Do the Writers Want More Residuals? Reality and Animation? or Mock Websites?

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Let me begin by saying I believe the WGA should getter a better deal and I believe this writers strike is entirely necessary. I have always thought writers have gone underappreciated as I have mentioned several times in the past, but for anyone that may read this and does not know that… now you do.

Moving beyond the pleasantries however, it seems there are some writers that just aren’t taking this strike seriously. Variety has an article that begins by saying, “The tone of the WGA strike — now in its sixth week — keeps getting nastier, with both sides abandoning any pretense of diplomacy.”

Well there is nothing nastier than a spoof site as it has been pointed out by Nikki Finke at Deadline Hollywood that a mock AMPTP site has been set up at AMPTP.com whearas the actual website for the AMPTP is AMPTP.org.

The new mock site is similar in design to the actual AMPTP site and includes various insults such as referring to the President of the AMPTP Nick Counter as the youngest member of the Backstreet Boys.

Putting it in plain English, this site is an embarassment for the WGA. How can anyone take a group seriously if they are resorting to mock exorcisms and mock websites? I am even close to saying that the over 500,000 boxes of pencils that are about to be delivered to NBC’s Jeff Zucker, then to Disney’s Robert Iger and GE’s Jeffrey Immelt is childish, but I will give it a pass. However, I can’t help but wonder what it is like to go into a negotiation meeting with a group supporting people dressed up in costumes out on the street carrying signs reading “We Eat Scabs,” no matter how clever the pun, must feel like.

So, the writers want to get paid for their work. We all understand this. The writers want 8 cents for every DVD and they want a flat 2.5% of all gross revenues for movies and TV shows broadcast on the Internet, over mobile networks, or any future unspecified digital delivery medium.

The AMPTP instead are offering a $250 fixed residual for unlimited one year streaming after a six-week window of free use. This is obviously silly as it should never be a flat rate, a percentage must be put in place. Of course the AMPTP is just worried that online will take off as much as DVD has and the writers will become rich off the words they have written. Considering this is America and people should get paid for the work they do, the AMPTP really shouldn’t think for a second that writers are going to settle for a measly $250 flat rate.

As this entire process began six weeks ago it was the DVD and online residuals that were at the forefront. A YouTube video put together by members of the WGA even proves that this is what the issue is was…

…and now things such as expanding the jurisdiction of the WGA over reality television and animation writers has come to the forefront along with several other issues on the WGA’s list of demands. It appears talks have stopped due to the WGA’s list of demands outside of home video and online residuals, but in fact I think there is something more to the problem.

In an interview with WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman at Entertainment Weekly he is asked if he thinks the AMPTP’s negotiations with the DGA would undermine the WGA negotiations were they to happen. He replies saying:

No. It would create a horribly tense situation with the DGA and us and SAG. I know that they don’t want to do that, and I don’t know why they would — they don’t have to. They care about the Internet as much as we do. They want jurisdiction on the Internet. Their TV directors want to make sure their streaming proposal is strong, and their film directors want to make sure their electronic sell through is strong. So all three guilds are fairly united here.

You see where he says, “They care about the Internet as much as we do”? This is what I think the AMPTP is looking at with fear and they don’t know how to react.

The WGA wants 8 cents per DVD and 2.5% of all media streamed and sold online, ad sponsored or purchased directly. Well, now the AMPTP is looking at that and they know immediately that the DGA and SAG are going to want, at a minimum, the exact same thing… Right? And how do you negotiate that? The answer here is “You don’t”, at least not successfully.

The current DVD formula allows studios to exclude 80% of wholesale revenues. Studios have insisted that soaring costs of filmmaking have made it impossible to increase DVD payouts because they need the revenues from the disc to remain financial viable.

That information comes from a Variety article back in January of 2005 when SAG reached a deal without any change in DVD residuals. The article goes on to say that SAG president Melissa Gilbert asserted that the unions had made a strong effort to change the DVD formula and insisted – as DGA president Michael Apted had last fall – that it would take a strike to make the studios and networks budge on the issue.

What a fortune teller that Apted is eh?

At present time writers and directors usually get about 4-5 cents residual each from each $15 DVD, while actors split up about 15 cents per disc. So if all three guilds adopted the WGA’s “double it” motto it would mean writers and director would each be getting anywhere from 8-10 cents per $15 DVD and actors would be splitting about 30 cents. On top of that a deal must be solved for online and digital media and if you were to assume they went with the WGA’s proposed 2.5% that would then mean directors would be looking at 2.5% and actors probably splitting something like 7.5% of the gross take.

I don’t have any clue how the numbers crunch, since Hollywood books aren’t ever revealed; sales numbers are nowhere to be found; and I have never seen what production costs are or how much it costs to keep a server farm running in order to bring HD streaming content to the Internet. So I can’t tell you if 40 cents of every DVD going to writers, directors and actors is fair. I can’t tell you if 12.5% of online media going to writers, directors and actors is fair. I can tell you that the AMPTP is keeping a close eye on it and I don’t think mock-websites are going to help the negotiations.

The one thing I got from the AMPTP’s statement on Friday was a feeling of frustration. It made me feel like they had just come out of a negotiation in which the other side was just sitting there shaking their heads going, “Nuh-uh, Nuh-uh.” On the other hand, the WGA’s statement came across as legitimately sad and disheartened. I feel like comparing the WGA to a little kid that was beating up on the bully for once in their life but they suddenly got sucker punched and were left crying for their mommies, and now that things seem to be at an impass they are resorting to nasty comments and mock websites to vent their frustration.

Given the current climate I have a hard time believing boxes of pencils are going to help anything, but it will certainly make for interesting news. Stay tuned for that as the deliveries begin tomorrow at around 11:30 AM. If you live in or around Burbank you can check it out as Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), Joss Whedon (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly), Alfred Gough (Smallville), Miles Millar (Smallville) and others will be around.