Saturday, February 28, 2009


I ripped this from Nikki Finke's DHD. A great piece by Howard Rodman. Very satisfying. Howard Rodman is professor and former chair of the writing division at the USC School of Cinematic Arts; a member of the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, West; and an artistic director of the Sundance Institute Screenwriting Labs. His films include Savage Grace, August, and Joe Gould's Secret.

Let's start with what everyone who's not in bed with the media conglomerates knows: that the strike was among the most successful ever in Guild history-- In terms of solidarity, in terms of impact, in terms of energizing and engaging the membership, but mostly, in terms of What Was Won.

First and foremost, the Guild got jurisdiction over new media. Anyone who doesn't understand how central that is still gets out of bed to change the channel. (I often recall the picket-line stroller carrying a tot with the sign, "It's Old Media to me.")

I would add to this the fact that in new media (which is to say, going forward: media) we base our residuals on distributor's gross rather than producer's gross. (These concepts have always been somewhat arcane, so let me just put it this way: producer's gross is what's left after the casino takes its 80% skim.) There are many other advances, but to me, these are the ones that allow writers to have a future.

As long as John McLean and Peter Bart are indulging in revisionist history, let's give praise where praise is due, because in ways that are insufficiently acknowledged, the true lion's share of the credit for last year's fine contract belongs to one of those gentlemen.

It was during the 2004 negotiations that our then-Executive Director John McLean negotiated against his own Guild -- far more than he was willing to negotiate against his old pals in the conglomerates. Again and again he maintained we'd be "laughed out of the room" if we asked for the things we asked for -- and in many cases won -- in last year's contract.

During some of the dismal, dispiriting, and astonishingly long Negotiating Committee meetings, some of us began to pass notes. And to hum, under our breath, "Which Side Are You On."

So we organized; we ran for office (something none of us wanted to do); we worked hard to build a more truly democratic union; in 2005 we brought in a new Executive Director who, in the boardroom, would rather advocate the needs of writers than bluster against them. Most importantly: we realized that the strength of the Guild derived from the engagement and imagination of its members.

We realized that our only leverage against the media conglomerates was a credible strike threat; and once on strike, we held together far better and longer than anyone could have anticipated. Additionally: our wildly creative members found ways of framing the issues that cut through the pro-conglomerate bias of the traditional media.

At the end of the day, we didn't get all we wanted, but we got what we needed -- in terms of the contract, and in terms of remembering something that we'd forgotten: that the Writers Guild is not, first and foremost, a building on West Third, but rather a guild of writers.

And so let's set the record straight: all of the our new-found solidarity, all of the spirited engagement of our members, all of the gains of last year's contract -- and especially the Guild's jurisdiction over New Media -- might not have happened without the thought and example of John McLean.


surrounded by carnivores said...

Interesting how this resonates in the threatened SAG strike. If the SAG strike were a movie and the WGA strike provided its script: "then Executive Director John McLean negotiated against his own Guild" could be portrayed by the new SAG negotiators and Mr. Rosenberg is acting the role of the lone voice crying against the conglomerates.

Please don't get me wrong...I belong to neither guild or union nor do I support Mr. Rosenberg in any way. But I can see how the WGA strike could inform Mr. Rosenberg's performance.

I am hoping that EVERYONE in Hollywood gets to work again soon. And to that end I think the anticipated SAG strike is ill timed, if nothing else.

Outsider said...

I wish the same success to SAG however the WGA didn't have a 'sister' union that undercut them

brit said...

After working for over 20 yrs in health care it's hard to be sympathetic when i'm still struggling to make a livable wage. Even after working 6 days a week at 2 jobs and receiving a letter last week saying my raise is on hold due to economic times. I mean how much sympathy will the jobless have for Mr.Rosenberg's union.On another subject i love soa i particularly love your sexualised sense of humor, and the fact that a lot of your actors are older and very sexy love mitch hope hes back.

Outsider said...

Well Brit...the point rosenberg was trying to make, (and obviously didn't succeed in getting the message across with his acerbic style), is that 85% of SAG actors are juggling multiple jobs or scraping by like you to realize their dreams....though of course as in any subset of plutocratized america ...there are demi aristocrats
mingling with others in the middle...and pure plutocrats on top....saying "let them eat cake" ;p

One good sign is the afl cio seems to be healing it's rift with the other big union group which the seiu fled to....this is a very positive sign for working people and part of the protection of worker's interests under the obama umbrella...lookin' forward to season 2 kurt...glad you're thriving...was sad to see Scott Rosenberg's show with Keitel and Imperioli get deep sixed though....I still love my sister union AFTRA...just have a gripe with her
till she and SAG mend their differences

S.O.L. said...

Satisfying indeed. That it comes from Howard, who is not only as you say, a fine writer, but one of the truly nice guys working in Hollywood right now, makes it even sweeter.

Tom said...

Stand together or fail alone. Works for me. Off topic but are you introducing any new Characters for SOA this season? Love the show, bummed about Dragon, that would have been somthing else. T

surrounded by carnivores said...

Actors claiming 2 1/2 pay for the writers' strike. What was this about?

from IMDB news:

SAG Deal: The Finishing Touches

8 April 2009 2:34 AM, PDT | From Studio Briefing | See recent Studio Briefing news

Movie and TV producers have agreed to the demand by the Screen Actors Guild to allow the next contract to expire in two years, when the contracts of the other entertainment industry unions do, the Los Angeles Times reported today (Wednesday), without citing sources. But in return for that concession, the newspaper said, SAG officials agreed to settle force majeure claims that it filed in the wake of the writers' strike seeking more than $10 million in pay. SAG had claimed that its contract called for actors to receive about 2 1/2 weeks' pay if they were suspended as a result of an "act of God." The producers, however, maintained that a strike is not an "act of God" but offered to settle the union's claims for less than what SAG has demanded. "Expect fireworks from dissidents," the Times commented.