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:

PROFIT PARTICIPATION WHEN STUFF WE WROTE IS DELIVERED VIA THE INTERNET.

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.

4 comments:

Charlie said...

Have you gone to any of the Showrunners meetings?

Brooklyn scribe said...

Hi there, Charlie. Nice of you to visit. I spotted you here while waiting in an INSANELY LONG line of cars to drive thru the LADWP (not AMPTP!) Holiday Lights Festival up at Griffith Park. We've been before but never had to wait close to 3 HOURS to reach the lights...

ANyhow, yes, I attended the first Showrunner meeting I was invited to -- which I think was the second one overall -- the big one at the Universal Hilton, I think it was. Lots of people, maybe 80-100. And lots of solidarity, which was good. I heard later from a couple of showrunners who walk the picket lines over at Warners that they saw that particular meeting as a turning point in bringing a lot of folks who were uncertain and on the fence about what they were going to when when the strike came, over to the side of doing nothing. So I suppose it was a very good meeting.

To be honest, I haven't gone to any of the follow-up Showrunner meetings because -- even though I am a showrunner -- the truth is we're not running a show right now. We lost a couple of pilots but we don't have 100-150 cast and crew waiting to find out where their next paycheck is going to come from, or piles (well, digital piles) of dailies and director cuts waiting to be turned from coal into gold by the magic of our deftly wondrous post-production touch.

If we were in that position I would have kept attending but I'd feel a little bit like a fraud, simply by not being in that horrendously painful position. It's easy for me and my partner to say we wouldn't cross a picket line manned by our own writing staff or take a look at cuts or casting tapes -- and to be honest I am certain that I would never have done any of those things if we had found ourselves in that position -- but talk is cheap and the truth is we haven't had to face those decisions.

We did have to see our assistant -- who we love and who is awesome -- lose her job, which really sucks. We gave her a little going away/birthday bonus but it wasn't much in the big picture of how long this strike is going to last. And of course, we are bleeding cash on a daily basis, the cash that was coming from our Warners deal -- a deal we had struggled for about 10 years to earn. So it's not like we aren't suffering -- just not suffering in exactly the same way as you folks who had shows on the air in your care when the strike hit.

That is my longwinded way of answering: no -- except for that one early on -- probably the only one you missed.

If I don't see you on Monday night have a great Christmas and New Years -- and let's try to work it out so we can work it out so we can picket together some time in 2008...

Bruce said...

Very interesting stuff, Brooklyn. Therefore, you can't be a friend of Charlie's...

Brooklyn scribe said...

Friend or foe -- Bruce?

Is that some kind of inside joke between you and Charles -- or are you using my neophyte blog efforts to dis him...?

Or are you his new writing partner?

Inquiring minds want to know -- striking minds too.