Thursday, December 27, 2007

Strike Day 53 - East Coast style

My partner and I signed on to this letter, which was posted on the web a couple days back:

‘Tis the season. Pilot season. We, the pilot writers, feel the loss of our ongoing creative partnership, and in the spirit of the holidays, we wanted to offer our help in getting the ’08-’09 crop of television shows back on track. We’re willing to write silent night after silent night to make up for lost time if your company will only finalize a fair deal with the WGA. To do that, talks must resume. Our guild is ready and eager. We feel that what our guild is asking is more than reasonable, and we believe that you, as our partner in these new shows, know our value and know that what we are asking is not excessive.

We love our new projects. We want to create great television which would put everyone back to work and ensure prosperity for all. We know we would all like to start the new year getting back to doing what we love. If there is any way you can facilitate this process, we would be eternally grateful.

Allison Adler
Justin Adler
Jack Amiel & Michael Begler
Jeff Astrof
Katy Ballard
Alex Barnow & Marc Firek
Edward Allen Bernero
Scott Z. Burns
Cindy Caponera
Cindy Chupack
Dan Cohen & F.J. Pratt
Randy Cohen & Chris Kelly
Brad Copeland
Rick Copp
Matt Corman & Chris Ord
Carter Covington
Mark Cullen & Rob Cullen
Ed Decter
Nastaran Dibai & Jeffrey B. Hodes
J.P. Donahue & Kevin Polay
Chris Downey
Larry Doyle
Aaron Ehasz
Amy Engelberg & Wendy Engelberg
Jacob Epstein
Stephen Falk
David Feige
Michael Feldman
Joel Fields
Christopher Fife
Chad Fiveash & James Stoteraux
Dave Flebotte
R. Lee Fleming, Jr.
Dan Fogelman
Victor Fresco
Michael Frost Beckner
Jonathan Goldstein
Rob Greenberg & Suzy Mamann-Greenberg
Lyn Greene & Richard Levine
Hart Hanson
Zach Helm
William Blake Herron
David Holden
Amy Holden Jones
David Hudgins
Doug Jung
Alexa Junge
Mitchel Katlin & Nat Bernstein
Joe Keenan
Tim Kelleher
Jack Kenny
Moira Kirland
Marc Klein
Jennifer Konner & Alexandra Rushfield
Bill Kunstler
Dave Lampson & Andrew Leeds
Sheila R. Lawrence
Jim Leonard
Christine Levinson
Jeffrey Lieber
Matthew Lieberman
Angel Dean Lopez
Rob Lotterstein
Caryn Lucas
Greg Malins
Patrick Massett & John Zinman
Blake Masters
Dan McDermott
Gregg Mettler
J. Israel Miller & M.A. Fortin
Murray Miller & Judah Miller
Norman Morrill
Kevin Murphy
Bill Oakley & Josh Weinstein
Michael Oates Palmer
Bob Odenkirk
Jan Oxenberg
Mark Palmer
Charles Pratt, Jr.
Rebecca Rand Kirshner
Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris
Jeffrey Richman & Suzanne Martin
Julie Rottenberg & Elisa Zuritsky
Paul Ruehl
Dario Scardapane
Robin Schiff
Dana Schmalenberg
Mike Scully & Julie Thacker-Scully
John Scott Shepherd
Mike Sikowitz
Stephanie K. Smith
Jon Steinberg
Joshua Sternin & Jeffrey Ventimilia
Dana Stevens
Francis Stokes
Rob Thomas
Gary Tieche
David Titcher
Stephen Tolkin
Kriss Turner
Mike Werb
Thomas Wheeler
Nicholas Wootton

Something about this touchy-feely, "united front" move hit me yesterday, when I was writing an e-mail to another dad at my children's school whose name was also on the list.

The thing is... all the people whose names are on that list, shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking with one voice... the truth is all of us are usually fighting each other to the death. Not physically, pilot seasons don't work that way, at least not yet -- and what with the way things are going the entire institution of "pilot season" may be very short for this world, so the chances of it evolving into a violent hand-to-hand version of its current self are pretty slim.

But even though it's not physical, the competition is very real.

I can only speak for myself but the truth is when my partner and I are in the midst of writing or producing a pilot... I just don't think about it. I don't think about the 40-50 other writers or writing teams busy typing away so that they can compete with us for the 4-10 (on average, depending what kind of network you are at) slots which will be available for pilot production. Then I don't think about the other 3-9 scripts which also got the "Green Light" to go into production.

When I stop and think about it now, it strikes me that over the past few years my partner and I have missed lots of opportunities to raise the chances for our shows, by attempting to sabotage the competition. I won't even get into the various means and methods which could be employed in such a dastardly task!

During pilot season we are all in direct competition for a very limited supply of resources -- the number of one-hour drama slots and half-hour comedy slots available on network and/or cable television.

Yet here we are, all uniting together so can may speak with one voice -- and quite a warm and tender voice at that -- to the people who decided to bet on our hunches, to take a chance on our "creative voices," as well as betting on our abilities as Executive Producers -- as physical showrunners.

Most of us who have run shows before have at least one or two good friends on the other side of the "great divide" which separates Executive Producers from Executives. They are the ones who helped us get those few extra dollars we needed for the budget of a particular episode in order to do it right (even if that meant taking a little out of the budget of a future episode that didn't even exist yet) and they are the ones who actually sided with us against their colleagues and sometimes even against their own bosses when we were being pushed to go the wrong way with regard to what we considered an all-important creative decision. They are without question our allies. In some cases they could even be said to be our partners. It's true, sometimes we want to kill them -- but hey, that's the way it works with all kinds of partnerships, right?

So to me, the letter above feels touchingly appropriate in a seasonal "Spirit of Christmas" way.

There remains the question of what all us movie and TV writers can do to honor the spirit of the recently-celebrated Jewish festival of Hanukkah...

Well, considering how the whole point of Hanukkah is to remember a desperate campaign waged by a threadbare guerilla army (the Maccabees) against the mighty forces of a military super-power (the Seleucid empire of the Syrian-Greeks) commanded by an absentee-Emperor (Antiochus IV Epiphanes), I'd say we've been doing nothing BUT honoring Hanukkah's spirit since the day this strike began.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS from beautiful and frosty New Jersey!!!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Strike Day 52 - East Coast style

Happy Boxing Day to any Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, Canucks, various other Commonwealth subjects and/or citizens (not quite sure how that works) and Anglophiles out there.

Spent the day playing some football with my son (getting him ready for the grown-up opposition in the big "reunion" game scheduled for Prospect Park, Brooklyn, this coming Saturday morning), playing with the Wii (which I admit is a lot of fun) and EATING.

My sister-in-law marinated a slew of ribeye steaks and they were all delicious. I'm the one who started the tradition of marinated steaks in the family, though I inherited it from my mom. We always use flank steak to make Romanian steak -- which to my mind is one of the finest meals on the planet.

I remember one time, my wife called the office and my writing-producing partner answered the phone and she asked for him to put the call through to me and he did but I learned later he did so with great trepidation, because the sound of my wife's voice led him to believe that something tragic had befallen our family -- like a parent dropping dead or a child disappearing or something like that.

I spoke with my wife and I guess I looked really depressed and my partner asked me what had happened... and I told him my wife had looked in the oven and suddenly realized I had left the Romanian steaks -- which I had grilled outside on the BBQ the night before for dinner but then transferred to the oven so they wouldn't get cold before we served them for dinner -- that I had somehow forgotten to take what was left out of the oven and just left them in there all night. At the time we had a stove-top with natural gas pilot lights that never went out and the heat radiating down from them had turned what remained of my perfectly-seasoned and delectably medium-rare slabs of beef into charcoal.

He couldn't believe we were so broken up over the loss of our future left-overs. But we were. Well, I was -- I think for my wife it was more about her sympathy for my loss.

I forgot to mention the other day that another DGA member dad stopped by my house, to pick up his son who is a very good buddy and former classmate of my son. He couldn't help ribbing me about having "fallen into line" with a bunch of "Radicals." He knows me and he knows my (relatively conservative) politics and I think he was just trying to push buttons, which he succeeded at. I told him there was nothing radical about asking for a fair share of profits generated via New Media. He said something about how the "more rational" Directors Guild would end up making a lot more progress on that front than the "crazy writers."

I responded that if the DGA does indeed make progress on that front it will only be because the entire membership of the WGA has been out on strike and picketing in force for close to two months.

Truth is, if the DGA manages to gain a deal good enough for the WGA and SAG to sign onto on all fronts, well... then I will buy him a drink or a lunch, we will all go back to work and I will chalk it up to the one-two punch of WGA/SAG fervent dedication on the one hand and DGA quiet determination on the other.

Now I'm going to really put myself out on a limb, because it takes at least 2 days of marinating to really work... but in the interests of book-ending structure I must proceed: if that happens, I will invite the handful of DGA-member directors, ADs (assistant directors), line producers and PMs (production managers) who are good friends of mine over and cook Romanian Steak for them all!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Strike Day 51 - East Coast style

Well, here I am in New Jersey, with my mother-in-law and father-in-law, brother-in-law and sister-in-law and their two kids. With our three kids thrown in it's a lot of children under one roof, in a good way.

The cousins got a Wii earlier today for Christmas, so they are all staying up, keeping busy and being happy. Even if they hadn't gotten any gifts at all I think the cousins would have been happy just to see my kids and vice-versa. When we drove up in the frozen darkness they came leaping out the front door in their pajamas. If you celebrate Christmas I hope yours was as good as my niece's and nephew's. My kids and their cousins all get along pretty well. Too bad the AMPTP and WGA haven't been getting along that way lately.

I read a post on that stuck with me. It sounded like it was put up by a legit production worker of one sort or another and it basically just said that both sides are behaving like little kids and how the poster was sick of hearing how the AMPTP walked away from the table and that everyone just needs to grow up and get this settled.

It stuck with me because -- unlike many other posts which label themselves as having been placed by Below-The-Line folks, I actually believe this one was placed by a BTL person. I admit, I wish that the WGA had not behaved the way it did during most of the 2 year lead-up to the end of our contract -- but once the real negotiations began, our Negotiating Committee behaved like very mature, reasonable people. They held the line on the draconian rollbacks which the companies had put on the table and but also backed off something like 9 of the 24 demands we had brought to the table. Then, at the clock was ticking towards midnight, they dropped the DVD increase -- something that a vast portion of the Guild membership was determined to get -- in the hopes that having done so would earn us a fair deal on internet residuals. I know, I know -- this is exactly the kind of thing that BTL person said they were sick of hearing. They didn't want to be dragged over and over again through a rehash of the past. They saw no point to it. All that mattered to them was the future. Find a way to settle this dispute so we can all get back to work as fast as possible.

There's just one problem with that. Only one institution holds the key that can unlock the door to the future for the motion picture and television industry. We all know who they are. If they wanted to settle this it would be settled by now. Believe me. I kid you not. The membership of the WGA would not be standing steadfast if there was a real offer of internet profit participation anywhere in sight. They talk about how they want to give writers their fair share of "New Media" money but then they order us to give up every single one of our demands (including the one regarding New Media profit participation!) BEFORE going back to the negotiating table.

What kind of talk is that?

It's the kind of talk spoken by people who don't want to see this situation change -- at least not yet. The only change the AMPTP wants to see is the kind that occurs when Autumn rolls in and the leaves start dropping off all the deciduous trees, one by one by one by one. They are waiting for us writers to start dropping off our tree -- the trunk and roots of which are the WGA -- one by one by one by one. And then they will break out their Hefty bags, rakes and shovels and swing into action, cleaning up the lawn and disposing of those bags however they see fit. A lot will be left out at the curb for the garbage men but some will be kept around to use as organic fertilizer for the garden and they'll keep a few more on hand for their kids to make a pile with and play in.

Can you imagine what it would be like to go back to work under those circumstances?

Stick to the plan. What is the plan? To gain writers a beach-head on the island of internet-generated profits earned by their scripted entertainment. An island which we will see expand so fast that within the next 5-to-10 years it will have become a full-size continent.

There is some chance the contract the AMPTP will likely be making soon with the DGA will happen to include a halfway-decent deal for New Media profit participation. If that happens, then the WGA will probably accept a version of it, maybe with an incremental bump, and the strike will end. Of course, taking nothing away from the directors (many of whom I have worked together with and some of whom I count amongst my good friends) the main reason this potential DGA deal may include real improvement on the internet residuals issue is that us writers will have been out on strike, walking the picket lines for at least two-and-a-half-to-three months by the time it gets made.

In the end, I can't help but feel bad for that Below-The-Line worker who was showering anger and frustration equally upon us and the companies.

I feel bad -- but I don't feel guilty.

If they don't want to wade through all the details and focus on the fine print regarding how this thing has gotten to where it is today, then that is their choice and they have every right to it.

But I can't let that approach serve as a guide for my own decision-making.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Strike Days 48, 49 & 50

Well, we're fast and furiously closing in on the 2 month/8 week mark.

I didn't post on Saturday or Sunday but I felt compelled to put SOMETHING up today.

I'm leaving for the East Coast with my family tomorrow. I don't know how "blogging" will go in NYC -- maybe I'll do a lot of it, maybe not.

If the WGAe (east) is picketing while I'm there I will certainly show up to join ranks as they walk back and forth in the snow or the sleet or just the freezing temperatures. But to be honest I doubt they will be picketing while I'm there between Christmas and New Years.

The big "development" on the strike front today was the latest Nikki Finke column, which included a dire forecast for television as we know it. She said the executives in charge at the AMPTP are prepared to sacrifice not just this TV season but the upcoming season as well, simply to prove to the WGA that they should never have had the temerity to disagree with their employers.

Nikkie Finke seemed to think this meant the WGA was on its way to collapse and defeat. I must admit, I don't really concur with that take on it. If the AMPTP digs its heels in that deep -- and they certainly may -- it doesn't change all that much. At least not for any members of the WGA who went into this with their eyes open. The real "DEADLINE" for this strike, the line which will determine whether or not it "succeeds" -- defining SUCCESS as gaining a relatively fair deal for INTERNET RESIDUALS -- will be July 1st, when, if the companies have yet to make an offer on the internet issue which we can live with, the Screen Actors Guild's deal will run out and every working actor in Hollywood will go out on strike over same issue -- because those residuals matter just as much to them as they do to us.

Now, it is true that there are no guarantees in life and it is possible that the membership of the WGA may not be capable of "holding out" until July 1st. Maybe we will start to drop like flies. I'm not exactly sure how that will work but I know it involves the secrets of "FI-CORE" or "Financial Core" -- which means you kind of opt out of your membership but keep paying dues. After that you can work for whoever you want, even someone we are on strike against.

All I can say is, the present leadership of the WGA made it very, very clear how they were going to proceed BEFORE they were elected. They were then voted into office with the largest majority in Guild history (though I admit it did not include my vote). Then, close to 2 years later, they called for a STRIKE AUTHORIZATION vote, which said vote passed with something over 90% of the ballots.

I know a lot of members of the WGA West are not "working writers" who actually depend on the money they make from writing movies and/or TV to make a living. But I find it close to impossible to believe that a majority of those who do make their living as writers did not have a big part in both of those votes. Speaking for myself, when it came to the strike authorization vote... well, I couldn't bring myself to vote for it but at the same time, knowing how things had proceeded, I couldn't in all good conscience vote to remove from the leadership's arsenal one of the key tools in the toolbox they had been planning to use for two years. In my opinion, doing so would not have helped the situation. It would have left the WGA leadership in the position of a lame duck president, with no real weight to back up anything he asked for.

I admit, 8 months is a long time. But I can't believe that the vast majority of the membership will "drop like flies" and go "financial core" if the AMPTP doesn't come back to negotiate before SAG walks out and joins us on the picket lines.

From before the very first day of this strike I have been saying the last day of the strike will be July 1st. I'm a smart guy but I'm not that smart. I can't be the only one who saw this coming. All the most successful writers -- the TV showrunners and the big-time A-list feature writers -- are also the wealthiest writers. Unless we have no fiscal responsibility, we should have the capacity to survive 8 months without a pay check. Now, the same cannot be said of the junior writers and the first-time feature writers. And that will become an issue. But the Guild has a pretty hefty STRIKE FUND to help us get through this and -- if it does last until July -- we may have to ask those of us with the wherewithall to do a little something to help those without.

Even if the AMPTP members are prepared to let the remainder of the 2007-2008 and the entire 2008-2009 scripted TV seasons and their 2008-2009 feature film slates mostly disappear... are they ready to kiss off scripted television and movies FOREVER? Does Nikki Finke believe that? Does ANYONE believe that?

Once the actors join us, what they can do? Are they going to change over to 100% reality programming -- and produce and distribute nothing but foreign, animated and "reality" feature films as well?

The answer of course is no, they are not prepared to kiss that huge segment of their business goodbye.

But what they are well prepared to do is try everything possible to make each and every member of the WGA believe we are entering THE END OF DAYS -- that armageddon is on our doorstep, that we are about to be swallowed up by a BLACK HOLE -- from which we will never find an exit.

Don't believe the hype.

It's like the line: "No one wins in war."

Uh, try telling that to the British who fought in the American War of Independence (also known as the American Revolution).

Or try telling it to the political leadership of the Confederate States of America -- if you can track them down.

Or try telling it to the people of Vietnam -- who, like it or not, kicked our asses the hell out of their country.

It's true, from time to time in history there are conflicts from which no clear victor emerges -- some would argue the Korean War is an example. But all the South Koreans I know think their side won and point to the economic, political and social achievements of South Korea in the post-Korean War era, compared with the sad state of their cousins across the border in the North, as evidence.

People win wars and people lose wars and you should not get involved in a war unless you are prepared for the consequences.

A lot of Americans were killed, wounded and crippled fighting for independence against the British.

A lot of Union soldiers were killed, wounded and crippled fighting to defeat the Confederacy.

And one hell of a lot of North Vietnamese regulars and Vietcong guerillas were killed, wounded and crippled fighting to defeat us.

The present WGA strike is ruining some lives. When we cross the 8 week mark and all the companies can exercise the dreaded "Force Majeure," more folks will face hard realities. This should not come as a surprise.

There are casualties in every conflict, on every side.

Of course, if you are one of the casualties, even if the side you are on ends up being victorious, the victory may well ring hollow. But the strike didn't start because of any one writer -- it started out of concern for every writer and for all the writers yet to come. It started because we want our fair share of the future.

I have to admit there was one thing that did really surprise me during the course of this strike. Well, actually it wasn't during the course of the strike, it was in the last days of the lead-up to the strike.

When I attended the big pre-strike meeting on the Thursday night after Halloween, I fully expected that the leadership and the Negotiating Committee would come out and talk to us about a deal they had been offered by the AMPTP -- a last minute deal, the details of which would be right on the line between "too little" and "just enough." A residual plan for the internet that would have been far less than traditional TV residuals but far more than what they ended up offering a couple of weeks later, with something in there for features being streamed or downloaded over the net as well. Just enough of a legitimate option for people like myself -- who did not want to go on strike -- to grab onto and wave and cheer and tell the WGA brass and the Negotiating Committee: see, you did it -- you made them come across, with SOMETHING. Not everything we wanted -- but SOMETHING. Something real. A real option. A real possibility.

I have to admit I was surprised when that didn't happen.

If it had happened I don't think the strike would have worked. Because an offer like that would have cut the Guild apart. Maybe not straight down the middle but into pieces -- and before we ever hit the streets and the sidewalks in front of the studios.

If an offer like that had been presented and then the leadership had spoke against it and the negotiating committee had mostly spoke against it... I think a decent chunk of the membership would have stood up and spoken out against going on strike. I know I would have.

But no offer like that came from the AMPTP.

And guess what? It's more than 7 weeks later and no offer like that has yet to arrive.

Will it ever?


Know when?

On July 1st, 2008, when 120,000 actors, whose ranks include every "name-above-the-title" movie star and every "put-pilot" deal-making TV star in America go out on strike. Or maybe a lot sooner, if -- under the present circumstances -- the DGA manages to get a halfway-decent offer on new media residuals.

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it and to all a Good Night!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Strike Day 47

Here's what the other side had to say today:

Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers

December 21, 2007


The strike called by the WGA is fast approaching the two-month mark, and already tens of thousands of workers who have no stake in this dispute are either out of work or facing grim prospects in the New Year.

Well, actually, those tens of thousands of workers DO have a stake in this dispute, since all those who belong to IATSE and/or the TEAMSTERS will see the exact same thing happen to their HEALTH PLANS as us writers will see happen to our RESIDUAL INCOME, since the two things -- WGA members residuals and various BTL union employees HEALTH & WELFARE FUNDING -- are TIED TOGETHER AT THE HIP.

If the AMPTP succeeds in forcing us writers to accept a deal that doesn't include real profit participation from use of our material on the internet, then our current income from traditional TV residuals will continue to WITHER AND DIE -- and the exact same thing will happen to the funding for Below The Line employees own health insurance and welfare funds.

The WGA's organizers are indeed making good on their promise that they would wreak “havoc” on our industry. As a result, the traditionally festive holiday season for our business has instead been shrouded by uncertainty and concern for the future.

In the midst of the hourly drumbeat of news about the WGA’s strike, it is important that we all take a step back and review exactly how our industry reached the situation we now face on the eve of the holidays.

First, it is important to remember that the WGA called the strike and asked writers to walk out on November 5th.

Wait a second -- when did you say the WGA called the strike...? Oh, I see -- NOVEMBER 5th -- five days AFTER our contract ran out. Five days BEYOND the "deadline" mark. Doesn't that show we were actually trying -- in fact, trying very, very hard -- to make a deal?

They had the right to do so, but no right to avoid responsibility for the consequences.

Fair enough. We at the WGA are responsible. But, seeing as how you guys -- the AMPTP -- are without question far more powerful than the WGA or any other individual union involved in the film and TV industry could ever be... aren't you -- at the bare minimum -- at least equally to blame? If two sides sit down to settle an argument and the argument doesn't get settled... who do you blame? The side that got up and walked out -- or the side left behind in their seats? Which side is behaving in a more mature, responsible manner? The side that threw up its hands and stormed off, calling the other guys crazy... or the side that stayed there -- even if they are crazy (which we are not)? What about all the crazy stuff the AMPTP brought to the table when the negotiations first got going -- like how the WGA should trash the residual system that has been its bread and butter for more than 40 years and replace it with "producer's adjusted gross"?!?!?!

I find it difficult to believe you can maintain any intellectual integrity when viewing this situation and assess the AMPTP with less than half of the responsibility for making it come to pass.

The simple combination of how very much power they wield and the exact circumstances under which they walked away from the bargaining table, not once but TWICE, make that very clear indeed -- at least to me.

Second, the negotiations between the AMPTP and the WGA are at an impasse because the WGA has continued to press a series of unreasonable demands that have nothing to do with new media and the real concerns of most working writers. These WGA-constructed roadblocks to progress include:

Reality Television
The WGA seeks to obtain blanket jurisdiction over reality programs through its top-down organizing tactics, and thereby deprive these employees of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.

The WGA seeks to obtain, once again by top-down organizing tactics, jurisdiction over animation writers who traditionally fall under IATSE's jurisdiction, and to deprive those writers of their free choice to elect union coverage under the voting system administered by the National Labor Relations Board. The AMPTP has asked the WGA to withdraw this demand.

Sympathy Strikes
The WGA seeks the right to go on strike, at any time, in support of another labor organization's strike, and thereby disrupt production whenever they want. Any agreement reached must assure uninterrupted labor peace during the term of the agreement.

In short, our report to you on the State of the Strike is really very simple: The WGA’s insistence on these jurisdictional and other unrealistic demands is preventing us from reaching a deal that is fair and reasonable to both sides.

Uh, pardon me, AMPTP but isn't what's preventing us from reaching ANY DEAL -- be it fair or unfair, reasonable or unreasonable to either or both sides -- the simple fact that one side, namely the AMPTP, refuses to sit down and discuss all these issues they care so much about keeping out of our next contract?

Anyone notice the little oversight the AMPTP made by not including one of the other things on that LIST of theirs -- maybe they didn't check it twice the first time and upon further reflection have decided to leave it off.

I refer to the PROFIT PARTICIPATION IN NEW MEDIA issue, which was also on that laundry list of theirs -- the list that they say includes all the stuff that is keeping us all from coming to grips WITH the issue of "New Media"! Yeah, that was on the same list. I kid you not. Go to their website and check -- unless maybe they removed it in the interim.

Hmmm. Since the real point of all this "OPEN LETTER" stuff -- in my humble opinion -- is to appeal to people like me, WGA members who didn't particularly want to go out on strike and who wish there had never been a strike and who make up what the AMPTP keeps referring to as "working writers," my guess is they feel that putting that part back in might crimp their style, so to speak.

And nothing in the WGA’s new grab-bag of tactics – a hodgepodge of continued street demonstrations, baseless NLRB complaints, and ephemeral interim agreements with individual companies – is going to change this situation. Until those in charge at the WGA decide to focus on the core financial issues that working writers care most about, instead of the unreasonable jurisdictional demands that only people who run unions care about, we do not see that there is any basis for reaching an agreement.

Actually, the people who really care about those "jurisdictional demands" are the ones who might end up, if all their dreams came true, becoming WGA members. Because, as someone who has written a non-union ANIMATED FEATURE FILM and seen all the hard-won financial and creative rights which my partner and I always took for granted when we wrote movies and TV shows for live actors DISAPPEAR because we were operating in a non-union arena, I can tell you from personal experience: there are no non-union animated feature writers who don't want their work to be covered by the WGA. After all, what exactly are the down-sides? Let me see... based on what you were being paid to write the movie, the company would have to calculate and pay its otherwise-standard contribution to your HEALTH FUND and PENSION FUND. Wow, that would really suck, huh? Let's see, what else would change when the WGA forced themselves in...? Oh, yeah -- your RESIDUALS would be covered and enforced. Hmmm. Very interesting indeed. And I saved the best for last: PROTECTION OF YOUR CREATIVE RIGHTS. You know, like when you write a movie and then the company hires 4 or 5 other guys to rewrite it and then the final credit determination has to be confirmed by a purely objective, otherwise disinterested body of your peers -- your fellow WGA members on an arbitration panel, instead of the company executives who might possibly have other agendas than giving credit(s) based upon an objective judgement of relative creative contributions.

I understand the AMPTP doesn't want the WGA to extend its jurisdiction -- that makes perfect sense, since if the WGA succeeds in extending its jurisdiction it would end up costing the companies that make up the AMPTP more money to do the same business which they do for less money right now.

Fair enough. The AMPTP may very well win on this one the same way they have won on it in most previous contract negotiations -- but hey, AMPTP: please don't tell me you're doing it in order to protect the poor folks who would otherwise be subjected to membership in the Writers Guild. The people I know who work in those positions -- and I know more than a few of them -- would probably give up toes and/or pinkies in order to join the Writers Guild and gain all the benefits membership brings with it.

The one big down-side? They send you the arguably-pretentious magazine, "WRITTEN BY." But it is not true that they send union goons to your home and force you to read it cover to cover -- at least not in my personal experience.

As we all reflect on this situation over the holiday week, we can all hold hope that when the New Year dawns so too will the realization by the WGA that the best interests of working writers are not served by allowing extraneous demands to block progress on fundamental, bread-and-butter issues that are surely at the heart of working writers’ concerns.


I voted against Patrick Verone and his "Writers United" slate.

Nonetheless, I will NEVER BE SWAYED by your ongoing efforts to reach out and touch we, the "working writers."

Know why?


Sure, maybe some people in the Guild are hell-bent on organizing Reality TV and the world of Animation. Maybe some of you guys really believed in wiping away our entire TV residual system and replacing it with the bullshit three-card monte game you use to hide the real profits from the movies we write. You know, the ones like "Forest Gump" that have yet to make a dime on the official studio books, due to all those persistent costs of doing business, the ones we will never be able to quite understand. Maybe some of you really did believe in that proposal. Well, when you sent that one our way WE DIDN'T WALK AWAY. We set our jaws, ground our teeth, swallowed our bile and GOT ON WITH ATTEMPTING TO ACHIEVE OUR GOAL: a reasonably fair piece of the internet pie.

Right now, based upon the actions of the AMPTP, I would say that their goal -- the one which all their actions have arguably, reasonably served -- is to prevent us from doing so.

The AMPTP -- masters of industry that they legitimately are -- have determined that keeping all of those internet-generated profits of the future for themselves is worth riding out a slightly rough patch for a while. Fair enough. It is their prerogative.

The problem with their approach, as I see it, is that this rough patch will not end until they give on that issue.

This strike will not end until the companies make an offer that translates the $20,000.00 writers get when an hour they wrote is re-run on TV into a reasonable sum for similar use on the internet and something similar for movies that are streamed or downloaded. So far what they offered was literally not a red cent for movies and $250.00 for a year's worth of reruns on the internet. Twenty-grand into two-hundred and fifty smackers.

Hmmm. Let me think... as a working writer, should I bring pressure to bear on the WGA leadership so that I can go back to work under a new deal which addresses my "CORE FINANCIAL," "BREAD AND BUTTER" issues by promising me a whopping two-hundred-and-fifty smackers for a year's worth of reruns over the internet?

Why, at that rate, it would take me just... 80 years to earn the equivalent of one year's worth of residuals under the system we have in place now.

Sorry, AMPTP. I'm afraid you haven't quite convinced me you have my best interests closer to your heart than all those "crazy radicals" down at WGA headquarters.

Of course, I'm just one man. Maybe some of my fellow "working writers" in the WGA will start bringing pressure to bear on our leadership if you kick it up a notch and offer us five-hundred bucks for a year's worth of internet re-runs.

Hey, anything's possible.

But I wouldn't hold my breath.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strike Day 46

Here we go again, another day with no real STRIKE activity included. Yesterday, even though there was no picket line, I did go to the Post Office to ship out those DVDs to the tourist family who turned out to be fans of "Sleeper Cell." But today was my first real day completely off from the strike. I suppose it's Holiday vacation time anyway. Tomorrow is my 3 kids' last day of school until after the Winter break ends. A lot of other people are on vacation, why not me too?

I'll tell you why: BECAUSE I'M NEVER ON VACATION!!!

That's right -- N - E - V - E - R.

Never EVER.

It's just one of the things that comes from starting out as a starving FREELANCER -- you are always working, on something or other. Sometimes two or three things all at once.

Also -- in a good way -- it's one of the things that comes from doing a job that you love, or, with slightly more accuracy, from having found away to take doing what you love and turn it into a way to make a pretty decent living.

I know I am an incredibly lucky guy. I am well aware of that fact.

This strike is not going to help my own bottom line, only hurt it. I knew that going in. But this strike is not really for me or my writing-producing partner or the other WGA members like us. This strike is for the staff writers and story editors -- the entry-level and junior writers -- from our TV show writing staffs and for the up-and-coming feature film screenwriters -- and for the kids still in school who want to write movies, and the kids who are out of school, working a day-job 5 or 6 days a week and then going home and writing all night and writing on their one or two days off.

Because if we give away our tiny fair share of profit-participation when movies and TV shows that we write are delivered via the internet, it is not my future we're giving up, it's theirs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Strike Day 45.5

Whoops -- stop the presses!!! Or the digital blog server...

In the interests of following up on previously established BLOG-THREADS, I want to mention that earlier today I packed up and shipped out DVD boxed sets for both seasons of "Sleeper Cell" to the Marine's mom. Hopefully he'll get to see the episode he missed before he ships out in February.

Strike Day 45

Another day, another loss of many dollars!

In a good cause, needless to say.

I had hoped to make it downtown to LA City Hall very early this morning, in order to be present when the City Council debated the issue of the economic impact the WGA strike is having on the local economy. Unfortunately I didn't make it. My hope was that considering how many members turned up yesterday in the rain for OUTDOOR strike activity, a high number would show up this morning for indoor action, despite how early they needed to be there. Just because I happened to crap out doesn't mean everyone else did! I still haven't heard from anyone who was present so the truth is I don't know how things turned out down there.

Meanwhile there is a plan afoot for what I think will be a somewhat entertaining "StrikeTV" piece that might get done by myself and a fellow dad from my children's school who is also a WGA member. This would utilize our many children, hopefully not in a way which could be derided by the other side as "exploitative" -- but considering how they're communications team has been spinning events, the other dad and myself may well find ourselves being accused of pedophilia by the time the AMPTP finishes its review.

I read their most recent press release -- or "open letter" as I think they called it -- and had to laugh several times. The best part was when they derided the negotiating efforts of the WGA and pointed out that even now, 7 weeks into this strike, working writers find themselves no closer to a fair deal on profits from new media than they were before -- or words to that effect.


And I must beg to differ with the AMPTP on one fine sticking point in that section of their "open letter," namely: we working writers do indeed find ourselves CLOSER to getting a fair deal on profits from new media -- SEVEN WEEKS CLOSER TO JULY 1st, THE DAY WHEN SAG WILL JOIN US BY GOING OUT ON STRIKE -- unless the AMPTP decides to make an offer that includes something approaching a fair deal on downloaded and streamed residuals before then.

Every long march begins with one step... and then another... and another... and another.

And in the grand scheme of modern history, waiting from November 5th until July 1st -- or some time soon thereafter -- in order to get a fair deal for your contractual future is not the biggest challenge anyone has ever faced. True, it may be the biggest challenge some, even many, of us WGA members have ever faced -- and I'm sure that factors into the AMPTP's decision-making process. Still, I believe we can wait until July if we have to. Don't get me wrong -- I don't want to and I hope to hell we don't have to -- but if we have to wait... then we wait. At least I do. And I can't believe all the hundreds and thousands of my fellow WGA members would leave me here waiting all alone.

It would be nice to leave it at that -- kind of an inspiring "Hollywood" ending for today's entry... but the other shoe is the question of what the Hollywood, especially the TV, landscape will look like when we come out from the other side of this strike. That is the only thing I talked about before the strike began, back before the AMPTP revealed itself to have no interest in coming to a reasonable, negotiated settlement which could avert a strike or settle it before it dragged on for too long -- my belief that a strike would lead to another big shift in the way TV works, similar to the shift that resulted form the 1988 WGA strike, which pretty much opened the floodgates for what we now refer to as "Reality TV," when FOX plucked COPS and AMERICA'S MOST WANTED off local affiliate schedules, put them on their national broadcast schedule and started showing them to the whole country. There is no way for anyone to know what the impact of this strike will be on the television audience -- how many viewers will be lost, how many will stay lost for good, never to return to prime-time dramas and comedies, even after the strike reaches its inevitable end at some point down the line. I don't know if those results will be good or bad for me personally or for the WGA membership as a whole -- but my guess is that they will be bad for traditional television as we know it. Whether that's good or bad for the country is another question altogether.

Still, this is the situation we find ourselves in. So even though the strike may well be contributing in the long run to the demise of scripted network shows, I don't feel one iota of compulsion to head back to work on the two pilots my partner and I had sold this season. It would be like choosing to take a life preserver for yourself instead of helping to bale out a sinking ship filled with hundreds and thousands of your fellow passengers. Not to mention this ship didn't just hit an iceberg or sail into a hurricane -- it was torpedoed by a pack of submarines whose names all read: "AMPTP."

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Strike Day 44

Well, last night at the big Guild get-together I fielded a complaint from a reader of this blog who said the white lettering on the black background made it difficult for his "old eyes" to read. So, in an effort to maintain readership, I have adjusted the look. Hopefully I won't lose any readers with "young eyes" who might find this new look too old fashioned and easy to read.


Well, it was a big day. Started out at 10:00 am over in Encino at the world HQ of the AMPTP, where the "Criminal Division" of the WGA issued an indictment against the companies for conspiring to commit grand larceny. It was excellent street theater, complete with a few big name actors from various TV crime shows. I saw a bunch of writers I know and one writer-producer from the staff of the first season of SLEEPER CELL, which was very cool. There was a very big turn-out, despite the rain, which the Guild came prepared for, bringing clear plastic trash bags to drape over the picket signs in order to protect them for future use, what with the chances being that the strike won't be ending any day soon.

My "Strike Buddy" and I (this is a new term which was brought to my attention only today but which does seem appropriate) then headed across town to attend the last LOCATION PICKET of the year, in Venice. It was at a Vince Vaugn/Reese Witherspoon movie called "FOUR CHRISTMASES" (sp?) which was shooting behind a car dealership on Abbott Kinney, a major street in the Venice area. The first thing was I couldn't believe there even was a car dealership on Abbott Kinney -- I haven't been down there for a while but it appears the neighborhood has gone through some changes, in the direction of gentrification. My Strike Buddy and I were the first two to arrive, except for the Location Picket Captain, who was waiting at the predetermined intersection. We hung around until about 20 of us had shown up, got a briefing on the proper location picketing protocol, then walked a couple of blocks to the location itself, where we picked up our picketing signs and started CHANTING REALLY, REALLY LOUD, in an effort to COMMUNICATE OUR POSITION to the cast and crew, as well as the community. If, in the course of doing so, we happened to makes it difficult for the production to record sound, well, that was just a side-effect of the communications strategy.

The WGA wanted an especially big turn-out for this picket because word is that REWRITES have been done while the strike has been on. This of course would require someone to be working as a SCAB WRITER. Maybe it's a WGA member or maybe it's an executive or a producer or who knows. Well, I'm sure a bunch of people do know but I'm not one of them so I'm not going to speculate.

We marched in a very tight circle, picketing and chanting and receiving a lot of SYMPATHY HONKS from passing traffic on the narrow street. Venice is known for being a very progressive neighborhood, so the fact that most of the locals were pretty vocal supporters of the union was not a surprise. There was one guy who came out and asked for us to stop making so much noise so that his 3 month old baby could sleep. We quieted down for a minute while the Location Captains spoke with him. Whatever they said seemed to convince him things would be okay and he went back home and we went back to chanting. A friend of mine from our kids' pre-school showed up with his younger son on his shoulders. Again, despite the on and off again rain, there was a heavy turnout, altogether I'd say at least 30 folks, maybe more. My Strike Buddy needed to leave early in order to pick his older child up from pre-school and since we had driven over together I had to leave early as well. But the guys in charge were doing a great job and the membership was out in force, so I didn't feel too bad about having to go.

All in all, a good day's strike-related activity -- I can't bring myself to say "work," since my work is to write movies and write and produce TV shows.

One other thing -- the other day I said something to the effect of "I don't support too many radicals, except maybe for a few 'radical' North Koreans I met in China, a long time ago." To CLARIFY, the point was I met some North Koreans who were living in China and who hated their own government back in North Korea with a passion, therefore making them -- in the view of the North Korean government -- "radicals."

Well, I won't be seeing anyone on the picket lines for a while -- except maybe back in NYC, if they are doing any picketing over the Holidays. So I'll just say, have a wonderful Holiday Season and a Happy New Year -- and chances are I'll see you back on the Picket Lines in 2008... but you never know. Maybe -- just maybe -- the 8 week mark will hit and a semi-reasonable offer re: internet profit sharing will make itself known from the other side. That would certainly be nice. But I wouldn't count on it.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Strike Day 43 - and the big Guild Get-Together...

Well, stop the presses -- THE THIN RED LINE of WGA solidarity remains INTACT!!!!

Yes, pretty good news from what appeared to be the pretty well-attended Guild Meeting in Santa Monica earlier tonight.

Both myself and one of the friends I sat with were pleasantly surprised by the relative lack of bitching, moaning, complaining, second-guessing, etc., etc. Which is not to say that no one poked or prodded or asked probing questions -- people did, as they should have.

But -- and personally I see this as INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT -- no one seemed to be buying the AMPTP's spun version of the recent negotiations breakdown, which laid all the blame on our "radical" leaders and their obsession with unionizing Reality TV and Animation.

One highlight was Sean Ryan -- of "The Shield" and "The Unit" fame -- saying he was personally offended when the AMPTP emerged from the negotiations collapse and branded Patric Verrone and David Young as being "crazy." Ryan said he took offense at not being included, not being seen as important enough to be called "CRAZY" himself. He elaborated and his point was that the WGA Negotiating Committee includes some of the most successful TV and movie writers on earth, whose "products" (to borrow economic terminology from the other side) have earned the companies which make up the AMPTP billions of dollars. It's a good point. Even if Verrone and Young were crazy and out to fight some extremist, anti-conglomerate, pro-labor crusade... would Carol Mendelsohn from CSI and Neal Baer from Law & Order SVU and Sean Ryan himself and Ron Bass and all the other writers up there... would they all be going along for the ride? Well, I'll admit, maybe Steve Gaghan would -- BUT NOT THE ENTIRE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE!!!!


Some will say the future is not yet here, so why fight so hard for something the details of which will most likely change profoundly before three years run out and the next deal has to be made. Well, for me the simple answer to that one is: THE FUTURE IS NOW. We know for a fact that viewership is migrating to the computer, so we have to get a fair deal now. If we wait it will be too late. Once the companies -- who have tighter control over the digital distribution systems than they do over traditional TV, even now, with all the vertical-integration -- get rolling they will not be turned back. If there's one thing to take from the home-video profit-sharing debacle of the past, that's it. It means nothing if we can show them factual proof that they are making billions of dollars hand-over-foot without spending anywhere near the 80% manufacturing and distribution costs which we gave them a pass on back in 1985. It means nothing. They will NEVER GIVE US BACK THAT MONEY. If we give up a fair percentage of residuals from the net now, we will not get them back later.

Learn from history in order to avoid repeating it.

The early part of the strike day was on the picket line at Warner Bros. The big highlight for me today was when a family on their way to take the VIP Tour stopped to talk. It turned out they were visiting with their son, who's a Marine at Camp Pendleton -- and who will be shipping out to Iraq in February. It turned out the mom -- who had been in the Air Force -- and the son were both big fans of the TV show "SLEEPER CELL," which I created and ran with my partner. The Marine had only missed one episode. I told him I would send him a copy of the entire show on DVD. He didn't know his PO Box mailing address at Pendleton, so his mom gave me her address back home. I'll try to ship the DVDs out before the end of the week.

After talking with me and another striking writer, the family took the tour. They cheered us from the stretch golf cart on the way into the studio lot.

The mom who was in the Air Force comes from a military family, her dad was Air Force too. She and her son traded some inter-service put-downs, which for me at least was a new twist on the whole "inter-service rivalry" thing. Turned out she had something of a tradition with the USMC as well. Three men from her family had served in the Marines. All three were killed in action. Her son said he is hoping to break that particular family tradition. I hope and pray he succeeds.

Truth is that mom, her son and the rest of their family have much more serious challenges to face than anyone on the WGA picket lines, whether they're about to lose a house, or a car... or even a marriage. Just one man's opinion.

Strike goes on.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Strike Days 41-42

Well, the weekend kept me very busy with things other than the strike -- which is good for me but bad for this blog. Ah, well, we'll manage!

This entry must serve for Saturday & Sunday.

Played a little football with my two older kids today and had a lot of fun doing it. It was 2 on 2 with one other adult plus the kids and me, mixed teams of one kid and one adult each. I'm trying to get my kids in shape to participate in a "homecoming" football game with a bunch of guys I used to play with regularly back in NYC years ago. We're going back East from Christmas until after New Year's and if the game works out it will be one of the major highlights of the trip for me.

Saturday this blog received its first comment from someone I don't know personally (second comment overall) -- although it appears to have been a personal comment directed at the first person who commented here and who I do know personally. So it would appear that this page is still pretty much "all in the family," as blogs go.

The big thing on the STRIKE FRONT today was a mass e-mail to WGA members from the prez of SAG -- I think his name is Alan Rosenberg. I saw him speak at the big Thursday night meeting the night after Halloween. His e-mail was along the exact same lines as his speech then: full-fledged support of the WGA and a pledge to back us up for as long as it takes to get an internet residual deal for the future which both guilds can live with.

Sounded good to me then and still sounds good now. It's nice to see his support is not waning as the strike goes on.

Of course, there is no way to know how deep that feeling runs in the membership of SAG, but I know more than a few actors and every last one of those I know personally mirrors their leadership's attitude 100%. Lots of them have come out to the picket lines to walk with my partner and I, some on a semi-regular basis. And no, these are not aspiring actors or wannabee actors or even mildly successful actors. They may not all be household names but one or two are and you would probably recognize the faces of the rest.

So SAG is still with the WGA. If it should come to pass that the DGA makes a deal with the AMPTP that doesn't cover internet residuals well enough to satisfy the WGA, well... once July 1st hits it will be very interesting to see what kind of movies and TV shows all the directors will be able to make without any scripts OR actors on hand.

On the personal strike-related front, I got requests for WGA STRIKE SUPPORT signs from some neighbors and from a dad whose son was over at our house -- and who is a DGA MEMBER with a movie he directed coming out in April. So that was kind of cool.

The other real strike news is that there will be a big LOCATION PICKET tomorrow morning. I got an e-mail about it earlier tonight. I have been to a couple of location pickets -- I actually kinda helped set one up, on the fly -- so I may head over there tomorrow, rather than return to my regular stomping grounds at Warner Bros. Then later it will off to Santa Monica for the big PEP-RALLY/GRIEVANCE AIRING, which I expect will be somewhat interesting.

My guess is that this coming week will bring no new developments in the strike at the guild and negotiations level. Just a continued "war of words" with the AMPTP trying hard to make the WGA look like it is being run by "radicals" out of touch with the needs of "working writers." Well, I don't support too many radicals (maybe a few radical North Koreans I met in China many years ago) and I'm a constantly-working writer -- but the AMPTP's continued banging of that drum has only one effect on me:

it really -- REALLY -- pisses me off.

I know it's just a tactic and they very likely don't believe any of it themselves (at least the guys in charge of crafting and distributing the message) but it still pisses me off.

When I stop and think about it that's kind of dumb on my part though. It's like having already marched off to war against -- pick any foreign nation, in order to be as inoffensive as possible, let's pick one that hasn't existed since long before the USA became a country, like CARTHAGE. Anyhow, it's like marching off to war against Carthage and then -- when those damn Carthaginians actually start shooting arrows at you and charging at you with spears leveled -- you get really pissed off. So... when you (and I) marched off to war, what exactly were we expecting the other side to do?

I don't want to push the "war" metaphors too far and -- although they were known to practice ritual sacrifice of their own children -- I actually have some respect and admiration for the land of ancient Carthage, what with its mercantile and naval successes, the multi-cultural nature of its society in general and its military in particular and of course the incredible, against all odds accomplishments of its greatest general, Hannibal.

The point is... we are locked in a pretty heavy struggle with some pretty serious opponents, so it should not come as a surprise that they will be doing anything and everything within their power to defeat us.

Of course, on the personal level, every day brings new strike-related developments for lots of writers and lots of other industry people, and most of those developments are not too good. But such is life. Look on the bright side: at least you don't have a Carthaginian warrior or one of his Celtic or Numidian buddies trying to chop your head off, or trample you with his trained elephant.

See you at the picket line tomorrow (maybe on location) -- and then at the mass conflagration tomorrow night!

Friday, December 14, 2007

I LOST A DAY -- today is STRIKE DAY 40...

Hey everyone -- or anyone.

So it turns out I was a day off -- yesterday, Thursday, December 13th, was in fact STRIKE DAY 39, which makes today STRIKE DAY 40.

Well, I turned 40 not that long ago. Now the strike has turned 40. Not really something to celebrate.

No big developments today. No time on the picket line -- since there is no Friday picket line. No big Guild-wide event, since the leadership didn't schedule one of those for today. But there was one development... a little while ago I got an e-mail alerting me to the fact that there is going to be a Guild-wide meeting this coming Monday night. I was supposed to attend the monthly leaders meeting for my 10 year-old son's Cub Scout Pack on Monday night, starting around the same time. I e-mailed all the other parents in our Den that one of them needed to volunteer to fill in for me. Kind of like "tag, you're it" -- only you have to volunteer to be tagged. I'm sure at least one of them will rise to the challenge. I still should go myself because I have the entire RAINGUTTER REGATTA gutter-track system stacked up at the edge of my driveway since last April and I need to find someone else to take it off my hands before my son graduates from Cub Scouts and becomes a Boy Scout this coming March. Oh, well -- I will need to send an e-mail about that to the Pack leadership. My wife REALLY wants that stuff to get out of our driveway -- and it has been more than half-a-year now.

As far as the big get-together goes... well, at first I was thinking "nothing good will come of this" -- just a lot of frustrated people packed together, with at least a few who severely disagree with the way our leadership has been doing things. Seemed like an opportunity for a lot of talking and not much conversation, if you know what I mean. But then I realized, maybe that's not such a bad thing. Give people an opportunity to vent. I suppose in a way it's actually better if those of us who disagree with how our side of negotiations have gone get to yell about it while only their fellow Guild members are around to listen. Personally, I don't see anything there to take issue with. I admit, I have issues -- but they don't involve the Negotiating committee or how they have conducted themselves, they deal with the two-year lead-up to the strike, and at this point those issues -- at least to me -- are water under the bridge.

The truth is, when you talk about that kind of stuff with the media, no matter how you qualify any criticism of the Guild leadership and/or balance it with criticism of the AMPTP, you will most likely be painted as a member who is "turning against the leadership of the union" or "demanding a serious change in the direction of the strike" -- even if you're not, exactly. That's just the plot the media seems to be interested in selling, whether to their readers or to their owners. And even I will admit, it's a plot that makes sense, theoretically. I still say that out there on the picket lines all over LA it is not a plot that is real. Not a plot that is gaining any traction. Not even enough of a plot to be rated a "C"-story, let alone a "B"-story. Hell, not even enough of a plot to qualify as subtext. When you have thousands of relatively intelligent, relatively well-educated, at least somewhat successful and relatively well-off people involved in anything at all, it is inevitable that they won't all agree. Hell, even if we were several thousand Medieval serfs it would be inevitable we wouldn't all agree.

So... bring on the ranting rebels, hurling epithets as they castigate Verone, Young, Bowman & Co. for putting "Reality" and "Animation" ahead of the REAL issues that matter to us WORKING WRITERS. What a laugh. All that is still nonsense. No one from our side has put Reality or Animation above or beyond getting a fair cut of future profits from New Media. Everyone on both sides knows this is a ONE ISSUE STRIKE -- and the issue is neither Reality nor Animation. Plain and simple, the issue was, is and remains:


I don't like to demonize the opposition, no matter what. Enemies like Hitler (driven to arguably psychotic ends by personal and societal manias) are few and far between. I have to believe that the intelligent and successful men in charge of the handful of media conglomerates that make up the decision-makers and agenda-setters of the AMPTP all know that the strike is all about one thing and that the moment they make a halfway-reasonable offer on that issue the strike will end. Therefore, I must assume, they simply don't want the strike to end. At least not yet.

As far as why they don't want it to end yet... well, there are a few possibilities I can think of. One is that having suffered this far through the debacle, they have decided to at least wait until they cross the "8 week" line, so that each and every company, if it wants to, can exercise the much ballyhooed "Force Majeure" clauses in contracts they have with anyone they no longer think is worth what they had been paying them before.

At the start of the strike every second person you talked to told you about the companies evil plot to force a strike in order to exercise the DARK SIDE of the "FORCE MAJEURE." Personally, I found that talk to be a lot of nonsense, for several reasons. There aren't all that many giant overall deals and most of them involve incredibly successful writer-producers and directors with well-proven track records of extreme success who are not the kind of assets a company that planned to remain in our industry would want to cut loose. Sure, there are a few folks who get paid a lot because of success they had in the past and haven't been turning a profit lately. If I was one of them I would be pretty certain the "Force Majeure" was coming for me. But from the macro view... quite frankly, it just isn't worth it. To destroy one and a half TV seasons and a slew of giant tent-pole movies so you can save... what? 6 million dollars in bad overall deals? 12 Million dollars? The numbers just didn't add up, at least in my mind.

But things are very different now. If I was a studio or network big-shot and I realized after a month or so that the tried and true WGA-strike-busting tactics of the past which worked 3 times during the Eighties, namely: wait until they EAT EACH OTHER ALIVE -- the TV writers vs. the feature writers, the TV staffers vs. the showrunners, etc., etc. -- were not working this time (because of the ALL-EMBRACINGLY TRANSCENDENT ISSUE OF GAINING A FOOTHOLD IN INTERNET GENERATED PROFITS), well... then I think I might say: "Let's at least wait another couple of weeks so we can get rid of the bastards who haven't been making us any money." And then I would just wait until January 5, when the 8 week mark hits, before making anything close to a reasonable offer on the all important issue that will settle this strike. And between now and then I would continue to do everything in my power to try to get the WGA to EAT ITSELF ALIVE. At some studios the "Force Majeure" clause requires only that the "artist" be on strike for one day before allowing the company to get rid of their deal, but at others it is 4 weeks or 6 weeks or -- drum-roll please... EIGHT WEEKS. So, if you're the companies, you have to wait eight weeks or you will be leaving some of your colleagues out in the rain, where they won't be able to chuck out the "dead wood" like their colleague/rivals with shorter strike time force majeure deal-points in their contracts can. That way it will be share and share alike in the "dead wood" savings, all across the -- corporate -- board.

(PERSONAL NOTE: I like to think that my partner and myself are such solidly awesome enough assets to our own studio that we will not become victims of the dreaded "FORCE MAJEURE" -- but if we do... well, we've been without an overall deal before -- and the best thing about it is it means you are free to go out and SELL YOUR STUFF TO ANYONE AND EVERYONE IN TOWN, which, if you believe in your stuff, is not the absolute worst thing in the world, even though it's true it doesn't pay the bills quite as well as those weekly checks from an overall deal do.)

This is my ROSEY SCENARIO -- and has been for about the past 3 weeks (just ask anyone I walk the picket line with, they'll tell you it's true!) -- that some time soon after January 5th (the 8 week mark) a semi-reasonable offer on internet profit sharing will appear from the other side.

But of course, life isn't always a bundle of roses.

My not-so-rosey scenario -- and when the strike started this was pretty much my sole scenario (again, just ask anyone who knows me, especially my writing partner, and they will confirm it!) -- is that the strike goes on until the only significant development which I can see affecting the companies' side of the situation comes to pass: when July 1st arrives and SAG goes out on strike for the exact same INTERNET DELIVERED RESIDUAL issue as we are currently out on strike over.

Right now I don't know how to quantify my bet on which of these 2 scenarios is more likely to come to pass. Since I have no close personal connections to any of the top bosses on the other side, it would be all guess work. What I hear from the upper-middle level bosses I do know doesn't really ring true to my own ears -- not that it's lies or anything, they all seem to be thoroughly convinced it's the truth, I just find it very, very difficult to believe. This is the claim that what is truly blocking a deal getting done is THE PERSONALITIES IN THE NEGOTIATING ROOM.

I mean... come on, man. Give me a f*#@ng break. We're talking about billions of dollars. No one is going to convince me that if the handful of companies that lead the AMPTP wanted to end this strike today or tomorrow or yesterday they would allow "personality conflicts" to make that not happen. I know the devil is in the details and I know personalities play a huge role in
all manner of human interaction, including international diplomacy, war and peace, high finance, etc., etc. But this is a matter of business -- a matter of cold, hard cash. And the bottom line is: not one of the top bosses from any of the companies is directly, PERSONALLY involved in any of the negotiating. So what would lead them to allow some underling's or hired flunky's (pardon me, Nick Counter) personality issues with our side to sidetrack the deal that will lead to the future?

Unless I believe that the big-shots on the other side are a bunch of dopes, I can't buy it. And I'm sorry but I don't think they're a bunch of dopes. I think it's very simple. They are dragging this out because they want to. They want to because if they succeed, they will maintain a stranglehold on profits from new media. If they fail, well, at least they tried. And who in the WGA is going to want to go back to the picket lines for another 2 months or -- perish the thought but be prepared for the reality -- 8 months (if it takes 'til July) next time, when we have to re-negotiate 3 years down the road?

When I started writing this page I expected it to be very brief and only about the coming meeting on Monday night -- but I guess I got sidetracked, or backtracked to the start of the strike. My plan now is to download the CALENDAR from my iPhone, which has brief entries for each day of the strike so far, with highlights from the picket lines. If I'm very lucky I'll manage to do that by the end of the weekend. If not, it will be something for me shoot for during the coming weeks... or months. Take your pick and hope it turns out that way.

Out on the picket line, when people talk about the "big picture" of the strike and how long it is going to last, I am always a VOICE OF STOIC PESSIMISM. Which I believe is the best -- and mental-healthiest -- way to be under these circumstances. Hopes will be dashed -- unless maybe if you HOPE FOR THE BEST, EXPECT THE WORST.*

See you out on the picket lines Monday -- and at the big "Red Hour" riot-fest Monday night!

*With kudos to Mel brooks.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and All The Ships At Sea...

Well, I guess I'm dating myself, though I'm not even close to that old.

I'm a WGA member who has been on strike for the past 38 days and just posted a reply on someone else's BLOG regarding the strike and decided I need to start one of my own, for better or worse.

I guess the real reason for doing this is the frustration I feel reading the major news sources' ongoing coverage of the strike since it began, with particular emphasis on this past week, starting with the AMPTP's press release last Friday, in which they referred to the WGA leadership as "radicals" on an ideological mission to change the way Hollywood works.  They also explained how the real roadblock to an agreement is the WGA leadership's absolute focus on bringing Reality TV and Animation writers into our Guild, and how they -- the AMPTP -- are more than ready to come to a reasonable agreement regarding that other little thing called a FAIR SYSTEM FOR INTERNET DOWNLOAD AND STREAMING RESIDUALS.

I mean... give me a f*#@ing break, dudes.  Nonsense.   Pure and utter nonsense.

And yet... for the past week I have found it repeated not as ONE SIDE'S VERSION OF EVENTS but as hard fact, in the Hollywood trade papers (I know, I know, they owe their entire existence to the companies, what should we expect) and even the REAL papers, like the New York Times.

I think it's pretty obvious who the target audience for this drivel is: US.

I don't mean the United States, I mean the membership of the WGA.

They simply want us to eat ourselves alive -- the way the WGA pretty much ate itself alive in 1981, 1985 and 1988.  Of course, as all members of the WGA know all too well, the price of all that eighties cannibalism was being screwed out of meaningful profit participation in CABLE TV and HOME VIDEO -- first VHS, then DVDs.

It's a familiar bit of pop-wisdom when people criticize military leaders for "PREPARING TO FIGHT THE LAST WAR"  Well, I think the AMPTP prepared and currently is fighting the last strike.  They expect that by filling the media with attacks on our leadership and negotiators they will create serious cracks in the relatively impressive solidarity our membership has been showing in support of this strike.

By now most of us know this is the case and I admit it should be pretty damn obvious to anyone with half a brain paying any attention -- but still, it needs to be addressed.  I know many of us -- including our leaders -- are working hard to address it, but I guess I feel like making myself into one more finger in the dyke of WGA solidarity, struggling to hold the ocean of potential infighting, recrimination and defeat at bay for as long as humanly possible.

So, I say again -- to any and all of my fellow WGA members and any other interested parties, please, please, PLEASE:


No one in the WGA leadership or negotiating committee is putting reality TV and animation ahead of internet residuals.  No one in the WGA leadership or negotiating committee is trying to "change the way Hollywood does business" or serve an "ideological agenda" -- unless you count gaining a minimally fair share of profit participation on future digitally-streamed and digitally-downloaded profits an "ideology."  Personally, I would say the ideology it falls squarely under would be Capitalism.

By the way, I am a proud Capitalist.  So proud in fact that on a few occasions while walking the picket lines in the early days of the strike -- when chanting was pretty much non-stop -- I refused to join in chants of: "Hey-hey, ho-ho -- corporate greed has got to go!"  I don't think corporate greed has got to go.  I firmly support corporate greed -- with special emphasis on the greed of my own personal corporation.  My problem is not with corporate greed.  My problem is with OUTLANDISH GREED.  Greed that knows no bounds whatsoever.  Robber Baron greed of the sort which Teddy Roosevelt stepped in to temper with Federal anti-trust laws.  Unfortunately this is the type of greed we appear to be dealing with in our current situation.

Politically I am pretty conservative.  That's why I chose the name WGA "StrikeHawk" for this blog.  I've given the maximum donation to John McCaine's current presidential campaign as well as his run back in 2000.  The idea that I would be out walking a picket line in support of "radicals" serving some unspecified leftist "ideological agenda" is not only ridiculous, it's personally insulting.  I'd be willing to bet that I've voted for more Republicans than all the Network and Studio executives I've done business with over the past 2 decades put together.  The idea that this strike was born out of politics as opposed to economics is simply absurd.

And that's another thing -- the executives.  Those guys and girls from the other side -- the ones who actually deal with us (us being we writers, writer-producers and writer-directors) -- the ones I know and talk to, from the moment the strike began, they all thought we were right.  But a funny thing happened this week.  Those men and women from the other side -- the creative and business affairs executives at the studios and networks -- the ones I still talk to from time to time, sometimes when they stop to chat at the picket line, sometimes on the phone... all started to change their minds, thanks to the spin efforts of the AMPTP and their hired communication guns.

Those executives started to believe that we were the ones responsible for deadlocking negotiations -- even though it was the other side that walked out, not once but twice.

Those executives started to believe that what our negotiators are really after is Reality TV and animation, as opposed to our fair share of new media generated profits.

And the thing is... one of the executives I know who started to believe that IS MARRIED TO A WGA WRITER!

This has me thinking that even some of us may be starting to believe this drivel as well.

If it's you -- PLEASE STOP!!!  Wake up and smell the disinformation.

Every negotiation includes two agendas -- two lists of "demands."  The two sides trade stuff away back and forth in an ongoing effort to keep hold of what matters most to them.

No WGA leader has said we won't negotiate about ANYTHING.  If the AMPTP come back and sit down, chances are they will get most if not near all that they want -- so long as we get to walk away with the one or two things that REALLY MATTER to us.  But they won't do that.  Why not...?

Because they still believe that by stoking the fires of dissension in our ranks we will eat ourselves alive one more time -- thereby saving them the trouble of having to share equitably in the internet distribution profits of the future.

I'm not asking for blind obedience or lock-step herding -- I'm just asking that you keep focused on real news -- real developments and the real situation, as opposed to the partisan VERSION of events the other side wants us all to be focused on, or -- more accurately -- distracted by.

That's it from me for now.

See you on the picket lines Monday...