In the last edition of the Big Contract Talks (WGA and AMPTP), the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers had two offers on the table: one was for a total revamping of the residual system, the other was the "status quo" proposal, which would keep the current system of residuals in place, and institute a study to see what sorts of residuals should happen for all the new delivery systems (iphones, ipods, itelevisions, etc.).
That was Monday. On Wednesday, this happened:
Producers unexpectedly pulled their proposal for a three-year study off the table Wednesday -- meaning the companies' remaining take-it or leave-it proposal amounts to a revolutionary revamp of residuals with payments coming only when costs are recouped.
WGA leaders took an assertive tack of their own on Wednesday, insisting that a residuals revamp is out of the question since companies can't be trusted to tell the truth about production costs.
Two members of the Guild negotiating committee accused studios and networks of practicing fuzzy math on net profit participants on hit TV shows such as "The Simpsons" and successful features such as "Chicago."
Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers prexy Nick Counter blasted Guild leaders for passing up the study option, which would have retained the current residuals system during the three years.
"While we believe the WGA's rejection of a study is short-sighted and self-destructive, we did give them that option," he said. "The study would not only give us valuable insight into the new world and its impact on traditional media, but also would give us insight on how to deal with the challenges and opportunities, while continuing to compensate writers under the current provisions and side-letters to their 2004 contract."
So. What's going on here?
Nick Counter, the lead negotiator for the producers, has to build consensus in the crowd of studios and t.v. networks that he represents. If they're not all on board the Alliance's proposals, they don't have a package to present to whatever guild or union with which they're negotiating.
It's like herding cats. (And not much different for the union side, with getting factions to agree, satisfying hardline officers, and things like that.)
So lead negotiators -- for guilds and companies -- get the exciting challenge of threading needles that are constantly moving, shifting, changing. There are the various parties that have demands and bottom lines on your side of the table. And the parties that have demands and bottom lines on the other side of the table.
It's not generally the norm to offer multiple proposals right out of the box, but my guess (and it's only a guess) is that the two-track approach put forward on Monday by the AMPTP was meant to satisfy different constituencies. And pulling off one of the proposals was done for similar reasons.
The Alliance performed its version of the "we'll be conciliatory" dance, and now that the WGA has "rejected" the conciliation, it's snuggled up to the set of demands that are its starting blocks in the negotiations: roll back residuals.
This isn't about finding a "new way" and "new structure" that will, when the dust and entrails settle back onto the ground, make the studios pay more money. It's all about paying less.
Because this isn't about "fairness". It's got little to do with a new structure or fresh paradigm. It's about money.