Thursday, January 17, 2008

Strike Day 75 - DGA Deal Day

Well, many were expecting it from the moment the week began but it actually arrived today.

I was out on the picket line at the Avon Gate around Noon. The WGA's Vice President visited Warner Bros. today but had to take off for Paramount before making his way over to our little gate, so our local WGA professional came by to fill us in on the latest developments.

Foremost amongst these were the very strong indications that the DGA deal would be announced before the end of the day.

A few minutes after our WGA pro left for the main gate I got a call from a friend telling me that Variety had an article up online announcing that the DGA and AMPTP had completed a "tentative deal." This same Variety article went on to say that "moderates" in the WGA were hoping that they could convince the guild's leadership not to dismiss the DGA deal "out of hand."

Man, sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry over this stuff -- or just burn all the copies of Variety I have saved over the years because my partner and I got our pictures in them.

What WGA leader -- or WGA "radical" member -- has ever advocated dismissing a DGA deal "out of hand"?

Wouldn't it be better for even the most "radical" writer to LEARN ABOUT THE DEAL FIRST, before dismissing it or embracing it?

Anyhow, a few minutes after that call I got a call from a friend who's a news producer for ABC Nightly News in New York City, letting me know that the AP had put a story out over the wire that said the same thing as the Variety article. Then the first friend who had called e-mailed me a cheat-sheet from the internet with the high-points of the deal.

News does travel fast these days.

Well, now things will get a little more interesting. Maybe a lot more interesting.

First, the DGA membership has to decide whether or not to accept this new contract. My guess is it will not take long for them to do so.

Then we will see how things proceed with us. I saw an "open letter" from the heads of the big conglomerates to the WGA on the AMPTP website, reaching out to initiate "informal talks" which could lead back to the negotiating table. That's interesting.

Of course, the informal talks we engaged in with those fellas earlier led to us getting screwed in pretty brutal fashion. Does that mean we shouldn't accept the olive branch now? I don't know. I can see the arguments for and against. I will leave that one to the leadership and the Negotiating Committee.

I do know the one thing in the DGA deal that stood out to me as probably being too bitter a pill to swallow at this point is the continued use of an internet "WINDOW" during which material of any kind can be screened without having to pay any residual of any kind. The window in the DGA deal is 16 days.

That means for 16 days the companies will take new material and make it available to stream and/or download 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That's what I would do if I was them. After that maybe they'll just pull the material off the net, or leave it there, considering it will already have been streamed and/or downloaded to death by the audience.

Then there are the actual numbers. Right now it looks like a grand total of $1200.00 for a year's worth of use and reuse on the internet. Well, that's a lot more than the $250.00 they offered us but it's also a lot less than the $20,000.00 one-time residual for traditional TV. A lot less. But this strike isn't only about TV reruns, it's also about gaining jurisdiction over material written directly for "New Media" -- and the DGA got that in their deal, which is a good thing.

I guess the bottom line is... where exactly does our own bottom line lie? Where is the WGA's line in the sand?

Well, I suppose it will be wherever our Negotiating Committee determines it should be.

Right now I don't have a problem with that.

From the start of real negotiations in July, I believe our Negotiating Committee did a very reasonable job of attempting to negotiate a fair deal.

So let's all learn as much as we can about the details of the DGA deal and listen to what the Negotiating Committee has to say about it after they've done the same. By then, the DGA membership will most likely have signed off on their new contract and the question will be... how do we move forward towards our own renewed negotiations. Do we go back to the "informal talks" that didn't work out so good last time... or do we require a return to more "official" and "on the record" negotiations...?

There are two different sets of dynamics being put into motion here and now:

The first set involves our own membership, some of whom, for a variety of reasons, may want to instantly sign off on any deal -- no matter how bad it may be in the long run -- in order to get back to work ASAP.

Some others will come at it from the opposite side and refuse to agree to a contract that doesn't gain for us all or close to all of what we have been on strike for during the past two-and-a-half months.

Personally, I think the lion's share of the WGA membership will fall squarely in the middle.

They will not be ready to sign on to a bad deal, nor will they want to remain on strike for months and months to come if a reasonable deal -- albeit one that falls short of our entire list of demands -- is there for the taking. For this group the devil will be in the details.

I would count myself in this middle group.

But please don't refer to me as a "moderate writer" -- since "moderate writers" are the ones Variety keeps saying are doing all sorts of things that make absolutely NO F*#@ING SENSE!

I also think the WGA leadership should be counted in this group -- the reasonable, middle.

Perfect, no. reasonable, yes.

As I have said before, no one on the Negotiating Committee or the Executive Board or any of our attorneys, has ever said that any one thing on our list of demands was "off the table" or "not open to negotiation."

No one. Not Patric Verrone. Not David Young. No one.

The other side keeps trying to make it seem like we have. They receive unstinting aid in doing so from the film & TV trade publications in general and Variety in particular. But the fact remains we have not.

Yes, Patric Verrone told participants as a mass rally that "reality TV jurisdiction" would be in our next contract -- well, that's something he wants. That's something lots of guild members want -- and lots of currently non-union reality writers too.

But that isn't the same as telling the AMPTP it is something we refuse to negotiate over.

Don't buy into our side being "unreasonable" until they actually DO SOMETHING that is unreasonable.

So that's the first new dynamic -- how this development will affect our own members.

The second dynamic involves the Industry at-large. All those people who are not writers but who have been out of work because of the strike.

Once the DGA approves their new contract, the rest of the industry is going to become a Greek Chorus alternately pleading and demanding:


If the deal is good enough for the directors why isn't it good enough for you writers too? Are you better than the rest of us -- are you so special? If someone cuts you, do you not bleed? What makes you think you're so different from everyone else...?!

Of course, we know what makes us different. The fact that a hefty chunk of our membership relies much more heavily on RESIDUAL PAYMENTS to keep their heads above choppy economic waters. Our membership and the membership of SAG.

Still, the DGA has some -- albeit more limited than our own -- interest in residuals as well. And when you need to get into the arcane nitty-gritty details in order to defend your position to an audience... well, you're pretty much screwed in terms of winning them over to your side. It becomes a very difficult thing to do.

A lot of production people support the WGA and support this strike. One of them walked out of Warner Bros, passed me on the picket line today and said he supported us 100% and wanted us to keep fighting for the future -- even though he was getting laid-off tomorrow.

But some production people don't support us and are sick of the strike and angry at us.

That's just how it is.

My guess is the DGA deal will instantly swell the ranks of those non-writers in town who think this is all our fault.

I hate to tell you but this should not matter to us.

We can't let it matter to us.

Contrary to what some say, I don't think this strike is a popularity contest. Whether the public is for us or against us matters much, much less than whether we are for ourselves and against splitting apart into cannibalistic factions.

So let's stick together the way we have been, read the nitty-gritty details of the DGA deal and listen to what our negotiators and our leaders and our lawyers have to say about it.

Stay calm. Have some more patience.

On the funny side, I found out I am quoted in a recent issue of the online journal "Socialist Worker."

The reporter was at the "Scene of the Crime" event outside AMPTP headquarters in Encino on the last big Strike day before the Holiday break. She was asking people about the strike and I talked to her for a while -- and then she began trying to recruit us for the Socialist Party.

Needless to say she didn't have much success -- at least with me or the couple of other writers who were speaking with her at the time.

But she wrote a pretty good, very straightforward article about the strike. If you want to check it out, here's the link:

Socialist Worker WGA strike article

As for all us WGA members -- Socialist and non-Socialist alike -- I reiterate:

Stay calm. Stay patient. Stay on the picket lines.

And please don't kid yourself or allow yourself to be convinced otherwise: were it not for hundreds and -- on occasion -- thousands of us WGA members walking back and forth on the sidewalks of Los Angeles with picket-signs in our hands for the past two-and-a-half months, the Directors Guild of America would not have the deal they do now. They'd have a deal, yes -- but it wouldn't be anywhere near as good.

Anyone who argues with you over that one is either a liar or a fool.


Tony said...

Who is the woman in the photo?

Brooklyn scribe said...

An actress named "Stefania."

For better or worse that's all I know.