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!

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