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Dax Phelan
Director , Producer , Screenwriter
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The WGA Strike: "Share The Wealth With Writers"

Over the past few weeks or so, many people have been asking me about the WGA strike, which began this past Monday, November 5th, at 12:01 (EST) while I was at 30,000 feet somewhere over the Pacific.  So, rather than respond to everyone individually, which would take a long time, I thought I'd borrow the words of Howard Rodman (one of Kit Hui's professors at USC, interestingly enough), who perhaps articulated some of the issues at stake better than I can.  I hope you'll find the following article as insightful as I did.  -Dax 

"Share The Wealth With Writers"

Writer's Guild members shouldn't allow billionaire media companies to write off their work.

By Howard A. Rodman

October 17, 2007

As I write this, the members of the Writers Guild of America are voting on whether to authorize a strike. Should that authorization be approved -- and I strongly suspect it will be -- the guild's board would be empowered to call a strike of its members: the people who write the films you see, the television you watch, on screens large, medium and small. That strike could be called at any time after the expiration of the current contract at midnight on Halloween.

I don't want a strike. I really don't want a strike. I am a working screenwriter. After years of pushing large things uphill, two screenplays of mine are now filmed and are scheduled to come out in 2008. It's the kind of lovely momentum I've been hoping for, and working toward, for years; a work stoppage would derail this fine train. Yet I am voting for this strike authorization, and I urge my fellow writers to do likewise.

Why am I not hoping for peace at any price? That might seem at best counterintuitive, at worst to make no sense at all. How to explain?

The answer is that the price is too high. Here's what's at stake in our negotiations for a new three-year contract.

First, the companies are still refusing to raise the rate they pay in DVD residuals. The theatrical release of a motion picture has become, in many ways, mere marketing for the DVD, and DVDs have in effect supplanted the traditional syndication of TV programming. Yet the companies won't budge from a formula forged in the 1980s, before these shiny discs -- now ubiquitous -- were a glimmer in anyone's eye. That decades-old formula is such a thin slice of a thin slice that on each disc, the companies pay more to the manufacturer of the box and packaging (about 50 cents) than they pay in residuals to the writer, director and actors combined (about 20 cents).

Instead of properly raising that compensation, the companies had proposed a plan in which they would pay residuals only on projects that they said had already made back their costs and been deemed "profitable." That unpopular proposal was taken off the table Tuesday, but other substantial rollbacks remain in play.

Published reports show that the operating income of the entertainment segments of the nation's media conglomerates has grown at a compound annual rate of 12% between 2000 and 2006, from $8 billion to $18 billion. I guess they just don't have enough to pay the people who made those revenues possible.

Then there's the issue of "reality" shows on cable, in animation, in new media and elsewhere. It seems that the companies are content to make large profits on these shows but don't want to compensate the writers at standard guild rates. Sometimes they even deny that there's any writing going on at all. (Hint: in a "reality" show, look in the credits under "story producer.") And when they do admit that their shows are actually written, they don't want to pay the pension, healthcare and wages that are the industry standard.

What's more, the companies refuse to let writers share appropriately in the revenue stream from material distributed over the Internet. They claim that this torrent is at present only a trickle, that there is no "business model," that this all needs to be "studied." And while they search for that elusive business model, they are offering to pay us at those antiquated fraction-of-a-fraction rates. Never mind that, even now, this unstudied trickle is making them millions: Each studio or network has cited $500 million or more a year in online revenue.

In the last two negotiations, the companies gave us little or nothing, although they graciously allowed our leadership to proclaim victory. Our membership -- and the membership of our sister union, the Screen Actors Guild -- believes that in 2007 this no longer cuts it.

The thought of a strike terrifies me. But to let the companies prevail would be to bury the notion that the creators of films, television shows and other media deserve to be fairly compensated. We need to stand strong.

The companies pull in $2 billion more each year than the year previous. The median income of screen and television writers from their guild-covered employment is $5,000 a year, in part because almost half our members don't work in any given year. Unless we fight, the companies will continue to romp away in the money bin while we're left to hang upside down like lacquered ducks.

Howard A. Rodman, whose films include "Savage Grace" and "Joe Gould's Secret," serves on the board of directors of the Writers Guild of America, West. He is a professor of screen and television writing at the School of Cinematic Arts at USC.

about 12 years ago 0 likes  10 comments  0 shares
45862083 0af2fd4d5d
wow, its great to hear someone finally come out and say what the real costs of a DVD are... 50 cents is probably a generous estimate too! and the other $19.30 goes somewhere else...
about 12 years ago
Photo 36337
Strikes are often a necessary evil so that people can get their voice heard and hopefully get the fat cats to get their finger out of the pie and listen. Where would the TV and Film companies be without writers, even the news and factual documents has to rely on them somewhere along the line, I agree with the strike and wish the best to the writers in getting their just desserts.
about 12 years ago
Photo 16256
CDs used to cost between $0.07 - $0.10/each and DVDs were about $0.20 - $0.25 when I was involved in materials mgmt a few years back. Add the pkg, inserts and royalties. There seems to be plenty of change to compensate the writers.
about 12 years ago
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I'm guessing your flying to HK? I'm really proud of the writers standing up, I really hope that progress is made on the side of the writers!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Btw- I'm thinking about switching my major to political science....what do you think? They're phasing out creative writing at my university.
about 12 years ago
Photo 33405
That's appalling how grossly underpaid the writer, actors, directors (the actual talent) are for dvds! Without them, there wouldn't even be a movie to put on a dvd to sell! A strike is sometimes necessary, so good for them for standing up!
about 12 years ago
Photo 32989
totally supporting! writers work really hard, and they should get way more $ for it. I wonder how long it'll last though, the one before this lasted 2 years nearly?
about 12 years ago
Photo 33427
Digital distribution. Skip the DVD, go straight to DivX (or whatever), cut out the retailer & manufacturer... bingo ... profit margin for the labels / studios increases (and RRP should also go down) and there's more money available for everyone. Including the customer, who, at the end of the day keeps the whole thing going. Writers should be striking (or at least mobilizing) to make sure they are not going ot get fucked when the new model kicks in.
about 12 years ago
Default avatar
issue76 posted on Saturday, Nov 10, 2007 9:16AM [Delete] You can understand why the writers went out on strike they have been insulted by the offer proposed to them. They are very much like the industries Cinderella's do all the hard work but not receiving a fair reward/pay. Now i hear The Terminator 'Gov Arnie' is using his diplomatic skills to solve the problem behind the scenes. Sweet Baby Jesus. At least he will be some use for a catchphrase which can be used by the writers each night when they are leaving ...........'I'll be back' . If the prob is't resolved soon i suppose it will be repeat heaven on tv- here in the uk every other tv prog is a repeat- maybe that's to save money as well.
about 12 years ago
Photo 35751
thanks for posting this Dax kia kaha ki te WGA fully supportive of the strike but them I am a long toothed socialist from way back who just wants a fair deal for everyone.
about 12 years ago
Photo 32914
a thought bubble popped up in my head about you and the strike and i meant to ask you about it. i guess 5,000 people beat me to the punch. are you permitted to write for foreign stuff, like say an HK script? just curious...
about 12 years ago

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\"Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.\" -Henry David Thoreau \"The harder I work, the luckie

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