Last night, myself and more than 3,000 other WGA members marched — well, technically most of us drove, but marching sounds cooler — to the L.A. Convention Center for an historic general meeting to discuss the current state of our ongoing contract talks with the AMPTP (The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers).
And, since the AMPTP abruptly walked out of federally mediated discussions with the WGA leaders on Wednesday afternoon, I’d say the present state of contract talks was nonexistent at best.
In essence, the AMPTP declared that they will not even discuss the core proposals we have been rallying behind (residuals for internet downloads, improving the DVD formula, etc.) and will not sit down with us again until those items are off the table. Of course, after our meeting tonight, the savvy Sith Lord, Nick Counter (the AMPTP’s chief negotiator) issued a press release declaring his desire to meet with the WGA leaders this weekend to hammer out a deal. Right! If it was that easy, then why haven’t you made one single meaningful concession since July, Lord Counter?!
Essentially, what Counter and the AMPTP are doing is using the media (which is completely owned and controlled by the six major conglomerates we are negotiating with!) against us. Every time they say some pointed comment about greedy writers “shooting ourselves in the foot” with a strike or “ruining the industry” what they are really doing is waging a very public PR war against us. And so far, they’re winning.
Practically everything you read in Variety or The Hollywood Reporter — who both live or die by the pricey full-page ads run by the studios come Oscar time — has a distinctly AMPTP slant to it, and the mainstream media is even worse.
A recent L.A. Times article mentioned how we’re hoping to double our residuals on DVDs. Wow, double the residuals. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, when you make just over four cents on a DVD, doubling the pay is nothing. Of course, they don’t mention that part. Nah, it makes far sexier copy to paint us as residual-rich Malibu-ites hitting the bricks for a bigger cut of the pie while the rest of the industry (caterers, grips, etc.) lose their homes in a selfish strike we caused.
So, rather than have a meaningful discussion of the economic issues behind what we’re fighting for, the media focuses instead on the far juicier subject of the economic impact of a strike. You can almost see the local news sob stories coming down the pike: “Why the caterer’s daughter won’t have a Christmas”. You name it, they’ll throw it at us.
And the truth is, a strike will effect everyone in the industry and if it’s a long one — like in ’88, which lasted 22 weeks — it will be brutal and bloody for everyone involved. But at the end of the day, the issues we’re fighting for are just and meaningful and, not to sound too bombastic, but really sort of define the future of our industry.
As one impassioned speaker last night said: “Digital media isn’t the future, it’s right here, right now!” In a couple of years, hell, EVEN NOW, there will be virtually no distinction between watching a show (or a movie) on the internet and watching one on TV and for the AMPTP to cry poor and deny that fact is practically criminal.
So, as the convention center walls trembled with cheers and applause, WGA President Patric Verrone and the members of the WGA negotiating committee announced that they would be meeting with the WGA Board of Directors in the morning to ask them to authorize a strike as early as sometime today.
It’s important to remember, however, that no firm start date for a strike has been set. I mean, who knows, the AMPTP could surprise everyone and suddenly engage in serious, meaningful contract talks tomorrow, and in that case, things really could be solved over the weekend.
But since the odds of that happening are slimmer than our profit margins on internet downloads, I’d say our shiny WGA pencils will be replaced by shiny WGA picket signs sometime next week…