Sunday, February 10, 2008

It's Over—Kind of—Maybe—Fingers Crossed!

It’s over—even though the plus-size woman (not PC to say “the fat lady”) hasn’t sung yet. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for three months, I’m referring to the writers’ strike! Soon, writers from Bangor to Baja will once again be crunching their keyboards churning out new programming, pitching creative executives, taking lunches, and rolling their phone calls with agents and producers, all in the spirit of bringing back normalcy to the most abnormal of industries on the planet.

Money will finally start flowing again, florists will blossom; caterers will deliver; high-priced salons will pretend like nothing ever happened, as they are above the fray of petty real-world concerns like separated rights; and all will be right with the collateral marketplace that suckles off entertainment’s benevolent teat. The celebrating has already begun, if the WGA’s all-hands meeting on Saturday night was any indication, with its 3,500+ member turnout to discuss the terms of the new deal.

Historically, such meetings heralding new contracts (1981, 1985, and 1988) can get pretty raucous, if not plain ugly. Apparently, the only “incident” to come out of this general meeting was one writer (unnamed—I’m sure his mother appreciates that) who accused the negotiating committee of “blinking” on the issue of the proposed 17 or 26 day, residual-free “promotional” window for Internet ad-supported content. This fellow got downright testy and was apparently met with chuckles and hooting to the point he was driven from the room. Maybe there was a big, red, “WGA” branded into his forehead to warn other naysayers and misanthropes, I don’t know, but there were no other disruptions.

Other than this one firebrand, the standing ovations for the negotiating committee and the unanimous support of the membership for the tentative deal sent a clear message to all congloms: the WGA is strong and united and is basking in the victory wrought by labor’s mighty hammer—the right to strike. At least until June, when the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) steps up to bat and takes its turn at pummeling the AMPTP and it’s Robber Baron masters. But, the two major guilds representing performers are a house divided, with SAG and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists (AFTRA) squabbling amongst themselves.

Although both unions have jointly negotiated pieces of contracts since 1981, the unions traditionally maintain separate authority over production, with SAG controlling filmed projects and AFTRA overseeing videotaped shows and commercials. The line for jurisdiction over digital production became blurred in 2000, when the unions’ settled into a last-minute agreement with the AMPTP.

Currently, both unions claim the jurisdiction to negotiate digital television contracts on behalf of their members. Last year, SAG claimed it was undercut by AFTRA on a handful of 20th Century Fox television pilots shot in a digital format. The two unions reached a confidential settlement on those productions after threats of a lawsuit. But the larger issue of which union, or combination of the two, has the right to represent actors in new media productions, remains.

What will they do? Rumor has it that SAG and AFTRA are trying to mend fences before June to present some kind of united front, so that when they slay the AMPTP dragon they will come out with all their fingers and toes, and hopefully a better deal than even the writers. But, if all does not go well, the WGA could find itself back on the picket lines supporting actors and it’s dejavu all over again.

I don’t think it will come to that, because the spirit of victory and a vision of a united-labor front fighting for its future are too strong. And the momentum is clearly on the side of the guilds.

I’ll miss the strike though. While not a WGA member (yet), I have enjoyed the feeling of participation in the struggle made possible by the rich media coverage and the excellent strike information put up on the WGA’s strike-site, as well as on countless blogs. The general public has never been so privy to, or so educated in, the inner-workings of the WGA and labor politics of Hollywood. Sadly, now I have to stop visiting the WGA site daily to check status and read articles. I kind of, almost, nearly felt like I was one of them. Oh well, now it’s back to pacing in my study, talking to myself and listening to the voices in my head. But, that’s another blog for another day; maybe in June when SAG goes out on strike?

God, I hope not.


Luzid said...

That 'firebrand' was right.

And writers will rue not heeding his words in, oh, maybe a year (if that) when they see all their residuals going away while the studios rake in the cash off those ads.

And writers see this as a victory?

Jeff Lyons said...


If I sounded like I was making fun of the firebrand, I wasn't. I think he was right (as you are) and that the WGA is going to be sorry it didn't get this window reduced. But... like giving up the animators and reality writers... I guess the WGA felt they had to give a little to get more than they would have if they didn't give a little.