November 7, 2007 Joss Whedon blog entry
Also, thanks to Mari for this link:
Writing As Work
As time goes on and our favorite shows run out of new episodes and movies are stalled, it's natural for people to start to resent the writers, especially if all they have to go on is what the media--often owned by the same big companies opposing those writers--allows to be said or printed. It's easy for the organization representing the companies in the negotiations to cast this as an issue of greedy writers and grossly overstate what writers make. Those of us who are truly interested and hooked into the internet can read the writers' positions on http://unitedhollywood.blogspot.com/ and hopefully the news will filter out to family and friends who don't have the time and patience to read up on the issues.
If I had to boil it all down for the uninformed, here's what I would like them to know.
Nick Counter is the person in charge of negotiating for the huge conglomerates via the organization amptp (the alliance of motion picture and television producers, found at amptp.org, to be fair). It is unusual in other industries to have large corporations negotiate as a unit like this with unions, but they are using some law intended to help small businesses unite as a group to do the same. Apparently, in the old days before studios became so consolidated by mergers, you had producers who actually did benefit from banding together like this. In any event, Counter is reputed to be a hard liner who prides himself on breaking down unions in negotiations and apparently was the one who got the WGA to settle for less in the 80s when the video release terms were in dispute.
According to sources other than the WGA site, some of the corporations aren't being well served by negotiating as a group and if this goes on long enough they may break with the amptp and negotiate singly--but don't hold your breath.
The WGA was at the tables, trying to negotiate in good faith when the amptp abruptly announced that they would stop negotiating unless 6 proposals of the WGA were taken off the table entirely. This would have reduced the writers' bargaining position to the most basic things they were asking for. As we all know if we've ever sold something, you want to start bargaining at a bit above your asking price so you have room to move down to what you're willing to accept. If the WGA gave in, they'd be bargaining down from the minimum they found acceptable! The whole idea of negotiation is that you sit across the table and say, "I'll give up this if you are willing to let that go."
Because the WGA didn't give in to this tactic, the amptp walked out and used their PR firm to issue a statement they had obviously been working on for days prior to the walk out that cast the writers as the bad guys not willing to negotiate. They have not returned to the table although the WGA has been willing to resume talks at any time they return.
Some of the issues the amptp wanted taken off the table are:
Covering animation writers in the guild (look at Beowulf--when the technology is perfected, such movies fall under animation and those writers won't be covered by the WGA and therefore won't have overtime protections, health benefits, pensions, or payment for residuals. This is already the case for animation writers who worked on such movies as The Lion King, Ratatouille, and other hits. In their dreams, companies imagine not having to pay actors or writers or directors and just making their computer generated cash cows!)
Covering writers for "reality" tv...such writers are called various types of "producers" and not given the benefits of guild membership even though the guild would love to extend them. When these writers--writers who are writing scripts and dialogue, mind you, challenge this with the labor board the process takes so long that the season is over and their jobs are no more, rendering any verdict on the part of the labor board moot. For an account by a reality tv writer, check this out.
Keep in mind that the above two groups of writers WANT guild membership! The amptp would have you believe otherwise...they actually have the nerve to say the WGA is trying to interfere with their right to organize as they wish. What a crock! What they wish is to hook up with the writing union that all other hollywood writers enjoy! If the companies wanted them to have that option, why do they keep calling reality writers producers?
Of course the most vital core issue is residuals for "new media" and this is what the amptp really wishes to stop, though they couldn't reasonably demand that it be taken off the table. They talk as if they'll be reasonable about residuals for new media if only the other issues are removed. Right.
The Writers' Guild, although it is called a Guild, is a union just like any other union and while writers may seem to have cushy jobs as compared to manual laborers or clerical workers, they are still viewed the same in the eyes of the CEOs of these mega-media conglomerates. Residuals are what enables writers and rank and file actors (not the rich and famous) to survive between jobs and keep pursuing their craft. It's only a matter of time before most of what we watch is delivered via the internet, and they deserve their fair share of the profits on their work.
I urge you all to boycott any shows that resume production before the strike is resolved.
Finally, an excerpt of a fine post by Paul Haggis from The Reality of Reality and Animation:
First of all, they insisted that we take all six issues off the table. Not one or two… all six. And the sixth issue on their list wasn’t even a demand. Rather, it was a concept embedded deep within our most important demand (you know the one: coverage for the Internet). They insisted we remove from the table any reference to “distributor’s gross” instead of “producer’s gross.”
We all know this was a vital issue on DVDs. They pulled a bait and switch there, paid us “producer’s gross” instead of “distributor’s gross” and we ended up getting only a quarter of the residuals we had bargained for. But this distinction is even more vital on the Internet, where distributor’s gross is relatively easy to monitor and producer’s gross is (as before) much smaller, and, more significantly, impossible to monitor. If we accept a piece of “producer’s gross”, we’ll be taking whatever they decide to give us… and you know what that means.
So, they knew we wouldn’t and couldn’t accept their ultimatum. They placed a gun to our heads and asked us to pull the trigger on ourselves, or else. The upside on that one is hard to figure.