The Writers Strike is Resorting to Childish Behavior


Once again statements have been issued by both sides of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) noting the breakdown in negotiations. Honestly, there is no reason for them to even be talking until June of 2008 when the contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild also expire and are in need of re-negotiation.

Based on reports this is beginning to sound like a hunt for revenge on the part of the WGA as they feel they have been duped in the past into establishing a poor contract in terms of residuals for home entertainment (mainly DVD) sales. This time around it appeared contract negotiations hinged on new media such as digital media, including Internet streaming and sales. Basically the WGA didn’t want to get a shitty deal like they did last time. A chant of “Four More Cents” was the issue, but now there seems to be a whole slew of items on the table outside of what they were initially asking for.

I am not a big business supporter in any way. I think no matter what the writers get they are going to ultimately get less than they deserve, there is always a way to make more money for a movie studio, but writers only get that one shot for each property they were involved in. However, it seems the folks negotiating on behalf of the WGA have lost perspective. They no longer seem to care about getting their contract signed; it now seems as if they want to take revenge on the producers that hurt them in the first place by asking the AMPTP to stab themselves in the heart.

Taking the two statements that were issued it is obvious the AMPTP is far more interested in getting this settled than the WGA. The AMPTP’s statement comments on specific issues while the WGA bats around a couple of ideas with no specific commentary. The WGA is obviously taking note of the current environment in Hollywood and thinking they can scare producers enough to get them to bow down to whatever deal they may offer. The one thing the WGA hasn’t taken into consideration is that people don’t care what’s on TV as long as the TV is on. People don’t care how good a movie is as long as it has a number following the title denoting it as a sequel, or if it has 3-D and is featured on a screen the size of the Empire State Building. Consumers don’t demand high quality programming or movies; they demand something to simply be on.

This is where a new piece of the contract negotiations puzzle has entered into my knowledge. As we head into a television season filled with reality programming the WGA is now asking for full control over reality television and animation. Basically they are asking that membership in their union be mandatory to work in the industry. Yeah, that is basically like handing a prisoner in jail a plate of food and saying to them, “Give back the food and we will let you out of jail. However, if you ever get back in jail there will be no food and you will die.” Just imagine another one of these strikes and broadcasters had absolutely nothing to air and television studios had nothing to work on. It may sound trivial, and it may sound like our world needs to depend less on television and movies for entertainment, but you have to remember television and film studios are owned by major publicly traded companies, the collapse of the industry would be a big blow on our economy.

To go along with the new reality restrictions they are also asking the AMPTP agree networks also not be allowed to air any reality programs unless they are produced under terms in keeping with the WGA agreement. In keeping with my jail analogy above this would mean that not only are they not going to give you any food if you get back in jail they aren’t even going to give you a plate.

And even on top of that, they want the right to strike in sympathy of other striking guilds. This is something called a sympathy strike, so let’s say SAG goes on strike, the WGA could then just say, “Hey, we feel yah… we are going to go on strike too!” To once again use the prison analogy, we are back in prison with no food and not even a plate, but now the folks that make our prison uniforms decide we aren’t getting those either because we were such bad boys so we aren’t even getting clothes. This leaves us cold, naked and hungry on a concrete floor with no help in sight. Yeah, this sounds like something most people would agree to.

Next, the WGA is asking for an A-Rod type of deal in which they get a portion of advertising revenues, something the producers don’t even get and an overall completely ridiculous request. They have asked that a third-party determine value of a transaction rather than the marketplace, which is equally absurd.

Of course this information all comes from the AMPTP’s statement, but that is only because the WGA’s statement sounds like they are the nice guys getting beat up by the big bad bully. I am not sure if placating to the public is going to help them in any way.

Their comments focus primarily on how they feel the deal being offered for new media and home entertainment is still unfair and then glosses over the rest of the issues such as reality and animation. The interesting thing is that they note the release of the statement by the AMPTP and could have very easily addressed each issue raised in the AMPTP’s statement yet they remain coy and sheepish in the eyes of the public. This leads me to believe they are fighting with multiple tactics.

The WGA’s ridiculous claims for rights over reality, animation, advertising, etc. are most certainly tactics to get what they want in other areas of negotiations, a “Take this off the table and we will give you this,” kind of deal. However, playing the underdog in the media as if you are being slapped around while playing games behind closed doors seems a bit scandalous to me, not to mention transparent.

If the WGA thought they were going to get any kind of great deal on new media and home entertainment just before the AMPTP had to go into negotiations with SAG and the DGA they were crazy. I understand they felt the need to strike at a time it would hurt producers the most, but they need to look at this thing from both sides rather than approach it with radical requests. The AMPTP can’t agree to anything too big for fear that the SAG and the DGA will expect just as much if not more.

It baffles me that a happy percentage of revenue can’t be reached if new media and DVD sales are really the sticking points, but it seems to me the WGA is just as much out to punish as they are to get what they feel they truly deserve. The WGA feels scorned and under appreciated and like a red-headed step child want their revenge.

I support the writers getting paid for their work, but I always will disagree with childish tactics to get what you feel you deserve. The one thing the AMPTP said in their statement that really made sense to me was the sentence saying, “While the WGA’s organizers can clearly stage rallies, concerts and mock exorcisms, we have serious concerns about whether they’re capable of reaching reasonable compromises that are in the best interests of our entire industry.”

The WGA has been quoted as saying the strike isn’t actually all that bad as the rallies have allowed for them to meet people and so forth, but the mock exorcism mentioned above speaks loudly to the childish behavior some folks have resorted to in an effort to get their point across. Said “exorcism” included one remake scripter Scott Kosar and Jace Anderson who wrote such “classics” as Crocodile, Rats and Crocodile 2. I wonder if Paul Haggis, Stuart Beattie, Charlie Kaufman, Guillermo Arriaga and William Monahan looked at that and laughed or looked at that and shrugged. Either way it only brought more public awareness to the proceedings and nothing good came of it.