Recapping our WGA strike coverage with more analysis and commentary
by Jim Cirile
Let me say up front that Coverage, Ink supports the WGA 100%. The things the Guild is asking for are a pittance to the industry conglomerates. Of course writers should make more than 4 cents on a DVD. Of course writers should get paid when their work is viewed online. Duh. Under the Guild’s proposal, Paramount and CBS would each pay $4.66 million per year while MGM would pay only $320,000/year. Seriously, that’s it. So for the AMPTP (producers) to be shutting them down and refusing to budge (as they have for months) is reprehensible and frankly seems flat-out bananas. Unless they’re planning on replacing all scripted entertainment with 24/7 Paris and Britney coverage in ‘08. (Agh!)
That said, did the Guild really have to put the entire town out of work for the last two months of the year? I have a lot of friends who are out of work now – not just writers, but photographers, UPMs, drivers, on and on. Was there a better way this could have been handled? IATSE president Tom Short seems to think so, and he blasted the WGA brass on the front page of the 11/15 Hollywood Reporter, saying that WGA management’s failure to engage AMPTP earlier has resulted in ‘devastation’ and that their ‘incompetence’ and ‘inexperience’ has put 50,000 IATSE members out of work. The flip side is that the WGA pretty much *had* to strike now – the AMPTP wasn’t budging, and if they’d waited into next year, they’d lose their scant leverage and possibly wind up drowned in a trifecta of potential strikes – WGA, SAG and the Director’s Guild all at the same time, after the studios had a chance to stock up on product. Okay, I get it.
But there are other things. When I first joined the Guild, it baffled me to learn that a writer could work on a project for months, only to not receive any credit at all in the finished film. Nothing, zip. Because when the WGA does its arbitration, it decides who gets the credit. They pick one or two names, and then the other 11 writers who worked on the project? S.O.L. I think this is a flaming wagon of dung.
So I wrote the WGA to tell them so. Why is it a PA can work on a film for one day and get rolling screen credit (which I have done,) yet a writer could work on a film for months, have their ideas or dialogue or even whole scenes in the finished film and get none? Outrageous. The solution is simple. The WGA should keep the arbitration system to award credit and residuals and profit participation, and those writers credited should be, as always, get credits in the titles just before the director. Fine. But then there should ALSO be a “Contributing Writers” credit in the crawl listing every writer who worked on the project, whether any of their effort made it to screen or not. These writers receive no additional compensation -- they simply get a screen credit because they worked on the damn film.
“Written By,” the WGA magazine, actually printed my letter, and I spent a year or so trying to get traction on this idea. I was finally told by a friend with close ties to the board to give it up -- the WGA *likes* maintaining the illusion that only one writer (or a team) wrote a movie. They will never do anything to officially acknowledge all the other writers. WTF?
All these years later, nothing has changed, and I still think I’m right and the WGA is full of it. So maybe I’m carrying a grudge? Not really. But it makes it hard to accept that they really have all the membership’s best interests in mind, when it’s the Guild themselves who is first discriminates against writers with their arbitration process.
On Monday Dec. 10, the Writers Guild of America sent an official communiqué to the entire WGA West membership plugging a spoof site ridiculing the AMPTP. The site, http://www.amptp.com, lampoons the AMPTP's poor judgment and is entertaining satire to be sure. But at a time when thousands of people are out of work heading into the holidays, most of whom will never see any benefit from any WGA deal -- only lost income – should the Guild really be antagonizing producers whom writers will have to work with again?
I mailed my concerns to the WGA. WGA President Patric Verrone responded promptly:
Thanks for writing. So you know, this web site was done without Guild knowledge or input but, when we saw it, we thought members would be interested. We remain committed to resolving this contract as soon as humanly possible. Remember, the AMPTP walked away from the table on Friday, not us. We are ready and willing to bargain at a moment's notice.
Great response, and indeed, the AMPTP did just up and walk away, the bastards! But still, shouldn’t this be something you let spread virally, not sanction via a Guild mailing? Maybe not. Reader Jerry Monaco, a former union organizer and veteran of many strikes, commented in a fascinating response on the Coverage Ink blog, “The truth is that the WGA alone is neither big enough nor powerful enough to be what Galbraith once called a counter-veiling power. But to slag on the union for doing something successfully, something that we non-writers that support you admire greatly is not seeing the reality of the situation.” Fair enough. “When your bosses complain about how upset they are about the tactics and antics of your union, it is because your union is getting under their skin.”
So here we are at the end of the year with no negotiations scheduled and no end in sight. Yeah, the picture’s a bit bleak, and there’s certainly going to be plenty of second-guessing. Maybe I’m guilty of that. But at the end of the day, what the writers are asking for is fair, and the producers are being A-holes. End of story. Let’s all hope that this puppy ends SOON so the town can get back to work.
UPDATE 12/26: A high-level writer friend tells me a reporter from the “New York Times” just called him asking if there’s any truth to the rumor that 8 or so A-list feature screenwriters are preparing to ankle the Guild and resume work! Holy crap! My friend knew nothing about this and couldn’t comment. But if this is true, it could well break the Guild’s spine. But -- my guess is this is a load, disinformation put out by AMPTP to create unrest. I can’t imagine these writers would jeopardize their health benefits, huge pensions and residuals to do such a thing, but hey, this is “The Times” calling, the supposed paper of record (their shameless, uncritical stumping for the Iraq occupation and ignoring of many other critical issues notwithstanding.)