Another day, another rollback.

Well, the first round of the restarted talks has finished.
Reportage at Deadline Hollywood, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.

It’s another joke offer. Let’s crunch the numbers:

The studios are offering a fee of $250 to put a TV show on the Internet for a year. And that’s after six weeks “promotional” use, during which they would still sell ads in the show, paying nothing at all.

(To put this into context: a cinema release loses 46% of its audience from the first week of release to the second week of release. The value of a narrative repeat drops very quickly indeed after the initial showing.)

The studios currently pay $21,078 to the writer for the first repeat on one of the big networks.
source – PDF

So, if the network streams a show on the Internet instead of repeating it, they save over $20,000 in payments to the writer.


This figure becomes even larger every time they drop another repeat off network TV because people can see it on the Internet instead.

Let’s just look at that again.

If we accept this deal, we lose money.

All this before we even look at the other things the AMPTP are so generously offering us. Like, for example:

  • No residuals for showing a cinema film on the Internet
  • WGA not to ever get involved in any negotiations on made-for-Internet content


Now, I’m sure that this is just another negotiating tactic. Here is our ridiculous offer, what’s that, you don’t accept it? You bad bad people. Here is our slightly less ridiculous offer. And so on, and so on, kicking and screaming all the way until finally they agree with bad grace to something we can all live with.

But you know what, AMPTP?

Putting a ridiculous offer that we can in no way accept on the table does not make you look like a smart negotiator.

It makes you look like an asshat.

Please come back with something serious on Tuesday.

Strike no-news.

Well, the AMPTP and the WGA are sat back at the table now, and beginning their talks.

(That’s if I’ve calculated the time differential between here and LA correctly.)
(Said time differential is, of course, why I can’t do the buttons up on my jacket properly any more.)

There’s a news blackout at the moment to help both sides make a decent deal without all the shouting. Let’s hope they can come up with something that we can all think is reasonable.

I’m hopeful.

In the meantime, though, Writers’ Guilds throughout the world are holding a day of solidarity.

For me, that’s going to take the form of a public demonstration in London. Your local Writers’ Guild will have more information about demonstrations local to you.

And there’s swag, too.

So if you can make it, come along and show your support for the writers. I’ll be there. Say hi.

Lucy’s also organising something in Bournemouth if you’re closer to her than here.

So, Piers, what can I do to ensure the writers get a fair deal?

Well, funny you should mention that.

To those of us not in LA at the moment, it’s a bit difficult to get up and join a picket line. We need another way of bringing our sympathy with the writers to the studios’ attention.

So: send the moguls a box of pencils.

I’m serious.

It costs one dollar to have a box of pencils posted to a studio. That’s about 50p.

Twelve pencils. In a box. Unsharpened so they can’t hurt themselves. Pencils from sustainably managed forests, so it doesn’t impact the environment. And with an address so that they can be sent on to programs teaching kids how to write. (Because, after all, what’s a mogul going to do with a pencil? It’s not like these people can write.)

What does a box of pencils achieve?

A box of pencils doesn’t achieve anything.

But it’s not a box of pencils.

It’s a pallet of pencils.
It’s a truck of pencils.
It’s a dozen trucks of pencils.

Suddenly, it’s a message.
And, most importantly, it’s a symbol.

So if you support the writers, send a box of pencils to the AMPTP.

The Internet. It’s too new!

So, according to the Studios, the use of any content on the Internet is promotional.

Even if the entirety of the work is shown and they make money from it.
source, point 2(a) and (b)

Mm. Interesting. I wonder how much those moguls think these new media streams might impact their bottom line? I mean, can’t be much if it’s just promotional, right?

In case you’re wondering what the title of this post refers too, it’s from a linking piece on the Daily Show, where Jon Stewart represents the view of the corporations on the Internet. “Can we make money on this or not? I don’t know! It’s too new!”

He then points out that all of his Daily Shows are available online.
Which has advertising.
Sold for actual, real money.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many people have linked to the clip of this piece which was posted on YouTube

But if you follow the link above, you’ll see no Jon Stewart. Instead, there’s a DMCA copyright takedown notice.

Which is bizarre.

I mean… why would they want to take down a copy of their content on YouTube?

It’s just promotional, right?

But, hey, here’s an embedded copy of the video for you from Defamer.

No need for me to link directly to the Daily Show site.

I’m certain the studios won’t mind.

After all, it’s promotional.

Why We Fight

I’ve already put this in the sidebar… but I think it would be good to have it in the main section.

It’s a three-and-a-half minute video stating what the issues are behind the current strike.

If you haven’t seen it already, please spend a few minutes to find out what the writers are actually asking for.

I’m It

Tagged by Helen. So here are five things about me which other people might think lame, but which make me who I am.

1) I cry at sad stories.

Including but not limited to Casualty last Saturday, and the sad song that Jessie sings in Toy Story 2 about how people grow up and grow apart from the things that they love as children.

Also and particularly, in one of the Doctor Who books. It’s called Happy Endings, and is written by Paul Cornell, who now writes for the TV series.

It’s the seventh Doctor. One of his companions (Bernice) is getting married, and the book is set at the wedding.

Despite various complications, she’s finally tied the knot and the Doctor (as is his wont), nips out back and heads toward the TARDIS, preparing to slip quietly away before anyone notices. Just an old man, preparing to travel the universe on his own. Pretending to himself that he doesn’t need anyone. That he’s fine on his own, and he’ll just quietly disappear.

And then Bernice appears and tells him to come back inside, where it’s warm, and he has friends that love him.

And he goes back inside.

And here I am, writing this, in an open plan office, crying. I don’t think anyone’s noticed. Shh.

2) I’ve recently started playing Dungeons and Dragons again.

And enjoying it.

3) I’ve just bought a new dictionary.

And I’ve been so excited about it that I’ve told everyone within nattering distance at both places I work how good it is. Several times.

Sixth Edition, baby, that’s where it’s at.

4) I like programming

It’s fun. Especially on Unix systems. But not C, because, frankly, pointers suck. Give me something a little more high-level to work with, eh?

5) I enjoy doing medium strength Cryptic Crosswords

Quixote in the Independent is good, as are many of the setters in the Sunday Times – though as they don’t credit their setters, you never know whether you’re going to get a good one or a bad one.

But I get really annoyed if the clues aren’t Ximenean.

I tag Loli, Christine, William, Jason again (because the holiday-taking slacker hasn’t got round to it yet), and Phill.

Put the pencil down, and move away from the keyboard

Well, iacta alea est, as Julius Caesar reportedly said before entering a big fight that he really didn’t want to have.

No deal was reached yesterday, so as of 12:01am today, the Writers’ Guild of America is on strike.

Here’s what we’re asking for

It’s not much.

But as you can see here, the studios don’t want to engage us on these issues.

The showstopper is a very simple one: We would like a share of the money coming in from the use of our work delivered electronically, while the companies would prefer to keep all of that money for themselves.

What that share actually is, is negotiable.

That’s it.

It’s not about DVDs, it’s not about being greedy, it’s not about sticking it to The Man.

It’s about being fair.

So what does this mean to writers based in the UK?

Well, we can still sell to UK producers. Also Canadian, Australian, European, and so forth.

What you mustn’t do is help the studios out by selling your work to an American producer until this strike is over.

There are two reasons why this is a bad idea.

Firstly, if you perform work for a company during the strike, you will not be allowed to join the WGA after the strike is over. Which means no work from America, the largest market for writing in the world. You want a career, don’t break the strike.

But there’s a second, stronger reason.

Because it would be wrong.

The reason 12,000 people have put their pencils down is to ensure that in the future, when your work is used, you will get an equitable payment for the work that you have done.

Don’t let them down.

Won’t get fooled again.

Well, there you have it.

The negotiations between the Writers’ Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers finished on All Hallows Eve, and the WGA Contract has expired.

So what the hell does that actually mean?

It’s like this.

The WGA is the union for screenplay writers in the United States. As well as having a fairly decent healthcare plan (essential if you live in a country without a National Health Service), the WGA organises a pension plan, negotiates a minimum wage, and collects money on behalf of its members for the re-use of their work.

This last is what the big fight is about. They’re known as residuals, and are pretty much what you live off. At any given time, about half the members of the WGA are in work.

The rest – while they may be writing – aren’t paid for that writing. It’s not like turning up at the office and getting a salary. The median income of a WGA member from their writing work is $5,000 a year.

Residuals are how you make a living as a writer. It’s a damn precarious living, but a living it is.

You get a residual every time your work is re-used. So if a TV programme or film that you wrote is shown on TV in Germany, or Australia, or Darkest Peru, you are issued a check. Could be a few dollars. Could be a few thousand. But you have an income.

So a few years ago, it came time to renegotiate the contract. At that time, there was this new-fangled technology on the marketplace. Not many people used it, It was unreliable, expensive, and – frankly – weird.

So the AMPTP said: Tell you what. Let’s investigate this new technology a bit before we start negotiating about your level of residuals on it. Do some tests, see how it all turns out. Might just be a flash in the pan. Seem fair?

This new-fangled technology was known as Home Video.

And, it turns out, was quite popular.

In fact, DVD income is the main income source for studios these days. Let’s just have a closer look at these figures:

In 2004, the income from DVDs was $21 billion.
In 2004, the income from Cinemas was $7.4 billion.

And thanks to a bad decision made all those years ago, this new-fangled-whoah-nelly-let’s-see-if-this-works-out technology pays writers a very small amount indeed.

Have a quick guess how much a writer earns from each DVD sold. Go on, just take a moment to think about it. DVD of a new film goes for, what, ten, fifteen quid? How much do you think the writer gets of that?


Tuppence. Two shiny pennies. Just enough to pay for a fare across the Styx.

(And to put that figure in context – the cost to make the shiny disc, print the packaging, and stick it in that little plastic case comes to around 25p out of the cost you pay for the DVD.)

It’s fair to say that writers feel that 2p per DVD is on the low side.

But that’s not all.

The AMPTP also seeks to apply the same formula to Internet downloads. And they are refusing to talk about this.

So, the frankly risible formula for the technology which now forms the cornerstone of studio profits is to be applied to Internet downloads. Which don’t even cost 25p to package and are likely, in the future, to become the predominant means of entertainment delivery.

The AMPTP say they will not budge on this issue. Which means, sadly, that there’s no other option left.

A strike has been called. It just needs to be confirmed by the WGA board, and no new writing will be done.

The first casualty will be scripted daily comedy.

Because topical comedy can’t be written in advance, Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, and the Colbert Report are expected to go dark within the next couple of weeks.

The season’s new dramas have somewhere between five and nine episodes written right now. We can expect those to burn out within two months. Then the schedules are likely to be filled with Reality TV, news, and repeats.

Make no mistake, this strike is going to hurt everyone. Studios, producers, and writers alike.

But unfortunately we have no choice. The “proposals” that have been placed on the table by the AMPTP were – literally – laughable. And there has been no movement on them.

Oh yes, I almost forgot, there was one proposal they’ve taken off the table. The one that said “Writers shouldn’t get residuals for anything at all any more.”

You can imagine how grateful we were for that enormous concession.

And that’s why we have to strike.

The exact timing will be clarified today, but it seems likely that writers will stop work on Monday.

This may be a long haul. And I wish it didn’t have to happen. But if the person on the other side of the table isn’t prepared to negotiate, sometimes you simply have to walk away from the table.

For more information on the strike, try the following websites:

The Artful Writer
Craig Mazin disagrees with me on the possibilities for negotiation. However his points are well-argued and well-sourced, and he allows open discussion in his comments section.

Deadline Hollywood Daily
Good news source about the strike from LA Weekly journalist Nikki Finke.

United Hollywood
Blog by some of the Contract Captains – they’ll be the ones organising the picket lines.