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.
Log in to alivenotdead.com with one of these trusted providers
NOTE: Users of the original website please Click here to reactivate your account.
New users - Join the alivenotdead.comcommunity instantly by confirming your identity with a trusted authentication service.
Returning users - Please use with the same authentication service to login to your alivenotdead.com account.
First time users can create a new account from scratch by authenticate using any of the following trusted services:
WARNING: If you disconnect all your social media accounts your profile will be locked and you will not be able to access it again. If you want to keep your page, please add another social media account and then remove this one.
If you understand the risks, click this box to deauthorize your account.