Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Shawn Ryan's Email to Showrunners and Writer-Producers

Fellow Showrunners and Television writers: As you all know by now, we are on Strike. It's sad that we have arrived here and I don't know each and every one of your opinions, but I wanted to share my personal plans for what I intend to do until we have a fair contract.
I am currently quoted in today's Hollywood Reporter as saying that I will do some producing work, but won't do any editing as I consider that to be writing. While I said something similar to that earlier last week (I've learned you can't trust a word of what these trades report), that was before I went to the Showrunners Meeting yesterday and became very crystalized in what I need to do. Like many of you I have spent the last week contemplating what to do in case of a strike. What are my responsibilities to my writers, my cast, my crew, my network and my contract? How do I balance these various concerns?
At the Showrunners Meeting it became very clear to me that the only thing I can do as a showrunner is to do nothing. I obviously will not write on my shows. But I also will not edit, I will not cast, I will not look at location photos, I will not get on the phone with the network and studio, I will not prep directors, I will not review mixes. These are all acts that are about the writing of the show or protecting the writing of the show, and as such, I will not participate in them. I will also not ask any of my writer/producers to do any of these things for me, so that they get done, but I can save face.
I will not go into the office and I will not do any work at home. I will be on the picket line or I will be working with the Negotiating Committee. I will not have an avid sent to my house, or to a new office so that I can do work on my show and act as if it is all right because I'm not crossing any picket lines.
I truly believe that the best and fastest way to a good contract is to hit these companies early, to hit them hard and to deprive them of ALL the work we do on their behalf.
How do we ask our staff writers to go out on strike as we continue collecting producer checks? How do we ask the Teamsters to respect our picket lines if we won't ourselves or if we're sneaking around to do the work off-site?
Just so you all know what I am prepared to give up....
Tomorrow, we begin to film the Series Finale of "The Shield". I think it's the best script our writing staff has ever written. This is the show that made me. This is the show that is my baby. If the strike goes on longer than two weeks, I won't be able to step on set for the final episode of the show. I won't have a writer on set, as I have had on every episode since the fourth episode. I won't be able to edit this final culminating episode. I won't go to the wrap party that Fox TV and FX are paying for. You can't tell me that any episode of television is more important than this one is to me, and I am ready to forego all those things in order to strengthen my union.
Tomorrow, we begin filming a new pilot, The Oaks, that I am Executive Producing. It's an amazing script that David Schulner wrote and I signed up to help him make this show. Until we have a fair deal I cannot do that now and it kills me.
We are currently filming Season 3 of The Unit, a show that does fairly well, but against House and Dancing With The Stars, usually finishes in 3rd place. We have no guarantee that we will back for a 4th season. I just gave a director friend of mine his first TV directing gig. I'd like to see him succeed. He'll have to finish the show on his own now without a writer on set, or my help in the editing room.
Some people have made the argument that if they don't do this producing work or this editing, that someone else will do it, and this act won't hurt the companies. I respectfully disagree. If we ALL stop ALL work tomorrow, the impact of this strike will be felt much more quickly, much more acutely and it most likely will end sooner, putting our writers, our cast and our crews back to work sooner!
I spent nearly 12 hours today in the Negotiation Room with the companies. I watched our side desperately try to make a deal. We gave up our request to increase revenue on DVD's, something that was very painful to give up, but something we felt we had to in order to get a deal made in new media, which is our future.
I watched as the company's representatives treated us horrendously, disrespectfully, and then walked out on us at 9:30 and then lied to the trades, claiming we had broken off negotiations.
I can't in good conscience fight these bastards with one hand, while operating an avid with the other. I am on strike and I am not working for them. PERIOD.
You will use your own instincts and consciences to decide your own actions. But if you would like to follow in my footsteps (and those of many, many others who made this pledge at the showrunner's meating on Saturday), I encourage you to sign the trade ad that the WGA will be putting out on Tuesday by the dozens and dozens of showrunners who will simply not work at all beginning in the morning.
I'm only writing to those writers whom I have e-mail for. Feel free to pass this on to your fellow writers and to your showrunners if you feel inclined.
I respect you all and look forward to discussing these issue more on the line. Feel free to write or e-mail and good luck!
-- Shawn Ryan

Bait and Switch

Been on the front lines at the Prospect Studios the last two days. While picketing, I've been talking with my showrunner, Shawn Ryan about the negotiations. He was unable to specify what happened Sunday evening, but I could tell by his frustration that it wasn't good. That information has just been released. Covered very eloquently by Nikki Finke in her blog -- Deadline Hollywood Daily. Nikki Finke writes:

Deals, Lies & Backchannelling: Why This Is A Bigger Mess Now Than Ever Before

For days, only sources within the moguls camp, but not the writers guild, have discussed what really went on at the Sofitel Hotel Sunday. And the Hollywood studios and networks were especially savvy in getting their story out first and foremost about how the writers were to blame for the bargaining talks breakdown. And they’re still telling that story. (Just read the producers-slanted coverage by Variety and The Hollywood Reporter and even the major newspapers which all depend on studio and network advertising while I stay smack in the middle.) But now the WGA leadership is breaking their silence.

Top guild sources tell me they were “deliberately duped” by the moguls in a backchannel deal to bring the guild back to the bargaining table Sunday. They say the lure was a promise by two Big Media CEOs -- Peter Chernin and Les Moonves -- that, if the writers gave up their DVD residual demands, then the producers would respond by improving the formula on the central sticking issue of Internet downloads for movies and television. My producer sources confirmed to me such a deal was indeed made. In other words, it could have been possible that a settlement might be only days or a week away, with enough progress to induce the writers side to suspend the Monday start of the strike.

The writers say they kept up their end by dropping their DVD demands – a huge concession which later puzzled the WGA membership because it seemed to come out of nowhere and had to be explained by WGA president Patric Verrone without revealing the whole backstory. Why didn’t he? Because the WGA says it was abiding by the “mutual pledge of confidentiality” that applied to Sunday’s session. Today, sources there decided to spill to me because the writers’ side of the 11th hour talks story has gone untold. The WGA accuses the producers of not delivering on the all-important electronic sell-through issue all day Sunday. And the producers confirm to me that, no, their negotiators did not offer anything on "EST". So, according to guild sources, that’s the real reason the 12:01 AM strike wasn’t averted, and their dropped DVDs demands put back on the table.

As a spitting mad WGA leader put it to me today: “All I can say is, if someone calls me and says, “You do X, and I do Y” and that someone doesn’t do it, then I’ve been lied to and I’ve been played. It’s a complete betrayal. I just don’t know what the studios’ game is.”

So why is this news important? Because now both sides in this writers vs producers fight are further apart than they have ever been, and that’s saying a lot. Both sides believe they have fresh and ample reasons not to go back into negotiations anytime soon. And by soon a worst case scenario of months and months and months. Both sides believe that, after Sunday’s betrayals, they can’t trust the other side enough to even talk about scheduling new AMPTP/WGA negotiations much less try backchannelling. Ironically, as I was being told the WGA’s complaints today, moguls were being briefed on what went down Sunday inside the negotiating room. But are they being told the whole story? About the backchannel deal? Not that I can tell. About the promise that’d been made? Not that I can tell. About not keeping it? Not that I can tell. Instead, I received a warning from inside that camp today not to report the WGA accusations, or name the two moguls, or repeat what went on inside the talks Sunday. But, to stay smack in the middle, I can't do that -- just as I can't favor the other side when reporting about this strike and its issues.

Let me start at the beginning of last weekend: Yes, a Barry Meyer-John Wells-John Bowman backchannelling avenue was being explored. And any and all other backchannelling avenues were being cultivated as well. As I’ve reported previously, among the moguls Chernin, the No. 2 at News Corp/Fox is the biggest hawk, and Moonves, the CBS CEO, one of the biggest moderates. The two got in touch with WGA negotiating leaders and made this pledge: that, if the writers got back to the bargaining table over the weekend and once there gave up their DVD residual demands, then the producers would respond by improving the formula on the central sticking issue of Internet downloads for movies and television. It was quite a surprise to the writers side because it was such a big departure since, as recently as last week, AMPTP had been telling the WGA that it wouldn't move off the DVD formula on digital downloads.

As the Sunday negotiation was being scheduled for the Sofitel, the producers announced to the media Friday night that both sides had been “ordered” back to the table by the federal mediator. “The companies used the federal mediator to give them cover so they didn’t look like they’d caved and made the first call,” a WGA leader told me.

“We arrived at the meeting at 10 AM and it started a few minutes later with some discussions about procedure. We made it very clear we were ready to negotiate without stopping, as long as 2 to 3 days if necessary. But we said that, without a deal by midnight, or unless we were really really close, we were not going to suspend the strike. We said that, as things stood, the strike was going ahead at 9:01 PM in the East. And they said they understood. And we got going. And, as a gesture of good faith, we took the DVDs issue off the table. And they said they would get together and talk and get back to us with a response. In the meantime, we all said we’d work on one of the other proposals.”

That other proposal was the funding of the Showrunner Training Program, which is exactly what it says. The WGA side claims it waited, and waited, for the producers to keep the “DVDs-for-ESTs” promise and get back with a response. They claim the AMPTP negotiators kept "stalling and returning again and again to the bullshit side issue of Showrunner Training Programs for hours." [The producers told me it “only took 15 minutes and was handled.”]

Both sides agree that two more producers proposals were discussed: a new economic model for streaming TV shows online, and a new jurisdictional model for made-for- New Media content. But the WGA described them as “fuzzy unfocused proposals”. (A WGA leader told me, “they’d say, ‘we have to figure out the numbers later’. But it’s all in the numbers.” The producers I talked to agreed their proposals needed more “fleshing out”.

Around early evening the two sides left the talks and went out to dinner instead of ordering in.

Finally, a little before 9 PM Pacific time just before the strike was to start at 12:01 AM Eastern time, “the producers came back to us with an answer to our DVD. It was all very calculated,” a WGA leader told me. “They said, ‘We are not going to make any concessions on the Internet. We stand by our former position that you will get the DVD formula on digital downloads. And we would like to ask if you guys would suspend the strike starting at midnight in the East. Are the pickets starting?’ [The producers confirmed to me they didn’t move off their electronic sell-through position to answer the WGA’s taking DVDs off the tables Sunday.]

“We told them what we’d said right at the beginning of the day’s discussion -- that we had to see progress for the strike not to start. They said, ‘Well, that’s it, we’re walking out. Goodbye and good luck.’ Our guys shouldn’t have been shocked but they were shocked. They weren’t ready for the game that was being played. We had made every effort, thinking that if the other side sees you’re serious... and we were shaken that the promise to us had been broken.

"But they’d obviously planned. They knew we were completely unprepared and in the haze of believing our mutual pledge of confidentiality. Their story was that they saw on the Internet that the strike had started – but they just happened to have a news release ready. By the time we realized what was going on, we’d missed the news cycle. They clearly orchestrated this, and we got caught with our pants down. From what they said, we have to ask: Do they want to make a deal or are they just trying to teach us manners.”

Again, the producers’ side has been told by me and other media. But, again, this is the first time the WGA’s side of the story is being told.

I’m dismayed and discouraged by all of it.