Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2007: strike day 23

Movies: Striking writers take their fight against studios to the Web (Salt Lake Tribune)

Hard to believe that Hollywood's studios and networks - the esteemed minds who thought the world would flock to see "Nancy Drew" and watch "Viva Laughlin" - could be wrong about anything.

But the "suits," the big-media corporations that make up the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), seem to have underestimated the support for the writers who went on strike three weeks ago.

Here's how it was supposed to go down: The Writers Guild of America would threaten a little, go on strike for a day or two, then get cold feet and come crawling back to the bargaining table and accept AMPTP's terms.

The public won't sympathize with a bunch of overpaid pen-scratchers who make an average of $200,000 a year, the media honchos thought - not when their daily dose of Leno and Letterman was at stake. The bosses also thought the Hollywood crews, the working stiffs who build the sets and run the copiers, won't support a strike that will put them out of work. Meanwhile, the studios had a stockpile of scripts written in preparation for a strike, so the studios thought they could wait out those greedy writers.

But guess what? The WGA members stayed firm, while the crew members and public opinion sided with the writers. And those scripts? Turned out some of them (such as "Angels & Demons," the now-delayed prequel to "The Da Vinci Code") needed rewrites - and there wasn't anyone willing to do that.
Laugh Lines in the Hollywood Strike
“The studios think we are having a horrible time out here,” said Richard Potter, a screenwriter who made “Strike Dancing,” a YouTube video showing pickets bebopping in formation to “Play That Funky Music.”

“What’s actually happening is we’re having a great time.”

The video is one of dozens on YouTube — most of them humorous, or trying to be — that are helping the union win the public relations war. A nationwide poll released on Nov. 14 by Pepperdine University found that 63 percent of Americans sided with the writers.
Broadway Talks Break Up Without A Deal (NY Times)
But in a sign that this might have been more of a break than a breakdown, the League of American Theaters and Producers announced that it was canceling performances only through Wednesday’s matinees. Two weekends ago, when the talks fell apart, the league canceled all of Thanksgiving week.

Two marathon negotiating sessions over the last two nights were considered promising signs that an end was in sight to the 18-day stagehands strike, which has darkened most of Broadway during a very important time of year for the theater business.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Monday, Nov. 26, 2007: strike day 22

International Day of Support for the Writers Guild of America: Ireland (Irish Playwrights & Screenwriters Guild Newsletter)

When your kids want to know "Where were you in the great Writers Strike of 2007?" you'll be able to say that you walked the line with writers from all over the world in support of the principle that, if they use our work, we get paid for it and that, however modest, you contributed to the victory that's coming for our fellow writers in the Writers' Guild of America.

...Irish writers can demonstrate their solidarity with the WGA by arriving at the Guild office at Art House, Curved Street, Temple Bar in Dublin on Wednesday 28th November at 3.00 pm.

We'll have t-shirts, placards, a photographer, and a videographer, and with colleagues in Sydney, Auckland, Paris, Mexico City, London, Brussels, Berlin, Toronto, Montreal, we will demonstrating world-wide support for the writers' strike in the USA.
(Info on other support demonstrations in London, Toronto, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and elsewhere is here, courtesy of the "Fans for the WGA" LiveJournal community.)

Hollywood Studios Resume Talks With Writers Amid Program Delays (Bloomberg)
"A lot of the spin on the management side, that they had stockpiled scripts and wouldn't be affected by a strike, is coming undone," Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney at TroyGould in Los Angeles, said in an interview. "We're seeing television shows go dark much faster than we were told. We're seeing movies canceled much faster than we were told."
Let The Real Bargaining Begin (LA Times>
The wannabes especially worry whether the big companies will try to squeeze them out of their just returns from the Web. The guild has made its case forcefully on this issue, but management has not.

"The industry has already paid millions of dollars in residuals for permanent and pay-for-view downloads," the companies have declared, but they have not offered a coherent formula to assure continued and expanded payments. The dilemma faced by the Time Warners and Disneys of the world is that they have to assure investors that their new media ventures will become hugely profitable even as they tell writers that they will not.

In view of all this, it's reasonable to ask, why hasn't an accommodation been reached? After all, this is all about numbers. No one is closing the coal mines or moving away the only factory in town.

Talk to the small group of professional arbiters -- those gurus who have helped resolve Hollywood's major disputes over the years -- and you get a common answer: Both sides have displayed equal clumsiness and heavy-handedness that has left the community both baffled and divided.
Showrunners are running the show (Baltimore Sun)
Which leaves us with the show runners, the one force in town whose power is unquestionably on the ascendancy. Why is that? Because show runners make - and often create - the shows, and shows are the only things that matter. Viewers don't watch networks. They watch shows. And they don't care how they get them.

That takes a lot of power from the networks and hands it to show runners. True, the studios still own the shows. But in the new economy, show runners have extra leverage.

Ninety percent of guild members may have authorized this strike, but you can be sure it never would have started without at least a wink and nudge from the few dozen show runners who matter.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Saturday, Nov. 24, 2007: strike day 20

For Film Companies, A State of Flux

When Brad Pitt dropped out of the political thriller “State of Play” at the 11th hour on Wednesday, he did more than throw a wrench into the works of one of the highest-profile movie productions under way in a Hollywood already overheated by strike-related contingency planning. He might have helped tip the balance of power between actors and studios, at least temporarily, in the employers’ favor.

For weeks, lawyers and agents say, employers have had to pay a premium of as much as 10 to 15 percent over actors’ normal salaries to book them into the dozens of movies that are filming between now and June, when the Screen Actors Guild’s contract expires. But with talks set to resume on Monday between striking writers and the movie and television companies, the chance of a quick settlement has added a gust of uncertainty, which producers say could work to the advantage of studios that are trying to lock in their last few deals with actors.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Wednesday, Nov. 21, 2007: strike day 17

High Profile Actors Star in Internet "Speechless" PSAs for Striking Writers (via Deadline Hollywood Daily)

On Thanksgiving Day (November 22), a group of Writers Guild Of America members will begin posting Public Service Announcements featuring A-list Screen Actors Guild talent as part of an independent WGA membership's "Speechless" campaign conceived by director/writer George Hickenlooper and writer Alan Sereboff. For the first time in the TV and movie industry, high-profile SAG actors will be taking their talents directly and exclusively to the Internet -- the very medium which is at the center of the current WGA labor strike against the Alliance Of Motion Picture & Television Producers.

The spots will begin appearing on Thursday morning which will begin posting Thanksgiving Day and run exclusively on DeadlineHollywood.com through Sunday night. Beginning Monday, they can be found on SpeechlessWithoutWriters.com with links on UnitedHollywood.com and every day thereafter during the duration of the strike.

Included are SAG talent such as Sean Penn, Holly Hunter, Laura Linney, Alan Cumming, Jay Leno, Harvey Keitel, Kate Beckinsale, Tina Fey, Tim Robbins, Gary Marshall, David Schwimmer, Patricia Clarkson, James Franco, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Martin Sheen, Josh Brolin, Susan Sarandon, Andre 3000, Chazz Palminteri, Jason Bateman, Christine Lahti, Patricia Arquette, Jenna Elfman, Olivia Wilde, Richard Benjamin, Paula Prentiss, Eva Longoria, Justine Bateman, Joshua Jackson, Rosanna Arquette, Diane Ladd, Rebecca Romjin, Minnie Driver, Nicollette Sheridan, Robert Patrick, Matthew Perry, Ed Asner, and America Ferrera and the cast of Ugly Betty. Arrangements have been made to also shoot Woody Allen, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jane Fonda, Marisa Tomei, Ethan Hawke, Jason Alexander, Charlize Therone, Minnie Driver, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Many, many more are also in the works.
Striking writers and networks in U.S. to resume talks next week (International Herald Tribune)
In an e-mail message last week, Peter Lefcourt, who is on the board of the West Coast writers guild, told writers who also belong to the directors guild that any near-term move by companies to talk with directors would be like "Hitler dangling a separate peace in front of Stalin."

Gil Cates, who will lead the directors guild in its negotiations, told Lefcourt that his fellow members could do without the writers' advice. "It will be the membership and the membership only who will make the decision" about accepting any deal, he wrote.

Progress on any front would be welcomed by many of the directors, production managers, actors, assistants and others who are being shut out of work. In a grass-roots movement, hundreds of such workers are now trying to organize their own "Strike a Deal" demonstration in Hollywood on Dec. 2.

"It was born out of frustration by people who were working on films and television shows," said Christopher Griffin, a producer of the "Nip/Tuck" series. "There's a general sense of desperation and helplessness."

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007: strike day 16

Employees at CBS News Vote to Authorize a Strike (New York Times)

Several hundred CBS News employees represented by the Writers Guild of America have voted to authorize a strike against the company, union officials said yesterday.

The vote enables the guild to call a strike at any time, although a walkout is not imminent. A strike could affect CBS television and radio newscasts, both nationally and in four local markets.

...Approximately 500 CBS News writers, producers, editors, artists and assistants are represented by the guild; 81 percent of the nearly 300 who voted last week supported a strike. The contract with CBS expired in April 2005, and the president of the guild said he hoped the vote will bring both sides back to the negotiation table for the first time since January.

“This is a wake-up call to CBS News management. We’re saying that we are really at the end of our rope,” said Michael Winship, president of the Writers Guild of America, East.

In a statement, CBS called the vote unfortunate and said the company’s contract offer remained on the table. The network said it had proposed a 3 percent salary increase for television and network radio employees and a 2 percent increase for their local radio counterparts in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Washington.
Two Americas, Two Hollywoods (Weekly Standard via Yahoo! News)
Why such tepid support for the most significant union action likely before November 2008? The answer is that the writers' strike puts Democrats in a tight spot. (So tight that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office will only say that she has no plans to say anything whatsoever about the strike.)

On the one hand, you would expect Democrats to rally to the side of any union, particularly a Hollywood union--particularly a Hollywood union with a legitimate gripe against giant corporate media conglomerates. On the other hand, the management in Hollywood has given Clinton, Obama, and to a lesser extent, Edwards, barrels of money.
Who wants to be a millionaire -- on strike? (Salon)
ABC and the show's producers will make a lot of money for a long time from the work I did alongside my fellow writers at "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire." The same holds true across the industry. Whether they produce new shows or dig deep into their libraries, there is no show that networks, studios and production companies won't be able to monetize in the form of webisodes, online games, cellphone ringtones, downloads and other digital media. I've read "The Long Tail." One day that million-dollar question I wrote or the joke I put in Regis' mouth will be streamed online, preceded by a 30-second ad that will generate money for someone. Just not me.
The Forgotten Writers' Strike of '06 (LA Times)
The last week of September, we all received letters notifying us that our jobs had been eliminated, the entire story department abolished. The guild had vanished from our cause, and the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, which represents the video editors, swooped in to unionize the show, freezing the WGA out of "Top Model" for good.

There were 12 of us, not 12,000. And so the strike against "America's Next Top Model" has become a footnote in the long struggle for writers to assert power in an industry that seeks to keep us powerless.

I want the WGA to prevail in the current standoff, and I believe the writers deserve everything they are asking for. But if the negotiations starting next Monday yield nothing, I fear that the strike may drag on for months, and the writers may come to understand the importance of the Forgotten Strike a year and a half too late.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Monday, Nov. 19, 2007: strike day 15

Quote of the day:click here

Creativity, Strikes and Power

On the surface, the writers would seem to have all the cards, and the stagehands few. Hollywood writers fuel a much larger enterprise owned by publicly traded companies, have creative expertise and they even had Ron Howard walking a picket in front of Viacom in New York last Thursday. (When you’re riding with Opie, your cause must be just.)

But the stagehands, who began striking almost a week after the writers, are most likely the ones who will be heading back to work first. The writers still confront the stalemate over distribution of revenues from digital content. So how will 400 or so (mostly) beefy guys in Manhattan accomplish what currently seems beyond the reach of the 12,000 members of the writers’ guild?

Begin with the fact that the stagehands have actual leverage — the ability to shut down moneymaking entertainment that occurs at a specific time and place. Writers are increasingly part of a digital economy, where entertainment comes from every direction, and shutting off the spigot is next to impossible.

The issue was addressed with some unintended irony last week when one of the writers from “The Daily Show” put together a cute, well-written video about the greed and shortsightedness of media companies and studios. The video attacking The Man and championing writers’ rights appeared on The Huffington Post, a busy Web site built on this business plan: hundreds of bloggers who post there aren’t paid.
Blind Item (via UnitedHollywood.com)
Which of five networks is said to have been forced to hire extra people to handle all the calls flooding in from angry fans demanding a fair deal for writers? Our source says an assistant to the CEO of the network's parent company contacted a fan site that posted the CEO's phone number and pleaded, "What do I have to do to get you people to stop this?"

Sunday, Nov. 18, 2007: strike day 14

Striking writers will resume stalks with studios (Reuters)

The Writers Guild of America (WGA) and studio reps will head back to the bargaining table on November 26 after back-channel dialogue facilitated by Creative Artists Agency partner Bryan Lourd helped put the parties onto a more productive track. The WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP) put out brief, identical statements Friday night.

No other details were provided, and a press blackout was instituted. But it's clear that the emotion-charged issue of new-media compensation will remain front and center when the talks resume.

Despite the planned resumption of talks, the WGA intends to continue its picketing and other strike activities.
Lobbying Helps Spur Talks in Writers' Strike
Studios were also fretting about their image. Executives at studios like CBS, Fox and NBC Universal have said privately that their side was losing the public relations battle because they were not responding to union claims. Some were concerned that the union, using blogs and YouTube to publish its message, was succeeding in painting them as greedy.

On Wednesday, the union publicized a nationwide poll by Pepperdine University that showed that 63 percent of Americans supported the writers in the fight.
No one wins when it comes to strike (Variety)
When you're on the outside, you always hear rumors that the studios are cooking the numbers. When you're inside a studio, you help cook the numbers. The experience leaves you with twin emotions: You empathize with those executives who are fighting to sustain their margins. You also comprehend first-hand the flaws in the process, and empathize with those who are getting shafted.
Theater Strike Threatens NY Economy
...after six weeks, said Frank Braconi, the chief economist for the comptroller’s office, the Broadway strike will “affect the vacation planning decisions of long-distance domestic and international tourists.”

The latest round of talks between the producers’ league and the stagehands’ union broke down last night, leaving no end in sight for the strike that has darkened most of Broadway for 10 days. Soon after the breakdown, the League of American Theaters and Producers announced that it was canceling performances of the 27 shows affected by the strike through Sunday.