Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Encouraging, Unsurprising

The last few days I've wondered when the WGA and AMPTP would get down to brass tacks. Now I know:

In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations, we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks.

Every negotiator understands that there comes a moment when you have to take your non-starters off the table and begin the serious discussions that will end in a new contract agreement.

Maybe I'm overly starry-eyed, but it looks like that time has arrived. Good luck to the two Presidents of the WGA. And may there be a swift conclusion to their talks, for everyone's sake.

And Closer They Come ...

... so now we're to the "informal talks" stage:

Hollywood writers will meet with representatives from film and television studios to set ground rules for new talks to end the 11-week-old strike.

The groups announced plans for the discussions yesterday in e-mailed statements. The Writers Guild of America withdrew demands for jurisdiction over animation and reality television shows that had previously been rejected. Neither side said when the meetings will take place...

What we've got here, despite some posturing from SAG, is the "pattern bargaining minuet."

Think of it as a kind of beach volleyball: The WGA set things up for the DGA by pulling an earlier-than-expected strike. Then the Directors Guild leveraged the set up and got a better-than-average deal from the producers (who were anxious for an agreement).

So now the WGA gets its turn to spike the ball. And the AMPTP's game here is to give the writers a better deal than its last proposal of December 7 (the agreement with the Directors decrees it), but not sweeter than the "good and responsible" DGA's deal.

The question now is, does the Writers Guild make a deal and shut down SAG's leverage? Or does it roll the dice and wait for the actors to walk?

I'd put better odds on a deal, but it's a close thing.

8 comments:

stevenem said...

The way the statement was phrased gives the general public the impression that animation writers are not organized, which, as we all know, is far from the truth. What was their demand, lifting all the writers from 839?

Jeff Massie said...

It's worth pointing out that the AMPTP's stated reason for breaking off talks with the WGA in December was their refusal to take reality and animation off the table.

So if this is true, it could mean that actual negotiations are about to resume. If so, it could be a very good thing.

Kevin Koch said...

Well, the AMPTP broke off talks over 6 issues, with Reality and Animation jurisdiction being two of those 6.

To answer the first comment, their demand was basically to cover all animation writing that wasn't already covered by TAG, in both features and TV. And yes, you're right, the WGA official comments have always been contorted to avoid any mention of TAG 839, to the point of suggesting that no animation writers are covered by a union or that none of them get health or pension benefits.

Anyway, that's water under the bridge, and it's great that real negotiations finally seem to be happening.

hoop cooper said...

yeah, kevin is right.

As a worker in both camps, it was maddening to watch the rhetoric. Don't get me wrong, I think whoever writes "Lion King" should get the same goodies as someone who writes a "Die Hard" movie. And I think it's lousy that they don't. But while the WGA demand was specifically for unrepresented feature writers and a shot at unrepresented tv animation writers, it served both sides to over-simplify the issue.

And the consensus from December 7, when the producers walked out, was that Animation and Reality TV were just smokescreens. Sure, they were issues, but they topped the AMPTP's list of demands so more crucial stuff, like "Distributors Gross" and I think separation of rights (the real deal breakers) wouldn't get the press. Start the list with animation, end it with something you absolutely have to have...and then when the WGA won't cave, make a stink about the WGA's rabid desire to poach dues paying members out of another union.

It worked pretty well. And now, too, here are some very positive steps, and the AMPTP's (if you read their statement) "Invitation" for the WGA to begin bargaining. Let's keep our fingers crossed that the producers math has brought them to a point where fair dealing will give us the pittance we're asking for and let everyone except you and me (writing and drawing cartoons) get back to work.

Hoop Cooper said...

A CORRECTION:

It wasn't separation of rights that was on the producers list of things that we as lowly workers weren't allowed to mention in negotiations. It was "Fair Market Value." This along with "Distributors' Gross" are important.

For those of you who have not yet sold your show, here's why "fair market value" is an issue. You've got some "back end" points. In life-action, this means that when X-files runs eight years and the sell it into syndication, you're going to get a piece of that pie. The problem is, with apologies to conservatives out there, the increasing consolidation of media (what back in America we used to call "a monopoly') means that instead of selling X-files on the open market, Fox turned around and sold the syndication rights to a little upstart of a cable channel called FX. For next to nothing. Just a coincidence that Fox owned that little cable channel. So Chris Carter, the creator and writer of X-files, who'd agreed to bite the bullet when the show was picked up in exchange for a bigger piece of the back end...found himself getting his big percentage...but of a ridiculously tiny sale price. The writers would like to find some way to protect themselves against that.

Okay...more than you needed to know, but next time someone asks you if the strike went on so long because the WGA wanted to pull members out of IA, you can tell them the truth.

Anonymous said...

Hoop - Great stuff...as a WGA/TAG guy myself, your efforts to clarify are really appreciated. Cheers, Bob

Steve Hulett said...

If companies weren't allowed to own copyrights, separation of rights and fair market value wouldn't even come up.

As for the little problem of monopolies. The United States has a number of laws on the books (Sherman Act, anyone?) but nobody enforcing same.

We've also got provisions hither and yon regarding warrantless searches. How're those working out?

Hoop Cooper said...

Steve,

Yeah, smells a little like the end-times, at least for working people. There's also no housing slump in 5million plus homes. And Teddy Roosevelt must be doing cartwheels in his grave everytime that kid who runs the FCC opens his mouth.

The WGA gave up their copyright in exchange for health and pension back in 1960. Probably a silly decision given that every American is guaranteed universal health care now...ooops, sorry, my bad.

But from a precedent standpoint, it is something that's a given on every other contract...so giving it here would just be mirroring the status quo. Big one for animators too...with all the pilot development masquerading as "Shorty McMonsoon."

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