Late Friday night, the Writers Guild of America voted overwhelmingly to approve a strike authorization vote. In a stunning blow to the AMPTP (the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers — basically the major studios and networks) a whopping 90.3% of the 5, 507 WGA votes cast (in a record turnout, by the way!) were in favor of authorizing a strike. By any standard, that is a pretty major majority!
Now, despite the doom and gloom headlines that have been bouncing around the internet and newspapers all week long, this does NOT mean that the WGA will go on strike. It simply means that we (the members of the WGA) have authorized our leaders to strike when and if they deem it necessary anytime after our contract with the AMPTP expires on October 31st.
But more importantly, what this vote does is it tells the AMPTP that we are totally unified in our support not only for our leaders (led by our recently-re-elected president, Patric Verrone — a writer for “The Simpsons” and “Futurama” and a total bad-ass negotiator!) but for the very reasonable demands we are making from the multi-national conglomerates that basically run the industry nowadays. It’s simple really, pay us a decent wage for the reuse of our work in every format and platform available (webisodes, cell phone ringtones, whatever) or we’ll walk.
The way it usually works is that every three years the WGA and the AMPTP hammer out an agreement called the MBA: Minimum Basic Agreement. The MBA sets up minimum pay schedules for every kind of writing you can imagine (news, radio, TV, film) and generally the minimums go up a little bit each time we negotiate. But this time the negotiations are totally different, and a big reason for that is the internet.
The total explosion of internet broadcasting and the subsequent re-playing (for free!) of WGA written material online since the last MBA was ratified has been almost startling, so the WGA in partnership with our brothers and sisters at the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the Directors Guild (DGA) have decided that now is the time to address the issue of actually getting paid when our shows run (or re-run) on the internet.
We’re not asking for zillions of dollars here, just a simple pay schedule that we can all agree to — similar, but hopefully better, than the one’s already in place for DVD and cable — that will pay us residuals (and contribute to our health and benefits plan) any time our work is rebroadcast on the internet. The AMPTP, however, refuses to even discuss the issue and is urging all three guilds to allow them to study the issue of internet profitability for the next three years and revisit the issue at the next MBA discussions in 2010.
Yes, you heard me right, the networks and studios want to study the issue of internet profitability. The studios claim that they don’t make any money off the internet yet. Well, excuse my French, but what a load of crap!
Anyone who’s ever viewed an episode of “Alias” or “Lost” (or whatever show you dig) online knows that you cannot fast forward through the ads embedded in the online version of the show. Yes, ads. And unless the network is running those ads for Sprint (or whoever) for free, then, by golly, they’re making some money off the internet. To paraphrase Edward G. Robinson: “Where’s your Moses now, AMPTP?” I mean, come on, for them to cry poor to us about the internet (while touting it as their highest growth sector to their investors!) is just plain shitty.
The main reason the WGA is so pissed off is that back in the mid-80’s when home video was just starting out, the AMPTP asked us to give them a break on residuals. They claimed they didn’t know where this new format was going (and in reality, who did back then?) and that if we took a greatly reduced rate of pay for home video residuals, they would revisit the issue once this whole VCR thing took off. So, we agreed to take four cents a tape. Four cents! And then, guess what happened, VCRs and movies on tape (and later, DVD) exploded and the AMPTP said that since we already had a deal in place, they would not revisit the issue again. Hello, lie much?
So, basically, the WGA got screwed big time back in the day and swore that if something like that ever came up again, they’d fight harder for a fair deal — something we wouldn’t end up regretting 20 years down the road — and now, that time is here…
The internet is changing every second so even if you did a three year study now, by the time it was completed, it would be totally outdated. I mean, come on, play fair here guys. I think the most galling thing I heard at a recent WGA pre-vote meeting is that the guys who make the plastic for DVD boxes get nine cents a disc. More than twice what we get, and without us they wouldn’t need to make the damn box to begin with! Crazy!
Anyway, there are a number of other issues (increasing the payment for cable and “netlets” like the CW, WGA health and benefits coverage for animation and reality show writers, etc.) on the table as well, but for me, the most pressing of them all is the internet. And if the AMPTP can’t suck it up and offer us a better deal, then I have a very strong feeling I’m gonna be hitting the streets with mis hermanos come November 1st. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a strike, no one does, but if it comes to that, I really think — and judging by the outcome of the strike authorization vote, I am not alone — that this is the right time and the right reason to take a stand.
I know I probably sound like Norma Rae standing on a chair with a “Union” sign, but I just wanted to fill you in on what’s happening down here before the streets of Burbank start running red with the blood of the AMPTP infidels!
Of course, that would be movie blood…not real blood. Unless I get like, a paper cut from one of the picket signs or something. Anyway, que viva la WGA!