Thursday, February 21, 2008

E-Day (end of Strike day) +8

Keep driving through Gate 5 on Avon at Warner Bros. and looking for picketers but just ending up in my office.

It's getting late and I need to be up early tomorrow but wanted to mention it looks like we may have some good news on one of our pilots.

Will be back to keep you updated -- and give my strike wrap-up -- soon...


Monday, February 18, 2008

E-Day (end of Strike day) +5

Hello to anyone still reading out there!

It appears this blog still has some traffic so I feel compelled to file a report from South Beach Miami, Florida, where my family and I spent this past President's Day weekend attending the 50th birthday party of a dear old friend from Brooklyn.

My partner and I are in the midst of working like crazy to finish up one of our two pilots and so far things are going pretty well. We'll turn it into Warner Bros. TV early this week and see what they have to say. Hopefully not much, otherwise I doubt it it will get to the network in time to remain in serious contention.

I have some more pics to load and one or two more thoughts about the upcoming contract vote, so I won't say "Goodbye forever!" quite yet.

The beach in Miami was fantastic, with soft sand and warm water -- and then there's the tale of the "Coral Castle" which we managed to visit yesterday and qualifies as a worthy tourist destination.

After we're back I will follow-thru on these morsels.

Until then, I bid a fond farewell!

-- and Devon -- if you stop by this blog, LEAVE ME AN ACCURATE E-MAIL ADDRESS so I can get in touch with you.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Strike Day 100 - Strike Ends

Well, I voted my conscience but more rational minds prevailed, so it's back to the office tomorrow for my partner and myself.

It will be a mad dash for those of us still alive in this current bastard pilot season and we shall see if we manage to make it to the the finish line at the CW and/or CBS.

I really wanted to animate Savonarola so that Variety burst into flame in his hand but tonight I had to settle for a still image. Oh, well -- tomorrow is another day!

There were about a hundred writers lined up outside the Guild building when I showed up just before 2:00pm today. The timing on my part was a fluke -- I drove a school trip, taking my son's 5th Grade class to the Los Angeles Science Center, next door to USC and the LA Coliseum. It was like deja vu, since I'd just been there at The Shrine for the big Guild meeting a few nights ago.

People are happy to be going back to work, which is great. The rest of the city is happy to see the industry gearing back up to spend money as usual -- or at least much closer to it -- which is also good.

The Guild leadership has declared victory and I think in fact they are correct. We did indeed achieve victory. It seems as if -- in the aftermath of the "Hundred Days" -- Nick Counter may be in line for a ticket to St. Helena after all. I still don't believe for a moment that he is the reason for the strike, that the real powers that be in charge of the big conglomerates didn't tell him exactly what they wanted him to do every step of the way. But that doesn't really matter. He's the fall guy. It will be interesting to see if the companies use him to speak for them when talks finally begin between them and SAG.

My last word on the strike is... I think we writers should be proud of ourselves.

For the most part we stuck together for much longer than anyone would have expected or predicted. For the most part we kept our dissatisfactions to ourselves in order to present a united front to the opposition.

I have to check a list of the writers making up the so-called "Dirty Thirty" -- who are now said to have pressured our leadership to take the DGA deal or face public rebuke and division within the Guild -- to see if I know any of them personally. The thing I find funny is that it was -- as people were saying out on the picket lines -- some of the most financially successful among us who were the most desperate to get back to their jobs with no regard for whether or not that would be the best thing for the Guild as a whole. I understand having to cover a large nut on a monthly basis but that's still no excuse for being a selfish scumbag -- in my humble opinion.

My big question now is whether or not I'll vote for Patric Verrone and his "Writers United" brethren when they all run again in our next election. Their very name offends me -- "Writers United." I mean, it would be great if it had something to do with writers going up against directors or actors or composers or producers or something like that -- but they were and will be running for office in competition with OTHER WRITERS! So how can they lay claim to a party name such as "Writers United" when one of the key purposes of their party is to overcome/defeat various other writers running for the same offices?

Maybe I'm just a stickler for words. But it does sound super cool, yes indeed.

Anyway, despite my dislike for their trappings and sound-bytes, they did a good job preparing for and organizing the strike and the negotiating committee they put together did a very good job trying to avert it and then trying to get the best deal possible out of it. I still believe that taking a very different approach to the negotiations two years ago might well have led to a similar deal without requiring the 3 month strike -- but that's all water under the bridge now. There is a strong argument to be made that reelecting our present leaders would be the best thing to do, simply because the companies will be forced to sit down across from them once again, with the memory of our recently concluded unpleasantness never far from their minds. If Verrone and company speak softly and carry the big strike stick, we may be in good shape for the next round of negotiations.

Enjoy being back at work and enjoy not having to walk the picket line and -- if you are one -- enjoy being a writer.

...and count your blessings!

I know I will.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Strike Day 99 (24 A.D.) - 1 day after the strike died

Well, for all intents and purposes, the strike has ended.

But how will I vote on ending it...?

To be honest, a big part of me feels like ending this strike now, for this deal, is the wrong thing to do. When will we find ourselves in a position to get what we want again? If we hold out until July 1st hits and SAG goes out on strike... how much better could our contract become? Personally, I think it would become significantly better.

At the same time, the other part of me -- the part that never wanted to go on strike, the part that did not vote in favor of authorizing the strike -- says this contract is good enough. In fact it says any contract would be good enough.

I walked into the big meeting last night expecting not to get out of there until well after midnight -- but in fact, a large segment of the membership in the audience started to leave after about the first hour-and-and-a-half (maybe around 9:00pm) and the very last question was asked some time around 10:30 -- making for a grand total of about a three-hour long confab.

By the time it ended, it seemed like there were more people on stage belonging to the Executive Board and Negotiating Committee than there were simple guild members in the audience.

And as far as the meeting itself goes, the questions were not what I had been expecting -- which was much more rigorous and intense debate.


I think there were two reasons.

Reason number one was the general way they kicked things off, with Patric Verrone waiting in the wings to make a somewhat dramatic entrance, which began a tremendous standing ovation. That was followed by more ovations, for our Strike Captains and for our only real ally in this fight, the Screen Actors Guild.

There was a great deal of mutual backslapping and congratulations and good-wishes. As I've seen it described elsewhere, it was indeed pretty much a love-fest.

Then, to top off all the positive energy, our president said that the Board had decided to call for a vote on whether or not to end the strike, using the "48 hours" provision in our bylaws.

This was clarified as meaning the entire membership would indeed be given the opportunity to vote on ending the strike, with voting to be held on Tuesday -- 48 hours after we had all been advised it was coming -- and, assuming the vote was in favor of ending the strike, all of us returning to work on Wednesday. It received a tremendous ovation as well, and to my mind, that cinched it.

That was reason number two.

A lot of people, myself included, were very uncomfortable with the idea of us all returning to work immediately because that was what our leaders had basically promised the other side we would do. It's not that we didn't want to return to work -- it's just that after walking on picket lines for more than ninety days, we felt we deserved the chance to meaningfully participate in in that all-important decision.

Using the 48-hour vote rule makes it possible for work to restart nearly instantly, while enabling the membership to avoid feeling disenfranchised in the process. You have to give our leaders credit for choosing this path to the finish line.

Then John Bowman, our chief negotiator, and David Young, our top union professional, went over the deal point by point.

After that, a lot of people started to leave.

I think the one thing that might have led to a substantial fight on the floor of The Shrine last night was the idea that we were going to be ordered to go back to work.

When that disappeared in the opening remarks of the evening... the chances of any sustained debate or argument disappeared with it.

There was really only one confrontational, argumentative question -- and I unfortunately was not able to really listen, either to it or the answer it received from the stage, because at the time I was being led by "SECURITY" to the back of the auditorium...

I had spotted a writer -- and now producer -- who did amazing work on both seasons of Sleeper Cell, got out of my seat and walked over to say hi and talk to him. While doing so I was intercepted by someone from the Guild staff, who saw that I had an iPhone clutched in my hand and asked if I had used it to take any pictures. I was honest and said "Yes," and then they escorted me to the area at the center-rear of the auditorium, where the people running the production of the evening were situated. By now we had been joined by several of those giant guys with shaved heads and suits and ties. They said something to a woman who I assume was in charge and she looked at me and said something like: "You're breaking the rules. Didn't you hear what Patric said?"

For those of you reading this who weren't there, she was referring to the fact that our President had been informed duirng the meeting that someone in the building was "Live Blogging" the event and had made an announcement asking for whoever was doing it to cease and desist (needless to say, it was not me).

I said something like: "Yeah, I heard what Patric said. I'm not 'blogging' the meeting -- I'm not sending pictures to anyone, I'm taking pictures, the same way I took them at all our other meetings."

I asked her what rules she was talking about -- and said I never saw a sign anywhere at this or any of the other guild meetings that said we couldn't take pictures. She said there were signs outside that said no press allowed.

You can probably guess my reply to that, which was to simply point out that I wasn't a member of the press, I was a member of the guild. At that point she kind of shook her head/shrugged and said something to the gathered security people like: "it's all right, let him go."

But at some point during my discussion with her, one of the security guys had started asking me about my phone. I already had it out in my hand and I had used it as a prop when I told the woman in charge that I hadn't blogged or sent any pictures -- I had held it out towards her and asked her if she wanted to check and make sure. Then when she was done, the security guy in charge -- the one who had first come to get me and the only one who wasn't at least 6'2" with a shaved head and a dark suit, white shirt and tie -- asked me how to turn off my phone...

It's funny but at that moment I didn't pay any attention to the context of the question, for some reason I just latched onto the simple logistics of it, held up the phone, pushed the POWER button and slid the arrow across the screen, turning it off.

After that, the guy in charge said I could go back to my seat.

At that point the context suddenly returned to my mind and I realized what I had just done. Without intending to I had conveyed to these security guys the idea that I was acquiescing in their efforts to keep me from taking any more pictures of the meeting.

That had not been my intent when I switched off my phone. All I was thinking about was answering the guy's isolated question -- showing him to turn off my iPhone.

So, instead of returning to my seat I asked the security boss very matter-of-factly: "What happens if I return to my seat, switch the power back on and take more pictures?"

I swear I was not trying in any way to be a smart-ass and I didn't say it in a particularly smart-assy way.

It was at this point that biggest of all the shaven head and suited security guys -- who was at least 6'2" and 200lbs. and who had seemed quite unhappy with my presence from the moment I had entered his peripheral vision and my voice had entered his hearing range -- said something to the effect of:

"Then I go get you and throw you out of the building."

Hahahahahaha... yes, it was going to be that kind of conversation -- or whatever else it might become.

Now, this remark put me in an interesting position, because what I really wanted to do was turn around and go back to my seat so I could hear what was being said by the questioner and our leaders response(s) -- but I couldn't just walk away.

So I said something like: "Oh, really? Why would you be doing that?"

And he said something like: "To enforce the rules."

And I said something like: "But there is no rule against me taking pictures in here, I'm not the press, I'm just a member of the union."

And one of the security guys, maybe it was him but I don't really think so, said something like: "The guild is taking pictures. You can ask for copies."

And I said something like: "So if you visit Paris and go to see the Eiffel Tower, you won't take any pictures of you and/or whoever you're traveling with -- you'll just buy postcards instead? I'm a member of the guild and I want to take some pictures to help me remember tonight and I'm doing anything with them that I'm not supposed to -- I would never do that."

Then the biggest, most pissed-off Security guy said something to me and I replied by asking something like: "What did I do to annoy you so much?"

And he said something like: ""I'm not annoyed. You have a wonderful evening, sir."

To which I replied: "I've been on strike for three months, do you really think I'm going to have wonderful evening?"

To which he smiled and replied: "I know, and I've been helping you for three months -- helping enforce the rules and protect you guys."

To which I replied by bowing in deference to him and holding out my hand for him to shake and saying: "Thank you so very much for all you've done for us."

Well, he shook my hand and then I left, with my phone in my other hand. By the time I got back to where my partner and that wonderful writer who had worked both seasons of Sleeper Cell were now sitting together, the argumentative questioner at one of the microphones was wrapping up his even more argumentative follow-up, turning and storming off, while our president was saying something to the effect of: "Well, you can take care of that for the next contract, after you've become president" -- which struck me as not being a particularly nice thing to say -- but of course I had been kind of busy for all that had preceded that final zinger, so maybe the argumentative questioner really deserved all of Patric Verone's dismissive contempt, as much or even more than I had deserved the dismissive contempt of the giant security guy.

Anyhow, for a moment or two there, Strike Hawk came mighty close to having his wings clipped -- but in the end no blood was spilled. Believe me, I know most if not all of it would have been my own, so avoiding that was a very good thing indeed.

At one point the entire gathering of shaven and suited giants had tried without success to spot my red wrist-band -- until I realized what they were doing and rolled up my right sleeve. Then it turned out that I was apparently supposed to have my red wrist-band on my left wrist rather than my right one. I told them the woman at the table in the lobby hadn't specified which arm I was supposed to hold out for her, so as a life-long conservative I naturally held out my right arm -- but if she had explained and asked me to replace it with my left, I would have done so at once.

I don't think that really helped my cause with the security guys, but oh well -- we all are who we are, aren't we?

Anyhow, getting back to the matter at hand, there is one more thing I really want to say about last night's meeting.

It happened after almost everyone had left the building and I was sitting alone with that excellent writer-producer (he actually earned his producer credit on the second season of the show and he really lived up to it) who me spotting and getting up out of my original seat to go and see had earlier led to my "encounter" with the security people.

One of the very last questions of the night -- probably asked some time around 10:00pm or so -- really hit me. It actually wasn't a question so much as a comment.

The commenter introduced himself as a writer who had come to town several years ago to work on the producing end of the business but who had found his way to writing and earned his way into the guild. He said he didn't have a lot of money, probably a lot less than most of the other people in the building, but that when the strike was called he went out and did what he was supposed to do.

Earlier in the evening it had been said by our leadership that the point at which we had finally been able to make a deal with the other side was a point located at the edge of a cliff -- a cliff that presented itself simultaneously to both sides. If we went over the cliff, the Oscars, the last vestige of the 2007-08 television season, all of the 2008 TV pilot season and any further feature film production after mid-March would all have been wiped out. That would have hit the companies hard -- but it would of course have hit our membership hard as well at the very same time.

Anyway, the commenter basically said:

"I know some people wanted you to go over that cliff and I just want to say thank you for not doing it. Thank you for not going over that cliff. Because if you had, that would've been the end for me. I would've had to pack up and move back to where I came from and I would have given up the dream I've had since I was sixteen."

The truth is I kind of am one of the people who kind of wanted them to go over the cliff. I feel like we had reached a point where we had more chance of getting more of what we wanted than we have had for more than two decades and I feel like if they weren't prepared to take this strike all the way to July 1st -- when SAG's contract runs out -- and possibly even beyond, then they never should have called for it in the first place.

But... what that guy had to say really got to me.

In the real world there are always moments when you have to decide when enough is enough -- decide how far is too far -- how much is too much.

Whether it's drink, drugs, sex, work, play, prayer, cynicism, optimism, charity, greed, hate, love -- or strike.

I still don't know for sure how I'm going to vote on Tuesday.

Deep down I believe that if the leadership had conducted itself from day one of its tenure in a very different way -- if they hadn't started out by throwing stones every single day at the companies they knew they would have to negotiate a new contract with during their time in office, if they had not waged a profoundly ineffectual campaign -- including arguably the worst-resulting strike in guild history -- to unionize "America's Next Top Model," if they had not refused to sit down and talk with the companies months and months and months ago, if they had not continually broadcast their fervent desire to extend our guild's jurisdiction in the worlds of animation and reality TV and establish the right to stage sympathy strikes...

Well, the truth is, I believe if they hadn't done any of that, they probably would have gotten a deal very similar to the one we have now.

Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe if they had gone in and acted more calm and less fervently, the other side would have tried to screw us just as bad as they did.

But I think we all can agree that in life every action we take has consequences of some kind. Throwing rocks at the companies from day one had consequences.

I take my hat off to our leadership for the way they prepared and organized for the strike -- they did a very, very good job.

My issue is... if you enter the forest loaded for bear and out for blood... how can you call an end to the hunt after bagging a quail?

I know there is a good strong argument from the other side of the issue. I don't dismiss it out of hand. The truth is, the best thing that can happen to my partner and me is that we go back to our office on Wednesday and return to work on our two pilots and one movie.

But the truth is it just doesn't sit well with me.

I'm happy that guy who asked the third-to-last question at the meeting didn't have to head back to Ohio or Michigan or Virginia or wherever he's from and give up his dream. I am happy about that.

But I think I will still vote not to end the strike.

Trust me, it won't matter. The strike will end -- probably with an overwhelming number of votes to do so.

I just don't think I can bring my vote to be one of them.

Strike Day 98 (23 A.D.) - the Day the Strike Died

Well, here we are, at the end of the strike road.

That is a good thing.

I have a few more things to say but it's about 1:30am and I need to take care of some last-minute preparations for my son's final Pinewood Derby race tomorrow -- nothing to do with his car, which he built nearly all by himself, but to do with calibrating all the digital scales that will be used for the official weigh-in at the big event. His birthday is this coming week and we spent today celebrating -- but then I disappeared to attend the big meeting at The Shrine. He had a couple of his best friends plus his two sisters plus my wife to go out to dinner with, so it is a very good bet he did not miss me at all.

Anyhow, I will return to blog some final thoughts -- but the truth is the proverbial Fat Lady sang tonight, and to be honest... she wasn't as off-key as I was expecting her to be. My guesstimate was that there were at least three-thousand members in attendance -- and towards the end of the meeting, Patric Verrone announced the official count was actually 3,500, which is the record for this strike and which accounts for close to fifty-percent of the entire membership of the West Coast branch of the Guild.

The bottom line our union got its foot in the door of the internet -- and now we, the membership, will get to vote on bringing the strike to an end, the same way we got to vote on authorizing it to begin with.

More on that tomorrow -- right now I have to work on the scales.

Plus I have to bury the third of four fish our kids got a few weeks ago. I'm hoping the sole survivor will maintain and extend his longevity. So far he seems healthy -- actively swimming and staying deep in the tank, rather than loitering close to the surface, which is never a good sign unless food is there.

It's funny -- I remember writing something here about how I had to miss a cub scout leaders meeting in order to attend the big Guild get-together in Santa Monica and how I had planned to explain to my fellow scout leaders that they needed to find a new home for all the Raingutter Regatta stuff that has been sitting under a tarp at the edge of my driveway for close to a year, in expectation of my son and I leaving the Pack.

Now, a couple of months later, I'm blogging about the pinewood derby.

The strike is ending but the race -- and life in general -- goes on...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Strike Hawk Special Bonus: BONFIRE OF THE VARIETIES...

Hey out there in the strike-osphere, this is a SPECIAL BONUS I just couldn't help but bring you.

Earlier today my friend Charlie Craig posted links to a pair of Variety articles on his "My Strike Strike" blog (see link somewhere to the right!).

Now as we all know, since day one of this strike, Variety has been slamming the Writers Guild with an endless stream of so-called news articles that mostly read as if they were penned by the AMPTP press office. It's one thing when that kind of stuff comes out in an Op-Ed piece but another when it's put forward as objective, factual journalism.

Anyhow, now that our strike appears to be entering its final days -- perhaps even its final hours -- Variety has remained straight on the path it started blazing more than three months ago: a path that cuts right through the veins of every movie and TV writer in Hollywood -- except for John Ridley, John Wells and Dick Wolf.

Apparently unable to acknowledge the simple fact that our strike has forced the entertainment conglomerates to allow for profit-participation in New Media distribution -- something the companies said at the start of our strike would "destroy our industry" -- Variety chose instead to publish a pair of articles which pretty much paint the entire profession of screen and television writing as an apocalyptic wasteland, filled with struggling and soon-to-be-impoverished losers.

It's kind of like if you read a pair of articles about the North Vietnamese Army written just before their final assault on Saigon but the articles only discussed how woefully undermanned the NVA was, compared to their potential enemies in the Peoples Republic of China.

At this moment, having maintained awesome solidarity throughout a strike which has lasted for more than three months (only 1 active screenwriter and 10 daytime soap writers and 2 news writers have actually joined the "Fi-Corps") and now being poised to make historic gains in New Media -- do these surveys of the trials and tribulations facing some members of the Guild qualify as NEWSWORTHY OR IN ANY WAY TIMELY OR SIGNIFICANT?!?!?!?!

I'm no conspiracy theorist but the only reason I can see for publishing them right now would be an effort to weaken the confidence and resolve of the membership of the Writers Guild.

My reaction?

Well, I remember mentioning here when a previous Variety article really pissed me off that I was considering collecting up all the old copies of Variety I had collected throughout the years whenever my partner and I were mentioned on the cover and burning them.

Well, after reading these two articles today, now I am thinking we should do it on a somewhat grander scale, like somewhat fanatical statesman/monk of late 15th Century Florence, Girolamo Savolarona. Only instead of collecting and torching the trappings of vanity and immorality -- mirrors, make-up, lewd artwork, suggestive women's clothing, musical instruments, etc., etc. -- we should collect and set light to our very own BONFIRE OF THE VARIETIES.

It would be even better if we only contributed copies of Variety in which we ourselves appear -- thereby linking our own efforts to those of our Renaissance predecessor, since we ourselves will be torching not only Variety's propaganda masquerading as journalism but also our very own personal Vanity.

If anyone is interested in joining me for this event, let me know. I will provide Carney's hot-dogs free of charge, so that something tangibly positive comes out of the effort, in addition to the moral and ethical achievement.

So I invite you to join me for a BONFIRE OF THE VARIETIES.

And here now, for your edification, I post links to the two articles in question:

Vanity of the Varieties the first

Vanity of the Varieties the second

Friday, February 8, 2008

Strike Day 97 (22 A.D.)

There's a bunch of stuff I should be doing right now but I feel compelled to do this instead.

Right now it's Friday night, 11:16pm... and the much-heralded "deal e-mail" has yet to arrive -- at least here, at my place.

It seems like today was filled more with discussions and concerns regarding the manner in which we move forward from here to there than the actual "there" which we are now headed towards. Writers seems more obsessed over and concerned with the manner in which we are being asked/pushed/cajoled/railroaded towards this new deal than they are obsessed over or concerned with the deal itself.

But of course, we don't have the deal itself in our hands yet, do we?

No, but it is a good bet that nearly each and every one of you reading this now (not including football players in Queen, actors in Sherman Oaks and/or film & TV editors in North Hollywood) will have heard most of the pertinent "big ticket items" from your respective Strike Captains, near all of whom were present at the big captains meeting this morning-thru-afternoon. I know I have.

And I'll be the first to admit that those details leave a lot to be desired.

If the deal sounded even just a little bit better, I would be chaffing at the bit to get the red-tape out of the way and charge back to the office on Monday. After all, I pretty much live for my work, I didn't want to go on strike, as I've said here before I did not vote to go on strike (though I didn't vote against it either) and this strike hit in the midst of a rather strong run career-wise for my partner and myself.

But the phantom-deal just doesn't sound all that good.

For me personally, the toughest pill to swallow remains the 17 day/24 day "free window" for internet streaming.

As my partner puts it, that's like saying: "We'll pay you a cut of what your movie makes at the Box Office -- but we won't count the receipts for opening weekend, week one and week two."

To be honest, it's probably ten-times more difficult for me to swallow since that member of our Negotiating Committee who was visiting the picket line at Warner Bros. Gate #5 replied to my question about it by looking me in the eye, smiling and saying: "I think you're going to be happy."

WTF is up with that?

Just tell me, "Hey, man, we can't always get what we want" -- or say, "I wish I had better news for you but there are a lot of other good, solid gains in the new contract." Phrase it any way you like -- but don't flat-out fucking bullshit me. What does it gain you? What does it gain me?

I need to shake that moment out of my mind and approach things more rationally and less emotionally -- but that being said, I may waste everyone's time tomorrow night by directing a very specific question to that dude, who I presume will be up on the stage with the rest of the leadership.

It would appear this deal is going to go through.

It is being universally endorsed and its approval universally encouraged by our Executive Board and Negotiating Committee -- the same people we have been following in about as close to lock-step as is possible for ten-thousand autonomous individuals.

We followed them out onto the picket lines -- even though they dropped the universally-beloved demand for doubling the DVD profit-participation formula; we kept following them through the emotional roller-coaster ride of the Nikki Finke engendered highly-raised hopes which were dashed when the companies walked away from the negotiating table the second time, ensuring the strike would last through the Holiday Season; after the holidays we came back and kept following them as the DGA sat down with the AMPTP and came out with a deal (though no real contract, as we all know) in less than one week; then we kept following them through the to-be-expected but still traumatic professional bloodletting of "Force Majeure"; so the idea that the majority of us will not continue to follow them now -- when the opportunity to go back to work is just around the corner -- is a hard one to sell.

But that doesn't mean it's not worth trying.

My problem is... from where I'm sitting... all the reasons for rushing to approve this deal -- be it good, bad or indifferent -- are driven by the other side's agenda alone.

As I've mentioned before, my partner and I have 2 pilots that survived the "Force Majeure" shutdowns -- we also have a movie less than half-written at Universal, as well as another movie at Universal set to go into production next month -- though production may be delayed if the strike is still on.

On the one hand these could all be seen as very good reasons for me to want to end this strike this moment, no matter what the details of the new contract may be. If you roll all that stuff together we are talking millions of dollars here.

But so what?

What should the individual stakes of any individual writer or writing team mean to the WGA at this point?


The loss of pilot season is a threat to the companies.

The loss of all further feature film production come mid-March is a threat to the companies.

The loss of any further production of current 1-hour and half-hour scripted TV is a threat to the companies.

Will the exercise of these threats negatively impact various members of the WGA?

Of course they will -- the same way the strike we have been conducting for over three months has negatively impacted pretty much all of us, as well as a whole bunch of other people.

Why do these particular benchmarks of pilot season, the last vestige of current series episodes, the last vestiges of feature film production and the Oscars mean enough to call for the end of the strike -- even before anyone of us has seen a copy of the new contract?

It just hit Twelve Midnight and I went to check my e-mail... and there's nothing new. No notice from the Guild. Nada. Zippo. So maybe we won't have to worry about any of this tomorrow -- maybe the AMPTP lawyers ended up screwing themselves out of a deal. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe there is no "Midnight deadline" after all. No doubt we'll find out soon enough...

It could be argued that all those "benchmarks" will hit our collective membership in a big way -- but wasn't that to be expected...?

I can't understand preparing for two years to go out on strike and leading your union out on strike -- and not having prepped to see that strike all the way through. In the case of this strike, "all the way through" doesn't mean until the Oscars or pilot season or any of that other crap that we now seem to be in such a rush to save -- it means July 1st, when SAG will come out on strike beside us and the 70,000 actors who reside in Greater Los Angeles come join us on the picket lines.

That's the way I saw things. But it would now appear I was wrong. It would appear that for some reason or other -- perhaps because, having spent so much time up close and personal in intense negotiations with their opposite numbers from the other side -- our leaders have discovered that whatever this new contract we are about to be offered contains is the absolute be all and end all of what we will ever be capable of getting out of them.

I hope that is what's driving our leadership to drive us to accept this deal with such rushed abandon.

True, the new contract -- even in deal-point form -- does contain one profoundly great gain.

This is the gain that was given to the DGA but was in fact earned by our own shockingly effective WGA strike.

I refer of course to the establishment of a formula -- any formula -- for profit-sharing on digital delivery.

That is huge. That is the thing the other side said would "destroy our industry" before we went on strike.

Maybe I just need to concentrate on that and forget all this other stuff and then I'll be able to quietly accept going back to work on Monday, if it comes to that.

But a very big part of me just can't believe we're walking away from the strongest position the WGA has held vis-a-vis the companies in a generation, for what will basically be summed up as a modestly-improved version of the rather innocuous DGA deal.

I just have to keep reminding myself:

Innocuous but for the inclusion of the profound gain of unionized residuals for internet distribution!

Well, it's 12:30am -- and still no e-mail from the Guild.

Guess we'll see what develops tomorrow...

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Strike Day 96 (21 A.D.)


Chinese New Year, that is.

And what a Chinese New Year it was -- at least for WGA Strike Hawk on the picket line at Disney today.

For the first time ever, Strike Hawk was RECOGNIZED by someone who had never seen him in the flesh and knew him only from the "blogosphere." (See slideshow to the right!)

It was a bit surreal -- but in a very good way. It put a smile on my face that now returns with the memory of the whacky moment.

For the Guild at large it looked like a very good turnout at Disney today, at least while I was there between Noon and 3:00pm.

As is usual at these city-wide events, there were a lot of familiar faces, among them a great writer I hadn't seen for close to nine years, since he had played a key role on the writing staff of the first TV show my partner and I ever got on the air. Since then we've tried more than once to hire him again but -- as is usually the case with people who really know what they're doing and who do it very well -- unfortunately for us he was always already spoken for. Now he's writing and selling his own pilots, which is great. He very much proves that hard work, dependability and talent can be rewarded here in Hollywood.

Somehow I wound up being interviewed by Socialists once again -- the third time since the strike began. Maybe registered Republicans give off some kind of peculiar "challenge" scent that attracts the Socialist party faithful. The guy who stopped me this time was the best-dressed Socialist I've ever seen. I told him so. Turned out he was a lawyer. His specialty? Police misconduct cases. But of course!

It was another gorgeous day -- and it literally began to swelter around 1:00pm.

There was talk about what the soon-to-arrive deal proposal will include, whether or not it will be good enough to accept, whether or not it will be bad enough not to. There were some folks from the Negotiating Committee there, answering questions near Disney's main gate on Alameda. It seems to me most of us have two thoughts about this coming proposed contract:

Number one is that we can't really have any opinion at all UNTIL WE ACTUALLY GET TO SEE WHAT IT SAYS.

But thought Number Two kind of flies in the face of Number One...

Thought Number Two is that the leadership would not be bringing us this deal and going out of their way to lay the groundwork for us to accept it (by going out to talk about how relatively good it is) unless it actually was at least a decent deal.

Suffice is to say, there is simply nothing intelligent to say about it at this point.

Not yet.

We just have to wait and see.

Something hit me that's kind of interesting. If the strike really ends on Sunday, it will have lasted exactly 99 days. Monday will be day 100. That would provide a good title for the '07-'08 WGA strike: THE HUNDRED DAYS.

Historically speaking, the term "The Hundred Days" refers to the period between Napoleon Bonaparte's return from exile on the island of Elba and the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy to the throne of France after his final defeat at Waterloo and final exile to the island of St. Helena.

I still don't want to assume events will absolutely follow this script, because assumptions are bad to make when they can lead to disappointment and -- for some -- even despair.

But if things should proceed this way, then the obvious casting choice to fill the key role of Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte will of course be...

Nick Counter, Emperor of the AMPTP.

Wasn't he always set to retire after these "negotiations" were concluded anyway?

Maybe not, since the SAG contract comes up this Summer. Maybe that one is set to be his swan-song.

Either way, if our strike actually ends on Day One Hundred, it might be cool if we of the WGA chipped in to make him a retirement gift of an all-expenses-paid trip to St. Helena, complete with a reservation for "The Black Room at Longwood" -- where the former Emperor slept every night for the last six years of his life.

I for one would be happy to make a contribution.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Strike Day 95 (20 A.D.)

I have to admit something...

Since the day the strike began, this is the first time I feel like I'm on slightly shaky ground.

As I've said before, I didn't vote to go on strike and did not want to go on strike.

But as I've outlined in great detail over these past few months, the behavior of the other side in this confrontation has really, really pissed me off.

But so what? What do you expect will happen when you are locked in desperate conflict that will determine how billions of dollars will get divvied up -- that people will play nice?

The bottom line remains, sooner or later we will go back to work. That's what I want to do -- and what every single writer I've walked alongside on the picket lines for the past ninety-odd days wants. Who wouldn't?

But will the deal be good enough?

Who knows. It's impossible to know. Not until we get to see it.

Who would make an offer on a house -- or walk away from a chance to buy a house in a neighborhood where you knew you wanted to live -- before visiting it at least once?

My ruminations lead to a question -- and it's this question that leads me to feel like I'm on somewhat shaky ground...

Why are the leaders of our guild in such a rush to get us back to work?

I guess the answer is obvious: that's their job, right? Shouldn't it be?

Yes, of course it should.

It just seems like they're falling all over each other trying to get us back to the office this coming Monday, before we officially vote on the new contract.

Why? Well, let's see... in order to:




Well, those are two good reasons. As someone with two pilots still alive at two different networks, it hits close to home. But you know what? I don't have much confidence that either of them will end up getting done this "season," since my partner and I haven't worked on them during the strike. I guess this is a legit reason -- but it's not more important than getting a fair deal.

As far as number two -- saving the Oscars -- goes... well, I really don't think this should matter at all to us. Sure, it will be a bummer if the Oscars have to be cancelled because of the strike, or if they go on and are a crippled version of their usual self, but... so what? What does that matter to us? We've been out on the picket lines waiting for the other side to give us half a version of a fair deal for three fucking months. If they still don't want to give us a fair deal, then fuck the Oscars. I really couldn't care much less. It's not our decision, not our call. It's theirs -- the AMPTP's -- just like it always has been.

Give us something halfway decent and the strike will end. Refuse to do so and the strike will go on. All the way until July 1st, when 100,00 SAG members can join us out on the picket lines.

Well, one of those reasons kind of counts for something -- saving whatever may be left of this year's pilot season may help to possibly preserve pilot seasons in general, which is probably good for writers in general. Still, it's not more important than getting a fair deal.

Of course, all of this comes down to what equals "fair."

You have to assume the leadership really thinks this deal they're about to bring us is, at the very least, fair.

It just seems like there's a reasonable argument for giving us more time to figure that out for ourselves before shutting down the picket lines.

If you ask me, the moment we put our picket signs down and head back to our offices, this whole thing is over.

How many of us are going to be heading back out to the sidewalks to start picketing again, when and if we realize the deal really isn't what it was cracked up to be?

Not enough, that would be my prediction.

But these are the guys who led us out on strike -- in fact they are the ones who spent two years leading us towards the strike.

Why would they suddenly change tacks...?

There has been some word on the picket lines regarding the answer to this question.

It involves a couple of members of the leadership -- one from the Executive Board and one from the Negotiating Committee -- both of whom are incredibly successful, one from the TV world and one from the feature film world, and both of whom told their colleagues that if they didn't accept some version of the DGA deal within the next two weeks, they would publicly break with the leadership and go "Financial Core."

But would the possibility of a public rebuke by and loss of just two -- or four or even ten -- high-powered writers and showrunners really terrorize the leadership to the point that they would run ragged towards ending the strike, no matter what?

I don't think so. But you never know.

What I do know is that I don't think we'll accept a crappy deal.

If it includes legitimate improvements beyond what the DGA got on a number of fronts, then yes, we will express our approval.

If it doesn't... well, then it is going to be one hell of an interesting meeting.

As my partner is fond of saying, this strike was much scarier three months ago -- in theory -- than it is now, as a day-to-day reality. I know a lot of writers are suffering. I know a lot of other people all throughout the industry are suffering too. But the point is... we're in the most powerful position the WGA has had in over twenty years. Today more than thirteen-hundred people showed up on the picket lines all around town. Were a lot of them there because they were excited and energized by the idea of going back to work on Monday...?

Maybe so. But if the deal sucks, then I am going to get up and say so -- and so are a lot of other people.

If it's fair -- awesome! Let's head back to work on Monday.

But if not -- or if we can't really tell either way, which could also be the case -- then now is not the time to bend over backwards in order to lend a hand across troubled waters.

Not unless the other side is holding a fair deal in its hand.

Show up tomorrow at Disney, to let the companies know we're still out there -- and ready to stay out there for as long as it takes -- even if that means coming back to picket on Monday.

***BLOGGER'S NOTE: I've added some new pics, so make sure you scroll down to the bottom of the blog, even if you've already read the posts below.***

And Devon -- if you stop by -- the e-mail address you left with your comment DIDN'T WORK, so please check it for typos and leave a corrected version!

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Strike Day 94 (19 A.D.) SUPER TUESDAY

Has the strike's end-game truly begun?

All signs point towards it.

Word today was that a little more than thirteen-hundred of us showed up at the picket-lines city-wide yesterday.

Not too shabby!

When I showed up at the Avon Gate this morning, the pickings were mighty slim -- there was no one there, just a handful of lonely picket signs leaning against the wall. I picked one up and picketed by my lonesome for a little while -- then spotted my partner walking over with a pair of "New Adventures of Old Christine" brethren.

That made four of us and we were soon joined by one or two more, including one of the regulars from "Smallville."

There was a lot of talk about the coming membership meeting on Saturday and the probable but still unknown details of the forthcoming deal.

Towards the very end of the morning shift we were visited by Larry WIlmore, a member of the Negotiating Committee who came to brief us on the state of negotiations and the forthcoming contract proposal.

He said that if the final draft of the language on paper accurately reflects what was agreed to in person between the CEOs and our side, then the leadership and negotiating committee would unhesitatingly endorse it.

He couldn't share details -- because of the "press blackout" -- but in a careful way he made it clear that the contract would include improvements on what the DGA got in their deal. I pressed him a little on my own most hated detail in the DGA deal -- the "free window" for internet streaming. He said I would be happy with what I would see, which I took to mean that at the very least the window will be shorter than the 17 day period in the DGA contract.

He asked us all to show up for the big meeting Saturday night, so the leadership can accurately gauge the feeling of the membership regarding the proposed contract, for and/or against.

The plan is to send it out via e-mail for us to peruse the moment it's done, probably not before Friday night or some time during the day on Saturday.

As anyone who's been reading this blog probably knows, I didn't want to go out on strike and I didn't vote to go out on strike -- although I didn't vote against it either. So the question of whether or not I will want to accept the new contract is really not too tough to answer.

If it's good enough for the people who took us out on strike to endorse, then it will be good enough for me.


The AMPTP has a history of adjusting wording and inserting clauses which can then be read as severely adjusting the true meaning of deal-points.

If we all sit home for the rest of the week and the Security Guards outside all the studios only need a couple of fingers to count us up, then we are inviting the other side to do their best at trying to screw us one more time.


I know for many of us there will be the siren song calling us to put in some solid 16-hour days behind the keyboard, so we can catch up with our brothers and sisters who have been home for the past three months, working on their pilots -- the ones that managed to survive the "Force Majeure" shutdowns. The faster we can finish those up, the faster we can turn them in after returning to work and get started on casting and the rest of pre-production.

I know -- my partner and I have two pilots still that are both still alive. But we will be out at the picket line, putting in our three-hour shift, tomorrow -- and the day after that -- and the day after that.

Why, especially if the final wording of the contract -- whether having a bunch of us out on the line every day garners us a slightly better deal or not -- doesn't really matter to me personally?

Because it is the right thing to do.

Now, I'm not crazy. I will be trying to get my head back into those pilots and I will be reading and re-reading them and maybe doing more than that -- but only AFTER I get home from the picket line.

And remember: there is still the possibility the language of the contract the AMPTP presents us will contain too many "mischaracterizations" for our own leaders to even send it to us -- in which case it will simply be back to the picket lines come Monday.

Only one thing is truly certain:

My man John McCaine is now the undisputed FRONTRUNNER for the Republican Presidential nomination!

Monday, February 4, 2008

Strike Day 93 (18 A.D.)

Another beautiful day in Southern California -- and a great way to start the week, with a strong turnout at the Warner Bros. and NBC picket lines (I drove past NBC on my way from an early morning dental appointment to Gate #5 at WB).

I'm thinking things were the same over at FOX and the various other picket lines across town.

The weekend news frenzy threw a challenge at the WGA membership and it appears we rose to the occasion -- at least for one day.

That's terrific -- one day at a time is the best way to approach it.

Out on the line today we had more than the usual showing -- it was "The New Adventures of Old Christine" crowd in the morning, followed by familiar faces from "Smallville" and "Jeopardy," along with the return of a caustically funny stand-up comedian/comedy writer who'd been picketing at other spots for a while.

There was a funny moment when one Warner Bros. employee stopped on his way out of the lot and asked if any of us were registered Republicans. I was the only one -- which came as no surprise. He asked me to vote for Ron Paul in the primary tomorrow. I told him I couldn't do that, since I'm a big McCaine supporter and have been since the 2000 election. He shrugged and headed across the street to get lunch.

I have to say, Ron Paul fans are a dedicated bunch. I have seen more "Ron Paul for President" signs in front yards throughout the San Fernando Valley than I have seen signs for any other candidate -- Democrat or Republican -- despite the fact that he will garner less votes than anyone else on either ballot, except for Mike Gravel, the former Alaskan senator who is still officially running to be the Democratic nominee. It seems the people who like Ron Paul, REALLY like Ron Paul.

The aspiring director who showed up for the first time last week came back out and got to talk with some more writers -- since I wasn't the only one on the picket line this time.

Somehow today he got to hear about "Koyaanisqatsi - Life Out of Balance" -- the one-of-a-king feature documentary from the early Eighties, about mankind's dysfunctional relationship with the planet earth, with a memorable score by Philip Glass.

We had a few cars honking as they went into the studio and a few honking on their way out, which is better than average. Most days we're lucky if we get one honk of support headed in and one more headed out.

We had tourists from Nebraska, Australia and Spain all come over to talk to us about the strike and express their support for the writers after taking the Warner Bros. tours -- and to take some pictures with us.

A familiar face drove out and pulled over to say hi and talk with me for awhile -- it was the costume designer from season 2 of "Sleeper Cell." She's incredibly talented and incredibly hard-working and she made a huge contribution to the success of our second season by paying excruciating attention to the details of African, Middle-Eastern, South Asian and Balkan dress, which helped make it possible for our show to appear as if we had actually gone to shoot scenes in places like Sudan, Yemen and Bosnia. She was excited because tonight she's flying to Morocco to work on a movie that's set in Afghanistan. Well, they certainly hired the right person for the job.

All in all a good day for the morning and early afternoon shifts at Warner Bros. Gate #5 in particular and for the WGA in general.

Now all we need to do is the exact same thing again tomorrow!

Strike Day 92 (17 A.D.)

Helluva Super Bowl, wasn't it?

I don't think one newspaper or TV sportscaster in the country picked the New York Giants to beat the New England Patriots. And yet... it happened.

The Giants didn't believe the hype. They just went out and did what they were supposed to do.

I'm hoping a ton of writers do the same tomorrow. Forget the hype, go out and do what we are supposed to do.

Not much more to say, except: PICKET.

PICK your studio.

PICK your gate.

PICK up your sign... and join the line.

See you at Warner Bros. in the A.M.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Strike Day 89 (14 A.D.)

It was positively gorgeous out today. Crystal clear blue sky and crisp but not really cold temperatures. You could see all the way to the snow-covered mountaintops in the distance, at the Northeastern edge of Burbank.

On the line things were sparse, as they have been all week. Sparse but not bare. In fact, over at the Warner Bros. Main Gate #2, there was a virtual HORDE of picketers, which kind of shocked me in a happy way -- until I realized today was the weekly writing "Teach-In" -- the second one so far. Last Thursday was "Medical Drama" day and today was "Half-Hour Comedy" day. When and if they get around to scheduling a "Terrorism procedural" day, I will make a point to show up with my best lecture notes in hand.

Meanwhile, at Gate #5, things were not all that bad. First it was me and my strike buddy. But we were joined by several other regulars. After a while he had to head home for child-care reasons and it turned out the three of us who were left picketing were all Executive Producer/Showrunner types -- which was kind of funny.

A tourist in a cab stopped to ask us where she should go in order to take the Warner Bros. Tour.

It was a great set-up for a funny punch-line -- we could've told her anything but all we did was tell her and her cab-driver to make a U-turn and point out the proper spot for him to drop her off at.

Then something kind of odd happened. Close to a hundred people filed out of the Warner Bros. office building across the street from the studio, headed over and walked past us onto the lot. Each and every single one of them was carrying a copy of the same book. It was called something like: "THE POWER PHRASE - How to Mean What You Say and Get What You Want."

They filed past us while we watched quizzically. None of us had ever seen such a large group of people heading into the studio. We asked one of them what kind of event they were attending. The guy answered with one word, delivered in absolute deadpan: "Party."

I think it turned out they were all Warner Bros. employees who I guess were attending some kind of seminar.

They didn't look like Business Affairs executives, being coached on how to drive harder bargains with agents and entertainment lawyers.

It was kind of a perfect visual joke -- a hundred corporate employees entering a studio lot, marching past three screenwriters, each and every single one of those hundred employees clutching a copy of a book about how to use words to get what you want.

Today a lot of people -- regular studio people, not the seminar horde -- stopped to ask us how negotiations were proceeding. We told them all the same thing: no one knows but everyone is hoping for the best.

As the three of us kept picketing the conversation inevitably turned to our experiences running various writing staffs, for better and for worse. We traded some funny horror stories of really bad behavior by writers who had been our employees, as well as surprisingly outstanding behavior.

The truth is writers come in all shapes and sizes -- not just physically but in terms of capability, responsibility and simple decency. Some of us just plain suck. Others are incredibly talented but awful human beings. Still others are absolute social cripples. But even the God-awful worst of us is entitled to a decent share of profit-participation when stuff we write is delivered for a profit to an audience over the internet.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Probably take tomorrow off -- but I said that last week and then wound up picketing at NBC from 2:30 to 5:30pm, so you never can be sure.

If you sat at home most or all of this week, try hard to show up at NBC tomorrow -- those folks are out there five days a week and they could use all the help you can give them.

If you picketed this week, then enjoy your day off -- and enjoy Super Bowl Sunday. I have to help my son build his very last Pinewood Derby car, since he will be graduating to become a Boy Scout in March.

I remember the first thing he said to me about the strike, when it just about to begin, he said something along the lines of: "Why don't you just make your own deal with Warner Brothers so you can keep working?"

He's a very rational boy and, like most kids, he usually cuts to the heart of the matter pretty quick.

I told him that was impossible for many reasons, foremost among them being that it would be wrong to the point of moral and ethical bankruptcy.

Then, after the strike had gone on for a few weeks and after he'd seen and heard about lots of actors coming out to join us on the picket lines, including some he knew who I had worked with in the past, he said to me: "The actors should just go on strike right now, so the studios can't make any movies or TV at all."

I told him they couldn't do that because it would be illegal -- but that it was in fact a great idea which would end the strike faster than anything else could. Then I explained the term "WILDCAT strike" to him. For the next couple of weeks he would occasionally ask me: "When are actors gonna' call a Wildcat?" To which I woulld just chuckle and shake my head and say something like: 'It's not gonna' happen, son."

To be honest, thinking back on them, my 10 year-old son's questions and comments on the strike seem a lot more cogent than most of what I heard this week on the picket line regarding the current negotiations. He was using his mind to formulate what I would deem very appropriate questions or comments. Pretty much all the rumor-mongering and postulating I heard this week was driven by a seemingly desperate need to fill in the blanks.

Then there's the thought process on the journalism side, where they've been explaining how this strike is really about writers searching for more positive father-figures and how our leaders are in danger of lining up with Yasser Arafat, historically speaking (see my post for Strike Day 80).

This past week started out very strong for the WGA with the big SAG-WGA rally over at Fox, then ground to something of a slog, with what I would bet was low attendance on picket lines across town. People seem to be desperate for some good news. Maybe just desperate for ANY REAL NEWS AT ALL.

If you ask me the only news that will matter will be the news that we have a deal good enough for the Negotiating Committee to present it to us. Until that happens -- whether it takes until next week or until the end of February or until the middle of March or until July 1st, when 100,000 SAG members join us on the picket lines all around Los Angeles -- the strike-related news is not going to be all that important.

Of course, the one exception to that would be news that mass numbers of our fellow guild members have suddenly chosen to opt out of full membership in order to go back to work as members of the "Financial Corps."

Who knows, maybe there are in fact legions of such persons out there, balancing their psyches on the razor's edge, ready to take the irreversible leap into the land of scab-traitor-collaborationism.

I think that's pure nonsense but I don't know everyone in the Guild, so I can't promise you it's not true.

All I can promise is that I will be back out on the picket line, with a smile on my face -- mostly for the tourists -- and a sign in my hand, walking back and forth until until our Negotiators say we have a fair deal for the future.

Hope you'll be there too -- and not just in spirit, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Strike Day 88 (13 A.D.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Not original, I grant you -- but very, very true.

If we were the Writers Guild of China today would have been the luckiest of times -- day 88 -- double wealth, double fortune, double prosperity (the Chinese pronunciation of "8" is identical to the word for "money").

Only time will tell.

Started out pretty cold today but warmed up as the sun kept climbing, which was nice.

What wasn't so nice was the inarguably thin showing at all the Warner Bros. gates.

Avon Gate #5 actually wasn't that bad off, compared to the rest. We're probably the smallest gate and we still had 4 or 5 people picketing for most of the morning. The Main Gate (#2) had only 10 to 12 people picketing, which was not too good.

I think one of the reasons our numbers fell off yesterday and today was the big "Unity Rally" at Fox on Monday. Oddly enough, in the immediate aftermath of those big city-wide events, I think lots of people feel like they've earned a day off. Those big rallies, while energizing, can also be draining, and I think that can keep some of us from returning to the regular daily grind of the picket line, at least for a couple of days.

At a certain point it was down to just myself and one other guy -- and this is where the "best of times" aspect of today comes in: he was a 19 year-old aspiring director who drove down from Valencia to show his respect for the Writers Guild by joining the picket line.

The best part was he didn't ask me about how to get an agent or if I could get him a job, he just talked about movies he loved and why he loved them and the feature-length script he wrote last Summer and the book he was trying to adapt into a screenplay and how he wanted to get a chance to pitch an idea for an episode of "CHUCK," his favorite new TV show.

I suggested that his best bet on the "Chuck" front would be to write a spec episode, since virtually no one ever gets to pitch freelance episodes to showrunners.

He stuck around for more than an hour, then went to check out the main gate.

If he hadn't been there I would've been picketing all by my lonesome, which kind of sucks, so I was very happy he showed up.

The next time my partner and I get a show on the air, if that guy wants a PA gig, it's in the bag.

Of course, by that time he might be in the middle of directing his first feature.

Before he showed up there was some talk about the "growing frustration" of guild members, especially with the news blackout making it impossible to really know how things are going with the "informal talks."

I guess I understand this frustration. What I don't understand is using it as an excuse to evade doing what you are supposed to do -- to avoid walking the picket line.

Some people seem to think that since our negotiators are locked in a room with their counterparts from the other side, it will make no difference whether they themselves show up to walk back-and-forth or not. Following this line of thinking, what goes on in the negotiating room is in no way connected to what goes on out in front of the studios. Sure, maybe us picketing in healthy numbers for more than two months was what convinced the conglomerates to actually come back, sit down and reopen talks with us -- but now that we've reached that point, it's all up to the folks in that room.

I don't mean to offend you if this is your way of thinking but that is some of the stupidest shit I have ever heard.

If you don't think the companies are paying close attention to how many of us show up to picket, you are ill-informed or in denial.

If you don't think that knowledge is power, you are simply wrong.

Everything is connected.

The more of us who picket every day, the stronger the position our negotiators have inside that room.

If you are staying home to frantically finish up the assignment you were working on when the strike began... well, I guess I can't convince you to stop working and just picket but maybe I can convince you to spend half of your time out on the line and only the other half back at home, doing whatever else you feel compelled to do.

A woman on her way back into her office from lunch asked us to keep fighting the good fight and mentioned that most of the people she knows who work at the studio support the WGA's position in this strike. I know I say this strike is not a popularity contest and the only people whose opinions really matter are us -- the membership of the WGA. As long as we stick together it doesn't matter who loves us or hates us. Still, I wouldn't be honest if I didn't say hearing that makes me happy. It reminds me that I'm not crazy or suffering from tunnel-vision or drinking tainted koolaid.

All we're asking for is a fair deal. Nothing more. Nothing less.

If you don't think that's the case, then I guess you should stay home rather than come out and do your time on the picket line.

But if you do agree, don't sit home or sit at the coffee-shop or sit wherever else you've been sitting. Don't kid yourself into buying the line that showing up to picket doesn't matter one way or the other. It does matter. Out at Warner Bros. today, the security guards were counting us every hour on the hour, as usual.

The other side cares about how we feel and the only way for them to gauge that is to count how many of us are out on the picket lines. If the companies believe we are losing our heart, losing our commitment, losing our focus, they will adjust their behavior at the negotiating table accordingly.

Wouldn't you...?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Strike Day 87 (12 A.D.)

Today was a good day for me.

John McCaine won in Florida, setting him up as the undisputed Republican front-runner heading into next week's Super-Tuesday primaries, plus Rudy Giuliani fared pretty awfully and is expected to drop out of the race and endorse McCaine tomorrow.

Meanwhile, my partner and I got some very good news concerning a movie we wrote some time ago -- and which we were rewritten on during the intervening years. I was happy the current strike made way for something good on the work front.

Out on the line today it was low-key in a good way. A mix of new and familiar faces and weather that got better as the day went on.

And then there were the RUMORS -- one after another, most good, some bad, all easily dismissible.

The very kind and beautiful SMOOTHIE WOMAN of Valencia -- probably familiar to most Warner Bros. picket veterans -- stopped by and graced those of us on the picket line with some very delectable fresh and nourishing drinks.

I finished up my shift and headed home -- and then something happened that hasn't happened to me before for the entire length of the strike: I got a phone-call -- actually two phone-calls in a row -- that put me on the receiving end of yet MORE RUMOR.

It was the same story from both sources -- an agent and a lawyer -- very positive, pointing to the strike ending in the next few weeks.

Perhaps this will be born out by future events, maybe not.

The bottom line remains: IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER.

Not yet.

When the end of the strike comes, it will matter a helluva lot.

Until then, for those of us not on the WGA Negotiating Committee or Executive Committee, only one thing should matter:

Showing up to picket as often as we are able.

At Warner Bros. today the security guards walked out every hour on the hour to do their head-count of we picketers and pass the info on, as it is their job to do.

That's their job.

Picketing is ours.

Let's not lie down on the job.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Strike Day 86 (11 A.D.)

Wow, FOX was pretty crowded, at least from 9:00am until 12:00 Noon, when I was there.

Saw a lot of actors, some of whom I knew personally, others who I know only as a fan.

One of the actors from "Sleeper Cell" made it out, which was great. I also got a chance to picket alongside the only writer-producer from the first season of the show other than my partner and myself. She was actually working at FOX before the strike began, so she's used to marching up and down Pico and Avenue of the Starts on a regular basis.

She had an amazing strike tale. A couple of weeks back she was over at Warner Bros. with the rest of the Guild on the Monday everyone went there to protest the possibility of massive lay-offs by the studio. I ran into her that day. What I didn't know was that when she arrived back home on the West Side she discovered she had lost one of the DIAMOND EARRINGS she'd been wearing that day.

I suppose there is some humor to a story about the loss of luxury jewelry while marching on a picket line -- but as you can imagine she wasn't laughing.

When we picketed together that day she was kind of depressed about the possibility of losing her deal at FOX. She's married with two kids. But what she told me today was that marching around Warner Bros. with all the people who were out that day -- and there were hundreds of us at Warners that day and it was beautiful out -- somehow reinvigorated her spirit and led her to decide, after discovering the loss of her earring, that she was somehow going to get it back.

So the next day she drove back to Warner Bros., looked around where she had picketed, with no luck, then walked over to the table where they keep the sign-in sheets and the picket-signs, pointed to one of her ears and asked: "You haven't by any chance seen an earring that matches this one, have you...?"

And the person at the table narrowed their eyes at her ear, pointed to the table and said: "Yeah, right here. Some guy turned it in fifteen minutes ago."

So listen-up, AMPTP: no matter what else , the members of the Writers Guild of America have got each others backs -- even if it means turing in DIAMOND JEWELRY!

Gotta love that.

There were a lot more familiar faces on the picket line at FOX, including a really cool comedy-writer mom whose son graduated last year from the school all three of my kids attend.

She's a strike captain now.

We're all strike-somethings now.

How much longer shall we continue to fulfill those roles?

Who can say?

I'll tell you who can say: NO ONE.

Not yet.

So try not to obsess about it too much.

Good rumors, bad rumors, they've been flying like bullets at a firing range -- and they are capable of doing a lot of damage to our side in the current unpleasantness.

If you absolutely, positively have to get your hopes up... then I ask you to hope for the best -- and expect the worst.

Tomorrow it's back to the old stomping grounds for each of us, wherever that may be.

I encourage you to make your presence known at your corner of the WGA strike universe just as I shall make my presence known at mine.

I'm gonna get some sleep, get up and head back to the picket line at Warner Bros.

Hope to see you there!

Oh -- I went to a reading of a new play directed by a pretty close friend of mine tonight. Ran out on my my wife's dinner and the rest of my family to make it. The cast was uniformly excellent and the play itself was quite good -- until the ending, which, to be honest, really pissed me off.

One good thing about this strike: the ending is very unlikely to piss me off.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Strike Day 83 (8 A.D.)

Well, today my luck with the rain ran out.

I went out to lunch with a friend -- a dad whose two kids are friends with my two older kids and who works as an accounting/finance executive at Warner Bros. Home Video.

After lunch I realized I was only a few blocks away from where the lone location for this Friday's picketing was going to be -- out in front of NBC, where people line up to see The Tonight Show.

I had heard via e-mail that things were relatively rough for the folks manning the picket lines at NBC. I think they are always asked to show up on Fridays, since the Ellen show and the Leno show both tape every day of the week -- and they are never supposed to take a break from their routine in order to attend any of the big events at various locations all throughout town, like the Martin Luther King, Jr. event at Paramount this past Tuesday or the Union Solidarity event last Monday at Warner Bros. Plus, having picketed at NBC several times in the early days of the strike, I know there's lots of relatively high-speed traffic zipping past on one very busy intersection over there. When I was there I would sometimes worry that a car doing thirty or forty miles per hour would turn too tightly and jump the curb, taking out a handful of WGA picketers.

I usually take Fridays off but since I was so close and the picketing was going to start in less than half-an-hour, I felt I should head over and put in a little overtime on the picket line.

Of course, it was also raining.

The last two days I had missed the rain and missed the hail but not today.

I got there a little early and hardly anyone else had shown up -- but by the time 2:30 hit there must have been at least thirty or forty of us and as the shift wore on even more showed up. I wouldn't be surprised if more than a hundred men and women were on that picket line today, though not all at the exact same time. Considering most of the three-hour shift was in pretty heavy rain and that Friday is our official "day off," that's not too shabby.

I recognized a few people from various picket lines I'd been on before but I didn't really know anyone there, which was kind of different from the usual dynamic with me. I ended up talking with an actor, a young writer who had gotten into the Guild just before the strike began and another young writer who had written for theater in New York City before coming to LA to try to break into television.

Towards the end of the shift I ran into the reporter from the "Socialist Worker" who was at the Scene of the Crime picket in Encino before the holiday break and whose story on the strike included a quote from me. She asked what I thought of the DGA deal. I said in my opinion the most important thing about the DGA deal for us in the WGA is that before our strike began the AMPTP had told us that agreeing to our demands regarding any profit participation in New Media whatsoever would lead to the "death of our industry" -- but now they had somehow found a way to include some element of New Media profit participation (albeit not as much as we would like) in their deal with the DGA.

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why that happened -- and it's not just because the DGA brought their two-year study of New Media with them to the negotiating table.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: it's because the WGA has been out on strike for more than two months, grinding our industry to a complete and utter halt.

I told her I thought the biggest story of this strike is the incredibly high degree of solidarity that has been shown by the membership -- at least so far. No, that doesn't mean it will continue forever but from where I'm sitting -- and standing and picketing and listening, I don't see it changing any time soon.

Tonight my family went to dinner at a friends' house. They have two girls who are classmates of our two girls. The husband is a producer and the wife used to work at a studio. The husband's company actually wants to sign an "Interim Agreement" with the WGA. After dinner, while the four girls were all playing together and my son was playing at the foosball table, the husband asked me if I had been writing. I told him no, I was too busy picketing. Maybe if I wasn't married with three children, I could manage picketing every day, then come home and work on a spec script. But in my partner and my positions (he's married with two kids) it just hasn't been feasible.

He said some writers he knew were using this time to work on spec scripts they had always wanted to written but never had the time or opportunity to pursue. He said some other writers he knew were still working on assignments they had booked and started writing before the strike began.

None of this was a surprise to me.

Yes, I know there are writers who sit home and never picket.

And I know there are writers who are working on spec scripts for movies and TV pilots (in my own opinion this isn't a terrible thing to do -- so long as you put in your hours on the picket line FIRST).

And I know there are some writers who are even working on assignments they booked before the strike began.

Hey, there are something like eight-thousand members of our union. No one could expect that each and every one of us would put our individual work aside and head out to the picket lines.

But guess what?

Thousands of us have done exactly that for nearly three months.


And amongst that number are counted some of the most successful people in our industry.

Like everyone else, I want this strike to end as soon as possible.

I just don't want it to end before we get a fair deal.

My guess is the vast majority of my fellow WGA members feel pretty much the same way.

So until we hear that a fair deal has been hammered out, lets keep doing what we've been doing.

Sticking together and walking back and forth, over and over and over again -- a simple physical act which makes it IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE OTHER SIDE IN THIS DISPUTE TO FORGET ABOUT US FOR EVEN ONE DAY.

Trust me, our fellow Guild members who haven't come out to the picket lines are not going to start showing up now.

We who started picketing must continue picketing.

For as long as it takes.

Remember, there is a deadline. July 1st is five months away. I know five months is a very, very long time -- but it is a lot closer than the eight months away which it was back on November 5th, when the strike began.

The media moguls didn't think we could hold out for even one month, let alone three.

They bet on us collapsing. Imploding. Consuming ourselves. But we haven't done that. Lets not start now.

Come out to Fox for the big WGA-SAG "Writer/Actor Togetherness" day on Monday.

If nothing else, you'll get to see some actors you love -- or hate -- and maybe even a few bonafide stars.

Help swell our ranks so the other side can see one more marker pointing to the very real possibility that the bet they made is not going to pan out after all.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Strike Day 82 (7 A.D.)

Call me double lucky.

Yesterday my shift ended just as the rain began.

Today I began picketing just after the rain ended.

It was just my partner and I at the Avon Gate.

Actually, despite being a bit of a bummer in terms of membership presence, it was kind of cool.

For something like the past decade up until the day this strike began, we have spent the lion's share of every working day together. There was one stretch while we were co-executive producing our first TV show when we literally didn't take a day off for about two months.

So it was nice to spend some time together.

Of course it would have been nicer if we were sitting at our desks or pacing the floor or yelling at each other on the other side of the Warner Bros. Studios wall, inside our warm and cozy offices, rather than walking back and forth, slightly delaying traffic on its way in and out.

But a writer has to do what a writer has to do.

A family of Australian tourists came by to ask us about the strike and we gave them the usual rap (all facts, little to no hyperbole), explaining that it's all about one thing -- profit participation in internet distribution.

Whenever I tell a tourist about the companies saying they needed three years to study and determine whether or not the internet would be able to sustain a "working business model" for distribution of scripted entertainment, it always gets the same response.

Care to guess what that is...?

The exact wording can vary somewhat but it all boils down to:


The WGA just announced that Lionsgate and Marvel Studios have signed interim agreements with the WGA.

That brings the total of AMPTP member companies to have signed such deals to something like an even dozen.

And on the other side of the balance sheet, there lies John Ridley and about a dozen (the last time I heard) daytime soap opera writers who have opted to join the "Fi-Corps."

(I'm not even gonna' start musing about possible mottos for that particular elite writing unit. I remember reading an oral history of WWII that included a story told by an American infantryman about how he watched a German tank get blasted by a bazooka team and start belching flame, then saw a sole surviving crew member manage to climb out, apparently unharmed. The American GI watched the German tanker slide down the side of the crippled tank and run back towards the German lines -- and even though he had the German in his sights the whole time he never pulled the trigger but simply let him go. Some targets are just too easy.)

I think objectively speaking you would have to say that in this area of the strike -- the "dueling drop-outs" or "dueling divide and conquer strategems" we are definitely on the up side, at least so far.

On the strictly personal side, my partner and I learned from our agents today that one of the companies which has made those deals wants us to come in and talk about possible projects with them.

Obviously that doesn't mean we're gonna' walk out with a paying gig, chances of that are slim, but it does mean that SOME UNION WRITER OR WRITING TEAM is going to get a gig over there.

I don't know about you but that puts a smile on my face. Sure, it might not be me but it will be someone. I guess I'll add that I hope whoever it is has been out on the picket line as much as they could manage. If not, I hope when they cash their commencement check they will donate a little piece of it to the strike fund in order to assuage their guilty conscience (unless they were unable to picket due to financial distress which required them to take another job or some other personal crisis).

If we actually end up booking a gig while the strike is still on I will talk to my partner about the both of us kicking in a piece of the money to help our less fortunate fellow guild members. Not that he and I are rich -- not by a long-shot -- but thankfully we're not on the verge of losing our homes or cars or being unable to feed our families. If we booked a gig like that we'd have to split our time between writing and picketing -- but hey, that would be a high-class problem.

I hate to say it but when you stop and think, it's pretty messed up that I have never read a single article in a newspaper or magazine which points out the incredible degree of unity and solidarity that has been shown by our membership from day one of this strike straight through to the present day. I'm not asking for the article to praise the WGA membership for staying so united but just to POINT IT OUT as a rather pertinent FACT.

Actually, I did read one article that pointed it out -- the on-line issue of "Socialist Daily" that my quote appeared in (if you're interested see my January 17 blog titled "Strike Day 75"). But that doesn't count as "mainstream media" does it?

Ah, well. Sometimes folks don't live up to your expectations of them.

On a totally separate topic which I've been meaning to address for weeks if not months: doesn't it suck that "" went the way of all flesh -- or all flesh that is threatened by litigation?!

Man, what a tragedy.

I remember the day I first clicked on a "" link to that site, read through it and nearly fell on the floor laughing. Man that was one helluva funny website -- at least for its target audience, namely us.

The absolute highlight in my humble opinion:

"AMPT to the motherfuckin' P!"

If you visited that url for weeks afterwards it had been taken over by a page for some kind of film/TV industry military technical advisory firm, was was kind of surreal -- but now it hosts a neutral "Why can't the writers and producers stop being babies and settle this thing?" page, which I suppose was put up by the AMPTP.

A painful loss indeed!

Heard something funny today -- considering John Wells' enthusiastic endorsement of the (mostly still-unseen in fine print detail even by him) DGA deal. Turns out the entire writing staff of "ER" showed up for the "Teaching Medical Drama" picket this morning outside the main gate at Warner Bros. My hat's off to 'em. I've seen their current hands-on showrunner walking the picket line several times. Gotta' give that staff their Guild props, despite their superstar boss's arguably ignominious behavior.

Tomorrow we get the day off from picketing, which will be nice. We'll see if it's still raining Monday. Even if it is, it's a lot better picketing in the rain than picketing in the single digit Fahrenheit temperatures or the snow the way they do on a regular basis back in NYC.

Now, onto something VERY SPECIAL...

Earlier today I got an e-mail from an editor who worked on both seasons of "Sleeper Cell."

Apparently he read my partner and my installment of "Why We Write" and was inspired to write something himself.

The individual in question is extremely talented -- but he is also an IATSE member, as well as a Scotsman.

But luckily for us all, I managed to convince him to let me post his missive without having to pay in advance or accuse my own Guild of being a "Strike-Happy House of hate." So here goes:

Why do I edit?

First up: I edit because at heart, I am a storyteller. I grew up watching old b&w movies on our three channel television set. They were mostly cowboy and war films starring John Wayne or William Holden. I never imagined that one day I would be living in California working in an industry that was so foreign to me.

My interests were varied growing up. I attended art school, studied English literature, and worked as a professional photographer. While at the New York University Film school, I discovered a discipline that satisfied all my interests. Editing's palette included photography, design, music and of course, story.

Editing is like doing a 100,000 puzzle. Sure it is nice to collaborate, but finding a home for the most intricate piece by yourself is most satisfying.

I also edit to avoid owning dress socks, working in sales, and interacting with the general public.

And last but not least, I edit in order to afford a large pornography collection.

After all, I am married.

Just goes to show you, we WGA members do not have a corner on good writing!

Now, to all my fellow WGA members, married and unmarried:

A lot happened this week -- and none of it was bad for us.

Stay calm. Stay patient. Stay together.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on the picket line Monday -- either at the big "WGA/SAG" solidarity get-together at FOX or over at NBC...

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Strike Day 81 (6 A.D.)

Strike goes on.

I was lucky today -- I finished up my shift on the picket line just as it was starting to rain.

The turn-out wasn't bad but it wasn't great either.

I showed up a little bit early and no one was at my usual gate. It was like a ghost-town. Nothing but the water-cooler and some stacked up picket signs. Then my "Strike Buddy" arrived and at least there were two of us. We started picketing. After about 15 minutes a bunch of regular faces marched over -- turned out they had joined all the other picketers at Warner Bros. to listen to and ask questions of a member of the Negotiating Committee who had stopped by for that purpose.

So it turned out things weren't as bad as I imagined when I first showed up.

Later in the shift I talked with a studio executive on his way back from lunch who's a pretty good friend of mine and a very decent guy. Mostly we discussed the primaries. When the discussion turned to the future timeline of the strike neither of us was optimistic or pessimistic -- we simply agreed there was no way to know but that we hoped it would end as soon as possible. For me that means as soon as we can get a fair deal on internet profit participation -- and guess what? For him it means the exact same thing.

Like virtually every executive I know -- including the ones who work in business affairs as well as on the "creative" side -- he believes the WGA is on the right side of this dispute.

I'm pretty exhausted but there's one other thing I feel I need to write about...

Divisiveness is our greatest enemy.

The AMPTP is our opponent in this dispute but the greatest threat to us succeeding in gaining what we need for our next contract is divisiveness within the Guild itself.

If we keep sticking together, sooner or later, either in order to save the last vestiges of pilot season or in order to save the Academy Awards or in order to prevent a shutdown of all remaining feature film production or in order to end the complete and utter shutdown of the scripted entertainment industry (if the strike drags on all the way to July 1st) -- sooner or later, the AMPTP will have to give us a fair deal on internet profit participation.

I really believe only one thing can prevent that from happening:

Tearing ourselves apart.

Eating ourselves alive the way the WGA -- to greater or lesser degrees depending on whose history you read -- ate itself alive back in 1981, 1985 and 1988.

If you have an opinion on the DGA deal and whether accepting it as is or taking any other course of action would be a good thing or a bad thing, I encourage you to MAKE YOUR INDIVIDUAL OPINION KNOWN TO THE LEADERSHIP AND THE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE OF OUR GUILD.

Tell Patric Verrone and John Bowman and David Young and all the rest of them what you think and what you want and what you can live with in a contract and what you can't live with. By now you should have all of their e-mail addresses. If I wasn't as exhausted as I am I'd go get them and post them all right here.

I returned to this post Thursday, January 24, in order to add:

Patric Verrone: pverrone[AT]
John Bowman: johnfbowman[AT]
David Young: dyoung[AT]
Robert King: rking36[AT]

NOTE: I used a common method to camouflage the addresses so these guys don't each get a dozen junk e-mails selling Viagra courtesy of my blog page being scanned by spammers.

But please, please, please -- do not begin to mount organized group lobbying efforts and/or petition campaigns.

Whether I agree with your opinion on the matter at hand or disagree is not the issue. The issue is that only one thing will unequivocally come from such efforts and/or campaigns: they will divide us.

There's nothing wrong with debate and discussion and there is nothing wrong with making your voice heard, especially when your opinion runs against the grain.

But I think there is something wrong with launching organized efforts at influencing the decision-makers in our Guild unless you make those efforts transparent -- unless you make them known to the entire membership of our Guild.

If you feel uncomfortable having your name associated with a particular position at this time, then chances are you probably shouldn't take it.