that isn’t there from new media ie. the internet, the WGA should be fighting for a larger piece money that is there, ie. DVD residuals. That would make more sense and benefit the members of the WGA more than what they are currently fighting for which is a piece of nothing.

After all, this contract is only good for three years and if someone manages to find a way to make money off of new media by then, the WGA can fight for that money at that time instead of costing its members work and money now.

If you would like to read the WGA demands and proposal, click here:
WGA Proposals

If you would like to read the AMPTP demands and proposal, click here:
AMPTP Proposals

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