I've hit multiple studios over the past several days, and in the way of production news, there's not a lot to report. Same teevee shows in production. Same movies and movies for dvd in production.
But a lot of the conversations I've been having -- with members and management -- revolve around ... guess what? ...
The Upcoming WGA strike.
The artists working on the four WGA animated series have dogs in the hunt and wonder how much longer they'll be employed. Management has given me different answers to how long studio staff will have work to do if and when writers hit the bricks. ("A few weeks? A couple more months? We don't know yet ..." They seem to be channeling Donald Rumsfeld.)
Artists at TAG repped studios ask if they're going to be impacted; I tell them that the rubber will hit the road if the actors walk when SAG-AFTRA's contract expires next June. They then relax a little, since June is a long ways off (or so it seems.)
Management people are miffed that the WGA is calling WGA-TAG writers on company payrolls and telling them to stop work in the event of a strike. (Miffed isn't exactly the right word -- "concerned" to "freaking out" is more accurate.)
I always have the same answer:
"The WGA can ask for writers to stop working when a strike comes. And if the writer chooses to stop, then fine. But if the WGA punishes anybody who continues to work, then the guild is over the line. It can't demand that a dual card holder working in another union's jurisdiction stop work. Legally, that just doesn't hold water."
There's been several rounds of cannon fire between the IATSE and the WGA. IA President Short says the WGA is out of bounds telling writers in IA jurisdictions they can't do the work (he's on firm legal ground here, methinks). WGA President Verrone says that "virtually all" animated features are written by WGA members. (he's correct if you define "writing an animated feature" as turning out pages of script.)
Problem is, storyboard artists also write large parts of an animated feature, and most of them have never been WGA members.
The other problem is, whether or not WGA members write animation scripts is irrelevant. WGA membership only counts if the WGA also represents the work.
As longtime animaation-comic book-live action writer Mark Evanier says:
There are some animation projects that are covered by the WGA. There are some that are covered by The Animation Guild... There are also animation projects produced that are covered by no union at all...and I should add one other category, lest folks get confused: There are projects where the WGA represents the writers and The Animation Guild represents the animators and other artists. The Simpsons would be the best example of this.
So. Let's take Mark's last example and spin us a scenario: TAG is about to strike against the studio doing The Simpsons. I call the WGA writers on the show and tell them: "TAG's going out Monday. We demand that you stop work and go out too."
Two writers yell "Solidarity forever!" and walk. Three writers -- one of whom is also a TAG member -- stay in. And TAG fines its member for staying in, even though the member is working under a WGA contract.
What then happens? Probably this: Member refuses to pay the fine, TAG takes member to court in an effort to collect, TAG loses.
The judge, you see, would most likely rule that our member was working under some other labor organization's jurisdiction and therefore we had no legal right to fine him. But in the real world, this would probably end up being academic, since Fox would demand amnesty for its writer-employee long before the case wended its way through court, and TAG would almost certainly agree to the amnesty.
The above is pretty much a mirror image of what I think will play out in the real time, real world situation between labor and management we're going through now.