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 www.UnitedHollywood.blogspot.com 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.

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