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David Poland

By David Poland

Strike Coming?

I am not in town this week and not staying obsessively absorbed by the hour-to-hour non-news non-movement of the possible – and some say inevitable – WGA strike as of Wednesday night.
I say again… for clarity’s sake… that the huge mistake many of the writers keep making is that they believe, 1) they will bring the studios to their knees by striking mid-TV-season, and 2) that they studios don’t believe the strike will happen and therefore, that is why they aren’t giving up anything at the negotiating table already.
The reality is, 1) that millions will be lost, but hundreds of millions are at stake and the WGA is not the studios’ biggest problem and 2) that the studios will continue to hold out on anything with the WGA that will been seen as precedent when they seriously negotiate with SAG next spring/summer.
Everyone gets so caught up in the details that the big picture gets lost. WGA can strike. WGA can settle for a deal that doesn’t have rollbacks, but doesn’t force much progress either. But what they can not do is to win new, industry-changing concessions by striking while everyone else keeps working. In the end, it is always the people in the union who can least afford to be on strike who spend all the time on the picket lines and end up leaving town by the time things settle down while the well-paid writers cut back on travel and extravagances before making up for the downtime in a hurry when the strike ends, either juggling multiple high-profile projects pushing for start dates or selling that spec they wrote during the strike.
I am not against the unions taking an ax to the studios. But they must shut it down all at once and they must be willing to win a war of attrition. You can’t win a war of attrition one union at a time. And this crap about “don’t let the studios prepare themselves” is more crap… as though they hadn’t anticipated this coming… back to misconception #2. Smart business people consider all the possibilities and contingencies before they decide how to position themselves. It is not emotional and it is not reactive.
I wish I could say that I believe that a strike is a winning idea, but not only don’t I see it, but every time someone explains why it is a good idea, it seems to be based on the notion that the “other guys” are dumb or short-sighted or acting purely out of arrogance. “They” may be those things, but “they” are the buyers, not the sellers and they know it.

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20 Responses to “Strike Coming?”

  1. MASON says:

    Dave —
    You write “the WGA can settle for a deal that doesn’t have rollbacks, but doesn’t force much progress either.” And you know what? The WGA probably would settle for that. But at this point, the AMPTP is currently offering them a deal that is significantly worse than the one they have now. They’re not even at square one, Dave. Everyone who needs to know knows that a strike could be avoided if the AMPTP simply offered the same deal with the standard minor increases to the minimums and some very minor compromise on new media. But again, the AMPTP is not even offering the same shitty deal writers have now — something the media has done a terrible job of reporting, outside of everybody’s favorite crazy Nikki F.
    And there’s one very simple reason the WGA thinks Nov 1st is the best possible strike date — the DGA. The fear is they will make a deal as soon as January and it will be a shittier one than the WGA would ever accept. Maybe one that includes rollbacks. Once they make a deal, game over. The only bigger guarantee than that is Nick Counter losing his job after this whole debacle is over — talk about a disaster.
    I just hope the AMPTP gets things back to square one by Wed. Sadly, that would be progress at this point.

  2. David Poland says:

    Mason… the AMPTP has always offered a worse deal than was on the table in the last contract… it is their natural starting point.
    If the WGA is willing to settle for “pretty much the same,” plus the “investigation committee” on the other stuff, there will be a deal done and there will be no strike.
    With due respect, all of us who have covered these things before know that rollbacks are never expected and always put on the table. It’s not news. Neither side wants to say what they really want for fear that the other side will accept.
    Like the Democratic Party – and the return of universal health care as an election issue has been a good start – the WGA needs to take their desires public and to build a real head of steam about how reasonable it seems. The detailed numbers are what can be negotiated. The fact that we are this close to a strike and all the public/industry has to consider is that one side says they want rollbacks and the other side is obsessed with new media is a real disaster.

  3. RDP says:

    I don’t think the investigation on new media is going to go with WGA leadership or the membership as a whole, really. I think they feel they have to get the rate set in stone this negotiation.
    Of course, we should’ve started negotiating the new media part months ago. We probably could’ve had a deal before we even opened the full MBA negotiations.
    And, this is just my speculation, I think the number the AMPTP is willing to give on new media residuals is the amount that I (and a lot of members) would be happy with.

  4. RDP says:

    And when I talk about the number that the AMPTP is willing to give, I mean the number in their heads that they’d accept, not the number they’re proposing right now (which is zero).

  5. MASON says:

    With all due respect Dave, the AMPTP has not threatened the WGA with these kind of rollbacks in the last two negotiations.
    That said, I agree with you that these rollbacks are a negotiating tactic — an effort to scare the WGA into accepting a deal with no new media compromise.

  6. IOIOIOI says:

    Heat; “the WGA needs to take their desires public and to build a real head of steam about how reasonable it seems… ” Sure. This works well in the middle of the country. Where the perception remains that people in the HOLLYWOOD make a lot of money. Again; if the above folks are right on. Hopefully everything works out and no one strikes. If they do… so it goes.

  7. Noah says:

    I think this is a no-win situation for the writers to strike now. When it gets to be the time that everybody’s favorite TV series are in repeats, people that aren’t “clued in” will have nothing but contempt for the writers for striking. It doesn’t mean anything yet because the effects won’t hit the average Joes for a little while, but once it does the WGA is going to be a punching bag.

  8. IOIOIOI says:

    Well Noah; most of these shows should be close to completing their Sweeps eps. So the effects of a WGA strike — given the length of the strike — would not effective TV viewers until 2008. It would delay the start of the second-half of the season until some time in February, but the folks would not have to sit through January’s re-runs. MAKING IT A WIN-WIN! Although… no one wants to strike. It would be a rather shocking movie — if the studios were stupid enough — to let a strike happen Thursday. Seriously… pay the writers their money down, then do it with the other unions. It’s not like this is the NBA vs THE PLAYERS strike from a few years ago. This is — in theory — rich people striking against richer people. Where’s the PR win for anyone?

  9. T. Holly says:

    It’s not that “public,” heck it’s not even people below the line (the IATSEers), the people repped by Tom Short, who would have their people stone writers in public because they think the writers keep screw everything up for them, it’s the directors and actors, that “public,” and the people behind Nick Counter (the studios and networks), to a lesser degree, even though they’re the opposition.
    I agree Dave, it’s not “emotional and reactive,” per se, it’s hedging for least blood given “the now,” but “ready,” “smart,” and “anticipated?” Jesus, who do you think these people are? They’re shitting their pants. You probably also think they’re taking 3 days off, because they’ve got everything under control.
    Come to think of it, you’re the WGA’s best PR outlet.

  10. David Poland says:

    They’re shitting their pants?
    Who do YOU think these people are?
    They are completely capable of being fools, drama queens, and self-destructive yahoos. They are also the sharks who survived every attempt to kill them.
    Rage is a completely reasonable reaction. An irrational choice to misunderstand who and what you are fighting is suicidal.
    And yes, Mason, these kinds of rollbacks weren’t the stance the last two time because there was no real threat of a strike. And the last time these kind of rollbacks were on the table, there was a strike. I would say that the effort is not get WGA to end with nothing improved, but rather to contain the situation so that minor improvements feel like a win.

  11. MASON says:

    I agree with you there, DP.
    Next couple days should be very interesting.

  12. T. Holly says:

    You’re sympathetic, because you’re new media and maybe you should pay royalties for items linked on your home page. Nah, it’s free publicity. But still, I’m just saying: It takes years of a hit show being on the air for it to be profitable, but nobody’s trying to kill anybody, you have to reward enough winners, to attract quality, otherwise 1) we’ll be a third world country with nothing worth watching and 2) struggling and future screenwriters will opt to become journalists and critics instead, who don’t get a royalty when their work is reprinted.
    The only reason the buyers are soiling themselves, is because they know what a faulty, cocameme, speculative conclusion it is that there’s actually some way to prepare for disaster. Hmmm, we’ll ramp up now (you know, because everything is so elastic), and eat our development and start up costs (because that stuff’s expensive, anyway) and everyone will think they can sit a little longer later.

  13. sloanish says:

    In the past, the WGA made the mistake of being last to settle and got crap deals. Now the WGA is making a mistake because they’re trying to be first? As usual, writers can’t win.
    This contract sets up the next twenty years, maybe more. This is the one to take a stand on. I am more optimistic than DP (perhaps I am drinking the Verrone Kook-Aid), but if this ends up going south, I still believe it was the right stand to take at the right time.

  14. David Poland says:

    Again, Sloanish… I’m not saying a strike may not be necessary. What I am saying is, the timing sucks and what I fear you are about to see is six to eight months without work followed by a contract that doesn’t really set the road map for the next two decades.

  15. Don Murphy says:

    Don’t have time to post that much anymore, since the faux strike is coming but damn, I LOVE that T Holly’s breakdown of coherence continues apace. She makes NO sense. I can’t even follow her point. GO T!

  16. MASON says:

    Just heard that teamsters have vowed not to cross picket lines. No location managers, no drivers, etc..
    Interesting if true.

  17. hendhogan says:

    It’s true. Local 399 voted Sunday to not cross the picket line if a strike is called. I got indenpendent confirmation from two people within the Local.
    This is HUGE!

  18. MASON says:

    But what does it mean? In theory, that would greatly hamper every TV show and movie currently in production.

  19. hendhogan says:

    Local 399 embodies drivers, location managers, casting directors, etc. Location shoots would be virtually impossible (and that includes reality programming).
    It’s the kind of power that David says the actors have. Almost everything shuts down immediately.

  20. MASON says:

    I don’t think it’s huge by any stretch — apparently they’re going to target one studio a time on different days.
    But still, it doesn’t hurt the WGA’s cause, that’s for sure.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

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I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

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My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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~ David Simon