Early this morning, I participated in an event I never would have imagined myself taking part in: I went on strike with a labor union.
Specifically, I was a guest picketer for the Writers Guild of America (WGA), joining my dear friend Sarah Watson, writer on NBC’s forthcoming primetime show, Lipstick Jungle.
For those of you unaware, the WGA is a union which represents TV, film, and radio writers. The WGA is striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is an industry trade group consisting of U.S. film production companies and studios (ie. GE/NBC/Universal, Disney, Time Warner, etc). Every three years, these organizations negotiate a basic contract. However, in 2007, negotiations failed, and a strike began on November 2, 2007.
The way I understand it (heavily dumbed down — explaining it is neither my jurisdiction nor purpose), there are two major sticking points to the WGA’s strike:
- DVD Residuals
The writers want 8 cents for every DVD sold, double their current 4 cents. That is 0.4% of the revenue from a $20.00 DVD.
- “New Media” Residuals
Writers currently get no money when their work is viewed through Internet downloads, streaming feeds, IPTV, or phone downloads. They want to receive the 2.5% for these (which is what they’re paid on traditional television).
The funniest thing about this strike is what a social event it seems to be for the writers. Everyone I talked to was in optimistic spirits, and was very friendly to Sarah and myself. After all, being out of work for many months at a time is nothing new to a writer. Among those that I met were
- Craig Williams, writer of Underdog (and some really cool upcoming ideas),
- Zach Estrin, Co-executive Producer of Prison Break,
- Brent Fletcher and John Zinman of Friday Night Lights (all of my regular readers know what a sucker I am for this show),
- David Misch and Jeff Reno of Mork & Mindy fame, and
- Rob Bragin, Sarah’s co-worker on Lipstick Jungle.
The Writers are not dumb, nor are the studios. As Internet and TV are quickly merging (take, for instance, AppleTV, Verizon FIOS, and even the growing popularity of streaming protocols such as Sopcast), each side must stand their ground and try to gain as much leverage over new media as soon as possible. This is especially true since the lines between TV and Internet are blurring and all forecasts of new media are vastly underestimated.
As a Libertarian, I find the entire situation to be a slap in the face to our country’s economic system, which resembles more and more of a joke every day. While I’ve never been pro-Union, I find it absolutely ridiculous that 6 of the largest corporations in the world can unite and dominate an industry with basically no competition between each other.
Our supposed ‘free market economy’ is dominated by corporate interests which have contributed to the disappearance of the middle class — a middle class that is vitally important to the survival of any democratic government.
I fully support the writers’ power to unionize and convene, but I also fully support the corporations power to fire their employees and do things their own way. That’s business.
What I cannot support is the fact that there are six companies worth a quarter of a trillion dollars all in bed with each other, negotiating blanket deals. These same corporations who control everything you read and hear, who are doing everything in their power to silence those who are trying to restore order to this country.
Although this strike has very little impact on my life and that of my family, I feel that it is indicative of the bigger picture — the pendulum has swung too far, and the time for mass corporate backlash is near.
My question to you writers is this: What next? Let’s say you get everything (or almost everything) you bargain for. You are still pawns in the system, stuck in a traditional business which does not fully understand the future of technology and no longer appreciates the people it serves.
Isn’t it time for something new? Why settle for this, when you can take a risk to do better — to compete with the system by starting your own production organization. After all, if you’re not willing to take this risk, then you’ve already lost.
By lon November 28, 2007 - 7:38 am
An internet television network! Down with the terrestrial television networks! It is the only next logical step. Newspapers are sinking because of the internet, why not the networks? They put out nothing but crap these days anyway.
By John Handcock November 28, 2007 - 10:19 am
Everyone is a pawn in the system except the CEOs, so I don’t think it’s a matter of branching out and creating a writer studio. Then the actors would create an actor studio and the producers a producer studio, and television/movies would swirl further down the toilet.
If the 2.5% you mentioned is what has been the working pay-paradigm for television writers, I cannot understand how that same figure does not directly translate to “new media.” Even if the money in new media is less than that of old media, it’s still the same slice size of simply a smaller pie.
I think the way that things work now is the way they have to work, but it might take a protracted strike for these uber-wealthy studio executives to realize that Jim Morrison was right: They’ve got the guns, but we’ve got the numbers.
There’s no profit to be had in running a studio without the creative engine of writers. A new slate of reality programming might be headed our way, but I imagine while some will catch, the majority will pass by in utter failure. Writers might seem like creepy crybabies, but it takes creepy crybabies who’ve been shit on their whole lives and who were forced to develop a keen wit and wild imagination in order to overcome the bleak reality of their shituation in order to develop the bittersweet creativity necessary to create worlds and people and situations that go beyond the limits of your common yokel’s imagination.
All it takes is five minutes of YouTubing to see just why the deep pockets of major corporations are necessary to create a full season of quality programming. For ever “I like turtles” gem you find, there are literally 10,000 videos of disturbingly low-quality production and creativity. A full season of a major production like a show like Friday Night Lights, 22 episodes at 43 minutes per episode, is something like, if my multiplication is correct, and it’s probably not (I’m a writer), 946 minutes of production. “I like turtles” was 30 seconds.
So, sadly, the current system of deep-pocketed megacorps is a necessary evil.
But I agree: more competition is more than necessary.
By Sarah November 28, 2007 - 1:28 pm
Even an anti-union libertarian seems to get it. Why can’t the studios?
Thanks for supporting us on the picket line. When we win our fight, I’ll use my four cents to buy you a piece of bubblegum.