Tuesday, November 28, 2006

WGA(w) Declines Early Negotiations

The L.A. Times and VARIETY today detailed the tap-dancing now going on between the Writers Guild of America (west) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. IATSE business agents and the International have been warning members for some time that they should squirrel away money and prepare for a real (or defacto) strike in 2007-2008.

Animation Guild members are a little more fortunate than many because, while it could impact artists working on "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," "Family Guy" and American Dad," (the writers for which are under WGA contracts) animation personnel elsewhere should be less impacted by a WGA job action. Even so, a lot of the industry is starting to fret:

The Writers Guild of America is going to make Hollywood worry about a strike for the next year.

In a move underlining the souring relationship between the WGA and industry toppers, the guild's leaders have spurned an industry proposal to launch negotiations in January. Instead, they've insisted they won't be ready to start until September -- less than two months before the Oct. 31 expiration of the current contract...

On the film side, the delay means an acceleration of production and stockpiling of scripts, followed by a "de facto strike" next summer as studios stop launching film production once they can no longer be wrapped by Oct. 31. In TV, the prospect of a work stoppage means studios and networks will try to shoot more episodes of scripted series and will be less inclined to launch series while planning for more reality, news and sports programming.

I've thought for a while now that the motion picture business is headed for strikes, maybe big strikes, in '07 or '08. Both SAG and the WGA elected officers who ran on militant platforms to "get tough" with movie and television producers, so they are probably going to be, I don't know, militant in carrying out the agendas on which they ran. The guilds want a larger chunk of residuals from DVDs, mobile phones and Ipods. I don't fault them for wanting it, but I don't believe the multi-national conglomerates that they will soon face across the negotiating table are inclined to give it to them.

And on a related subject, I don't think it bodes well for the WGA(w) that its assistant executive director Grace Reiner, who I know and like, has departed the Writers Guild for an executive slot at the Disney Channel. Ms. Reiner probably knew more about the intricacies of the Writers Guild contract than anybody else in the Guild's building, so her exit -- eight or nine months before the contract is up -- ain't good. Evidently former WGA prez Dan Petrie Jr. doesn't think it's good either:

Some sad news for all writers came today: Grace Reiner, Assistant Executive Director of the Writers Guild of America, west, is leaving the Guild. A lawyer, Grace has played a vital role in every Guild negotiation in memory. Between negotiations she is a fierce guardian of the Writers Guild film and television contract, the Minimum Basic Agreement (or MBA); more than one writer has nicknamed her “Rain Man” for her uncanny ability to cite by page and paragraph every obscure provision in the 400+ page document.

This comes on the heels of a wholesale series of departures in the wake of the appointment of our new Executive Director...

One of the axiums of Hollywood is, new management usually sweeps out members of the old regime with a big broom. It happens at studios, so why not at guilds and unions? Well, often it does happen, and if the new top dogs at the Writers Guild or America and the Screen Actors Guild can achieve even half of what they campaigned for, then they'll be heroes. But if they fail, they will not be top dogs for very long.

The next two years will probably be interesting; if we're fortunate, it won't be in the Chinese sense of the word.


Kevin Koch said...

There's one area (besides the Fox prime time animated shows) where the WGA and SAG strike talk likely will have a huge effect on animators: live action fx. Places like Sony Imageworks and Digital Domain and Ryhthm & Hues, as well as the many smaller FX houses, will likely see work drying up as we get closer to the end of next year.

There may be a bump up in work before then, followed by a great sucking sound as projects are cancelled in anticipation of a strike. Animators doing live-action FX had better start preparing now.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Koch makes an excellent point. I remember both LightWave and Maya VFX artists having a difficult time finding work in mid-2001 through 2002...maybe even through 2003. A lot of things happened around then to chill VFX production, such as the rise in popularity of VFX-free reality shows. However the threat of WGA/SAG strikes definitely played a part. I remember a mad rush of production in early 2001 followed by a severe dry spell.

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