Let’s Make a Deal

The deal summary for the WGA strike can be found here.

It’s not as much as we would have liked. It’s more than the studios would have liked. It’s a deal both sides can live with.

That seems fair to me.

Some of the highlights:

The WGA is recognized as the exclusive bargaining representative for writing for new media

Fairly self-explanatory.

Separated Rights

If a writer creates a show or character for a program premiering in new media, and that character or show is then turned into a TV show, or film, or board game, or action figure, the writer gets money for this.

Internet Residuals

After the initial payment for a programme created for the Internet (which covers 13 or 26 weeks worth of showings, depending on whether the viewer pays for access), writers get money if the programme continues to be available.

Internet Re-use / Distributor’s Gross

For the next two years, casting a programme in a new medium (internet, cellphone, etc) attracts a flat rate. After that, the fee is based on a percentage of the money earned.

What did we lose on?

  • Reality and animation still aren’t covered.
  • The DVD formula (4 cents per DVD sold) stands.

A vote is occurring today and tomorrow to stop striking; within ten days the WGA membership will have voted on whether to accept the contract.

This is a good contract.

The showrunners are already back at work. Everyone else (pending the expected let’s-stop-striking vote) will be back at work on Wednesday.

It’s over.

Strike no-news

The AMPTP and the negotiating committee continue to talk behind the scenes about what they might talk about at the negotiating table when they get back to negotiating.

Nikki Finke is positive but, hell, we’ve been positive before just before the AMPTP tried to fuck us in the ear. (You’ll note that, as predicted in that post, many overall deals have now been cancelled.)

But there’s a press blackout now, so there’s no real news to be had.

The silence is a good thing.

Away from the duelling press releases of the last round of negotiation, maybe the various negotiators can start getting a deal together that everyone can live with.

In the meantime, the pressure is still on the AMPTP with picketing, more side deals, and the Oscars coming up.

And let’s be clear, the Oscars are a big incentive to get a deal made.

No SAG actor will cross a picket line outside the Oscars ceremony, because they know this deal is all about setting a precedent for their negotiations about payments for Internet series too.

Losing the Golden Globes cost NBC somewhere between 15 and 20 million dollars. If the Oscars are cancelled, the financial hit will be a lot higher, and not just to the broadcaster – there’s the loss of all that free advertising for films as people tune into the show to see the stars accept their awards.

So the 24th February is the next big deadline.

Good luck to all.

Dollars and sense

Cost to NBC in ad revenue due to cancellation of this year’s Golden Globes award: $15-$20m

Cost to NBC of agreeing to every single one of the writers’ demands for the next three years: $22.32m

And we haven’t even got to the Oscars yet.

Staying away from the negotiating table is simply not good business.

Pilot season is on the Internet this year


You’re a working writer. Only you’re not at the moment, because you’re on strike. (See pavements passim.)

You’ve got a lot of friends in the industry working as camera operators, riggers, teamsters, and so on who can’t work at the moment because you’re on strike.

How can you support them?

Well… given that this dispute is all about the Internet, it’s occurred to a couple of people that maybe they could put their talent to use in the meantime.

It’s called Strike TV. An Internet Channel created by professional writers and crew to raise money for the strike fund. So that people in difficulty due to the strike – everyone, not just writers – will be able to support themselves.

And they’re going to do this by advertising within their videos. On the Internet. Apparently you can get money for that these days.

Their MySpace page has the details, but the deal is basically this:

If you’re an active WGA member who wishes to contribute, send a proposal. You’ll then need to make a pilot, which will get shown on the Internet on the Strike TV channel. Any money from ads made goes to the Writers Guild Foundation Industry Support Fund.

And if it’s a hit?

You own it. It’s yours. Set it up as a web series, sell it to a TV network (it’s been done already), spin off novels, comics, DVDs… Make money from it.

It’ll need to be a Union production, obviously. But that’s what this all comes down to, in the end, and they’re already working on ways to make it affordable.

The channel starts in February. Sweeps. That’s when the advertisers in the States decide where to spend their money.

There’s one condition: someone in the production has to be an active member of the WGA.

Being an inquisitive chap, I got in contact and asked if active members of other Writers’ Guilds were allowed.

The answer was yes. And they’re really looking forward to seeing what we can come up with.

So if you’re an active member in good standing of any of the following Writers’ Guilds, you should get going. There’s not much time before sweeps.

  • Australian Writers’ Guild
  • Irish Playwrights and Writers Guild
  • New Zealand Writers Guild
  • SARTeC – Société des auteurs de radio, télévision et cinéma (French-language Canada)
  • Sección de Autorres y Adaptadores de Cine (Mexico)
  • Union-Guilde des Scénaristes (France)
  • Writers Guild of America, East
  • Writers Guild of America, west
  • Writers Guild of Canada
  • Writers Guild of Great Britain

If you’re in Los Angeles on the 9th January there’s a free event at the WGA Theater where you can find out more, and hook up with production crew.

Here’s that MySpace page again.

I went on a negotiating course once, you know

So, here we are again. The AMPTP has thrown the toys out of the pram, and my cautious optimism has come to naught.

Let’s delve a little deeper.

Datestamp: 6th December 2007
Nikki Finke reports rumours that the AMPTP has no intention of making a deal, and is planning to storm out of the talks

Datestamp: 7th December 2007 (morning)
The WGA issues a statement saying they’ve heard the rumours, and intend to stay at the bargaining table no matter what.

Datestamp: 7th December 2007 (afternoon)
The AMPTP presents an ultimatum – withdraw the following items from the bargaining table immediately, or we’re walking away. The items in question are:

  • Allow a third party other than the studio to determine fair market value for a property.
  • Allow WGA to represent writers/storyliners/editors (call them what you will) for reality TV shows
  • Allow WGA to represent animators
  • Allow WGA to refuse to cross picket lines of other striking professionals (eg Actors, Directors)
  • Revenue to be dependent on overall gross

Datestamp: 7th December 2007 6:05pm
The AMPTP walks away, refusing to negotiate further.

Now, as far as the WGA are concerned, these five items are still on the table. Still negotiable.

And, as previously discussed, the reason the WGA is on strike is Internet Residuals. All of the above points are potentially sacrificable for movement on Internet Residuals.

To the title of this post.

I was on a negotiating course once, you know. And what you do in a situation like this, is you list the things you care about, and you trade them off.

So if the AMPTP finds these five negotiable items so terrible that they must be taken off the table, there’s a very simple solution: trade them for some movement on Internet Residuals. Boy, doesn’t have to be much. Just show willing.

Demanding that a bunch of items have to come off with no trade or you walk, is not a negotiation.

The companies are currently claiming that the proposals that they are offering right now will cost $130 million. (The source implies each year, as it then goes on to mention current yearly spend. But let’s assume, more reasonably, that this is over the lifetime of the next three-year contract.)

Unfortunately, the AMPTP has declined to show their workings for this figure. However, the WGA has done the workings for the cost of everything the WGA are asking for right now.

It comes to (drumroll): $151 million over three years.

(The WGA helpfully even breaks down how much each company would have to pay.)

And this is our starting point for negotiations.


If the AMPTP are serious, we should be at the negotiating table right now, yes? We’ve established that the things they’ve walked out over are negotiable. We’ve established that the price difference is affordable. What conclusions can we draw from this?

Well, sadly, there’s only one conclusion, and that is that the AMPTP is not interested in resolving these issues and having the writers return to work. They’ve attempted to pin the blame on the negotiating committee, but that has failed.

The bigger question is this: Why don’t they want to settle?

Well, at this point I have to introduce a new concept into the discussion: force majeure.

The studios have a lot of high-money contracts with various producers. By way of an example, let’s look at a deal that’s already expired, that with Cruise/Wagner, Tom Cruise’s production company. Paramount were paying Cruise/Wagner 10 million dollars a year in exchange for a first look at anything they produced. (It should be noted that this deal was not extended – so, actually, that’s made up the difference between the two proposals right there.)

There are a lot of these Producers with Overall Deals (or PODs). They cost a lot of money. And this pilot season has not been a good one.

Meaning a lot of money is going out for no good result.

Wouldn’t it be nice if you could, I don’t know, slim the number of PODs down somewhat?

Well, turns out they all have force majeure clauses in their contracts. So if they weren’t able to develop shows (for example if there was a writers’ strike) for, say, two or three months – they could all be fired. Potentially freeing up a lot more profit.

What’s that you say? We knew this was a possibility back in November?

Well. Yes. I suppose there’s always a possibility that we’re dealing with scumsucking lowlife pondscum who’d screw over anyone that got in their way of a quick buck, instead of a human being.

But, you know, I like to think the best of people until they prove me wrong.

Unfortunately, this last AMPTP manoeuvre would, indeed, seem to prove me wrong.

New prediction: the strike lasts until February, at which point producers – real producers – will start getting fired.

What’s the betting the AMPTP then attempts to blame that on the writers?

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.

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.