Monday, September 04, 2006

The Distant Rumbles of Job Actions

Okay, it's an old horse, often beaten. But VARIETY, in its weekend edition postulates on industry strikes in '07 and '08. So I postulate as well... The paper's labor reporter Dave McNary writes an article from which we excerpt a smattering of paragraphs: GUILDS GIRD FOR RESIDUAL RUCKUS Once every three years or so, Hollywood buckles in for the nail-biting ride that is guild negotiations. This time, the rollercoaster's ratcheting up even earlier than usual. The WGA, in particular, is talking tough, and everyone is bracing for what looks like an inevitable showdown over the biz's big growth area: new distribution platforms. Even though the current contracts for SAG, the DGA and the WGA have more than a year to run, concern's growing that a work stoppage could come as early as October 2007, when the writers' contract expires... Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, says other factors -- including piracy, soaring production consts and shifts in taste -- are threatening current business models. "We have to be able to experiment and push the envelope," he contends. But he says there's still time to find solutions that are fair, reflect the current market and can be adapted to the fast-changing landscape. One possible scenario that could shuffle the deck for everyone: the studios and nets could bypass the WGA and seek an early deal with the DGA, even though the helmers' contract doesn't expire until June 2008... * * * * * * * And so on and so forth. For those with pencils poised over desk calendars, the WGA deal is up in Fall '07 and SAG and the DGA have their contracts expire in June '08. Some of the above, I think, is simply a trade paper searching for a story with which it can fill space. But McNary's article also reflects an ongoing unease and one of the topics of conversation that always percolates in the entertainment biz. "Will a strike affect ME?" "Are we going out?" I know that everytime a possible walkout -- by SAG, the WGA or any other union -- I get questions: "Will the studio shut down?" "Will OUR jobs be go away while the actors/writers/IA are on a picket line?" The answers to the above are "no," and "yes, if the IA strikes, but no, if the writers or actors strike." (There are caveats. "The Simpsons," "Family Guy," and "American Dad" are scripted by writers under a WGA/Fox contract, and so a work stoppage would impact our members working on those shows.) But to the point that VARIETY addresses: Will a strike happen, and if so, when? And for how long? I think the possible scenarios are relatively simple and straightforward. IF the Directors Guild of American negotiates early and reaches an agreement, then the rug is pulled out from under SAG and the WGA and we don't have a strike; probably not even a "de facto" strike (that's a work stoppage which occurs because the parties negotiate up to contract deadline and producers don't schedule any film-making beyond the deadline, for fear of being left high and dry with half a movie done.) Do I think events will unfold this way? Nope. The WGA goes into the barrel first because its contract expires way before any other guild bargaining agreement. For the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to jump ahead to the DGA would be bad form, even for the AMPTP. What's going to happen is, the WGA will negotiate up to deadline and then -- obviously I'm speculating here -- NOT reach agreement but NOT go out, since scripts will most likely be stockpiled and productions will hum merrily on. And the Writers Guild knows perfectly well that hitting the bricks with SAG in June '08 will give both guilds more leverage. So the WGA will bide its time until SAG starts negotiating. But before that happens, the AMPTP will sit down with the Directors Guild and strive to hammer out a contract that gives the DGA a grocery sack of flavorful jams and jellies, but NOT big boosts in residuals -- which are the items that SAG and the WGA badly want. And the other two guilds will find themselves (again) undercut by the DGA, and they will (again) settle for similar deals. Naturally, I may be off in my predictions. And I keep coming back to a conversation with a WGA organizer eight years ago (and which I've mentioned here before). He told me about the contract the WGA and producers negotiated in 1962, when the WGA secured a 2% of revenue deal in place of the original residual structure. It turned out, the organizer said, that the 2% deal of '62-'64 met with disfavor by the membership, and so the residual structure was changed the next time around. But what would have happened if the percentage of '62 had remained in place? Maybe today the WGA and the other labor organization would be collecting 2% of revenues instead of the laddered and varied percentages they now have. Maybe the 2% would have gotten better, or perhaps it would have gotten worse. My question is, what kind of money would now be flowing the unions and guilds way now if the 2% formula had remained in place? Just asking.


Anonymous said...

Hi Steve. Sorry to post this here, sort of a different topic, but I thought this would be of interest:

http://www.orlandos orl-tugger0306se p03,0,7176365. story

There is a need for a list of studios to avoid for the artists!!

Kevin Koch said...

That's a sad story, though not too surprising (making a feature film is tremendously hard . . . and getting distribution is even harder). By the way, anyone trying to follow that link will need to eliminate the three blank spaces to find the article, or go here.

Site Meter