Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Oncoming Writers Negotiations

Continuing the negotiations theme that appears a few clicks below: The WGA has, as you may or may not know, put together its negotiation committee for this year's contract talks:

WGA taps 17 writers for talks -- Guild appoints negotiating committee

The Writers Guild of America has taken the first formal step toward the bargaining table, tapping 17 scribes as members of its negotiating committee.

Committee chief John Bowman told Daily Variety he expects negotiations to start in July and stressed that he's not expecting a strike.

"We expect a successful negotiation because our committee members are working members," he noted. "We'll be practical but tough."

Panel members include such heavyweights as "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" showrunner Neal Baer, "Desperate Housewives" showrunner Marc Cherry, "Dreamgirls" writer-director Bill Condon, "Syriana" writer-director Stephen Gaghan and "Hotel Rwanda" writer-director Terry George.

Bowman said he agreed to chair the panel due to two key areas -- how writers are to be paid from the fast-expanding array of digital platforms, and the question of WGA jurisdiction in such areas as reality TV. "This is the most important negotiation we've had in many years," he added. -- Dave McNary (VARIETY)

In my experience, every negotiation is important. But I bring this piece up because a job action by the WGAw will impact everybody who works in Hollywood. Including animation artists.

Before 1997, we could have honestly said: "A writers' strike will impact everybody in Hollywood except animation employees" because the WGAw repped no animation writers. But that's nor true anymore. Today board artists, designers, timers and others who work on Fox's primetime lineup -- The Simpsons, Family Guy, American Dad, and King of the Hill -- work on shows that are scripted under a WGAw contract. So if the writers there stop producing scripts, everybody else stops directing, designing, or drawing storyboards. Or drawing a paycheck.

So a large number of us-- just like our live action counterparts -- have a vested interest on how the writers' talks progress.

I raise the issue here because I had occasion to chew the fat with a studio labor rep a couple of days back, and naturally enough the conversation came around to current and future contract talks. Just now, the AMPTP is negotiating with the Teamsters and Basic Crafts over their collective bargaining agreement. I'm told these talks have been, ahm, fairly robust.

A few months after these talks conclude, the Writers Guild and Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers will get together. I asked my friend the rep if he thought there'd be a strike. He shrugged.

"Both SAG and the WGA have pretty militant boards. And there's a strike going on with the Canadian actors' unions right now, so maybe that will have an impact on what happens down here."

The Canadian strike was news to me, but then I get around so little. He went on:

"I think there might be a de facto strike. But not one with picket signs. The writers could end up with no new agreement in place by the time their current deal expires, but will they walk then? They could. I'd guess they'll wait on taking a job action until SAG negotiates. They'll want to see what happens with the actors. But then there's the Directors Guild, and the directors march to their own drum. The DGA could negotiate a deal that's fine for the directors but lousy for SAG and the WGA. But they'd set the pattern for new contracts, just like they did last time. And that would be that."

I told him my thinking ran along the same lines. That's the joy of making seat-of-your pants predictions. They're wrong as often than they're right, but who keeps track? I mentioned Nick Counter's often repeated line that unions with which the AMPTP negotiates will end up getting a better deal before a strike than after. He nodded.

"The AMPTP has to say that, do that. If the producers give a better contract to a striking union, it sends a bad signal to the union that doesn't strike."

He could be right. But I'm guessing if there aren't any job actions in '07 or '08, there are going to be several ferocious games of chicken.


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