Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oncoming Job Action?

Yesterday I had a lunch-time conversation with studio labor relations executives and a fellow union business rep. The rep told us how most of the members of his local were employed because the pace of production has picked up in anticipation of a possible labor stoppage by the WGA, SAG, or both. Which is what this LA TIMES article is about...

Anticipating a possible walkout, networks and studio executives are starting to take steps to keep production pipelines flowing. The contingency plans include pushing up shooting schedules, ordering more reality TV programs and renegotiating with writers to turn in their film scripts earlier than usual.

"They're protecting their long-range business interests," said chief studio negotiator J. Nicholas Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers.

I've been an observer and participant in these things for a long time now, and the speed ups in production -- which occur at the end of every contract cycle where there aren't early negotiations and agreements -- serve dual purposes.

The obvious one (as stated above) is to offer corporations some ah, corporate insurance. Stockpile extra scripts. Shoot additional shows. But it's also a small piece of the psychological warfare that goes on before, during and after any negotiation. The message that says: "You're better off making a deal than hitting the bricks. Because we're ready and willing to wait you out and grind you down."

Guild leaders have alleged that studios are trying to scare writers by suggesting they are stockpiling scripts and shows. There has been little evidence of a large-scale stockpiling like there was in 2001, when fear of strikes by actors and writers caused a major acceleration of production.

"We've never seen stockpiling to be a significant negotiating strategy," said Chuck Slocum, assistant executive director of the Writers Guild of America, West. "We don't see any reason a deal cannot be reached and we look forward to negotiating to that end."

Bet your backside the producers are trying to "scare writers." They're also trying to make sure they have product to carry them through a strike. If production hasn't sped up to 2001 levels, there's still plenty of time.

And of course the WGAw is working to buck their troops up, being dismissive and optimistic at the same time. Like I say. The usual mind battles prior to negotiations.

Senior executives from the major studios met with Counter last week to discuss their strategies for negotiations, which will begin July 16. The current contract expires Oct. 31.

Rival networks and studio executives have been keeping their contingency plans under wraps not only from writers but also one another.

Although none would publicly discuss their plans, several Hollywood executives privately acknowledged that they were preparing for what could be the first writers' strike since 1988.

So we've got studio execs chatting to the L.A. TIMES about the preparations they're making. But "not for attribution," of course. More for the purpose of sending veiled messages.

But let's not be opaque here. What's going on right now, and will go on until a new contract agreement is reached, is an intricate game of chicken. The WGA and SAG will be marshalling their members and working to get them pumped up. The various conglomerates will be striving to dampen the rank-and-file's enthusiasm for striking.

And the members of the various Hollywood unions will get more work until either a real or defacto strike kicks in around April or May of 2008.


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