Wednesday, January 16, 2008


Two more letters forwarded to me by my Shield buddy. My comments following --


From WGA member Bob Elisberg in the Huffington Post, January 15, 2008 : In the beginning was the word - yet the word most heard these days in Hollywood is not about the beginning at all, but the end. What is the "endgame" to stop the strike? Ultimately, that's the only thing that matters. And with the AMPTP corporations negotiating instead with a guild not on strike, there's just one endgame people are most-wondering about - Are the AMPTP corporations willing to scuttle the 2007 TV season, drop the pilot season, lose the 2008 TV season, wipe their slates of all movies for the next two years and put a nuclear missile-laser on the moon to blackmail the world's governments? (This latter seems far-fetched.) Certainly, scuttling is possible. Indeed, it would be a powerful endgame strategy that would rock the Writers Guild of America. Only one thing argues against it. It makes absolutely no sense. For this Scorched Earth endgame to work, it means - 1) the AMPTP corporations would throw away countless billions in income and ad revenues. 2) TV networks would risk losing their audience to the Internet, Xbox, books, CDs and sex. 3) Movie studios would cut their distribution pipeline to theaters. And 4) the CEOs would forego their $25 million bonuses. Add one other reason that my friend Mark Evanier notes. 5) The AMPTP would be willing to have writers, actors and even directors on strike at the same time, creating their worst nightmare when all contracts are up for re-negotiation simultaneously in 2011. All this to avoid paying a tiny percentage of something they say is not worth anything. It makes no realistic sense. Zero. The Wall Street firm Bear Sterns has said the impact of what the WGA is asking for is "negligible." Importantly, for this AMPTP endgame to work, actors would end up on strike, directors likely, too, all crews would be out of work, all production staffs, most corporate employees let go, the L.A. economy would be in a shambles and the AMPTP corporations would crash into a heap of dusty plaster and torn gaffer tape. It would he horrific for everyone. But it would be the death knell for the Hollywood corporations. Remember: for the most part, the AMPTP corporations don't actually make any product, they finance independent contractors. Writers, actors, directors can create their work for anyone. Venture capitalists, Internet companies, European film studios. Empty movie theaters will be desperate for product, whoever distributes it. Stream webseries on New Media. Sell original movies and series direct-to-DVD. So, it makes no sense for the AMPTP corporations to have this as their endgame. That doesn't mean it won't happen. But - the CEOs understand reality. They know they'll keep making billions with a fair contract. But not with Scorched Earth. So, that means perhaps there's another possible endgame. Like: drop scary hints that the AMPTP may Wipe Out All Humanity, which gets some people flibberty-gibberty. Wait to see how solid the WGA support stays. Negotiate instead with the Directors Guild. Make a really mediocre offer and get them to cave early like they always do. And then hope writers and actors will break into dissension and fold like a wet suit of dominos. (Hey, I'm on strike, metaphors get mixed.) Except there's a massive risk to the AMPTP in this endgame of mediocrity, too. First, WGA members are deeply solid, fighting for their Guild's future and therefore their livelihoods. Second, whatever the DGA board negotiates, 1,400 directors are also members of the Writers Guild, and not guaranteed to vote for what they perceive is a bad deal for themselves as writers. Third, the DGA spent $2 million studying New Media and could balk if the deal is too lousy, even by DGA standards. They've figured out the Internet is real. Fourth, if the DGA membership rejects the really mediocre offer and the strike continues, TV networks will end up paying billions in ad "give-backs". And finally, a really mediocre deal would not set any pattern for long-striking writers, who'd reject it. Which would later get rejected by actors. Which gets the AMPTP corporations right back to that nonsensical Scorched Earth Theory. This means that of all the possible endgames for the AMPTP, only two make sense: 1) Eliminate the terrible risk of a long DGA negotiation blowing up in your face, and settle with the WGA by the end of February. 2) Make a good offer to the DGA, to show you can negotiate with "reasonable" people, because no one can negotiate with those "crazy" writers (unless you're David Letterman, United Artists, The Weinstein Company, MRC and Spyglass Entertainment...) - which is perfectly fine for writers. They've said they'll happily take a good deal wherever it comes from, especially after setting the groundwork for one. None of this is a prediction. It's only a look at the possibilities and what makes sense. And what doesn't. But the DGA negotiating committee does have a history of caving to lousy deals, just to make a deal. And the AMPTP corporations will choose to do whatever in the world they fricking want. They've walked away from the table. Twice. Amidst an industry shutdown, they're negotiating with a guild that isn't striking. When they want to sit back down and negotiate a good offer and reasonable settlement with the Guild that's actually on strike, they will. In the meantime, the writers are busy calling venture capitalists...


I think healthy dissention is critical and should be encouraged within the Guild; however, let's not lose sight of the real goal of achieving a fair and equitable deal in new media. We're not far from entering our fourth month without paychecks and now more than ever it's essential to keep our numbers up on the picket lines and our resolve strong. Whether you agree or not with Patrick and the leadership it's too late to change course. Take it up at the next Guild election. Now it's time to get onboard and use our full weight as a Guild to lean on the AMPTP, advertisers, ongoing productions, etc. I come from a sports background and there have been plenty of times I've disagreed with a coach's strategy but pissing and moaning on the bench or refusing to put forth maximum effort or recruiting teammates to mutiny is just another way of saying I'm right, coach is wrong. And what that smacks of is ego. What it doesn't smack of is making the team better. And unless I'm mistaken, this strike isn't about proving whether the WGA leadership is right or wrong, it's about getting a fair deal for all writers. So let's all stop the semantics and stop keeping score with each other and instead, spend some of the time we're on these boards arguing amongst ourselves, and direct it at the AMPTP.


I agree with Bob's logic. It seems ludicrous for Big Media not to settle facing the loss of billions of dollars. Unfortunately, this strike has not followed any logical progression. As I sometimes question the strategy of our guild, wondering if our strategy is correct, I know at least we have a strategy. I know people have said this before, but I too, have come to realize that perhaps Big Media is not the Evil Empire with a dark agenda trying to crush us, but more a powerful gaggle of splintered agendas and battling egos. The result is the same -- crushing us -- but perhaps we're giving them too much credit. They're like Sybil. How can you have one relationship with multiple personalities?

I admire Kevin's "win one for the gipper" enthusiasm. Yes, we need to stand united in the face of Big Media. But what he calls dissention (I believe he means dissension -- we're writers not spellers), I would label accountability. It's our job as members to question the direction of our guild and our leadership.

I'm a jersey boy, joined the Teamsters Local 641 when I was 17 (grocery warehouse in Elizabeth). Those guys were constantly on their shop steward, questioning his relationship with management, pushing their needs, asking for what they wanted. Making noise. Especially during a strike. They stood united in the face of management, but they were angry rebels, not dutiful soldiers. That's why the union was so powerful. Maybe I can't compare the WGA to the local 641, but I can apply the same member strategy. I've said it before, let's be wolves, not sheep. We can support our union and light a fire under them at the same time.

I'll gladly supply the match.

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