Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Evaluating the US writers' strike

As the dust settles following the decision by American screenwriters to end their 100 day strike, commentators are assessing the deal (pdf) which Writers Guild of America members seem likely to accept later this month.

The crucial element, most people agree, is not just that the WGA has gained jurisdiction over new media work, but that there will be a residual payment made.

The press are certainly presenting the strike's resolution as a victory for the writers that will have longer term ramifications. Here's David Carr in The New York Times.
By taking a reflexively hard line in the negotiations from the start, the studios more or less invited the strike, calculating that the writers, a disparate group with varying interests, would quickly splinter. They guessed wrong: despite constant suggestions that cracks were appearing, the center held.

One of the longer-term consequences of the strike that studios will now have to deal with is a group that is remarkably united — from the show runners in possession of lucrative deals to mostly unemployed writers fighting to get into the business.
In The L.A. Times (free registration required), Claudia Eller and Richard Verrier find the argument stated in even stronger terms.
"It [the strike's success] was a defining moment," said economist Harley Shaiken, a professor at UC Berkeley who specializes in labor issues. "It showed that a very disparate group of individuals could act with real solidarity -- and that packed real economic power."

… "They successfully faced down six multinational media conglomerates and established a beachhead on the Internet," said Jonathan Handel, former associate counsel for the Writers Guild of America, West and an attorney at TroyGould. "When you consider what they were initially offered and the enormous odds they faced, that's quite an achievement."
Of course, many writers have suffered during the strike and there may be more short-term pain. However, elsewhere in The L.A. Times, Patrick Goldstein aruges that the residuals provision for new media is key for the longer term: "big triumphs begin as little victories".

Goldstein points out that the Directors' Guild has also emerged with some credit.
With so much historic bad blood between the WGA and the DGA, it wasn't easy for writers to acknowledge how much the DGA's deal set the tone for a successful strike outcome, just as it wasn't easy for the directors to admit that much of their leverage came from the studio's desire to settle with them as a way of undercutting the WGA solidarity. As one of my sardonic screenwriter pals joked: "It's the auteur theory of labor negotiations - we do all the work and the DGA gets all the credit."
Finally, here's writer and blogger Ken Levine's view of what now for writers.
For TV writers on say goodbye to your family and friends for the next two to three months. Once you enter the studio you will never leave. You might as well be checking in to the Hotel California. Round the clock writing sessions seven days a week to catch up. For the first few days it’ll be great. You’ll be rarin’ to go. By week two you might be looking back nostalgically to those halcyon days when you just picketed in the rain for four hours.

The good news is the final product will be terrific, probably even better than early season episodes when you had more time. Why? Because you won’t have time anymore to address endless notes. There’s a lesson in that of course but those that need to learn the lesson won’t.

With feature writers the amount of interference depends on whether your script is on the fast track or slow. If it’s fast they’ll want the draft TOMORROW. No time for them to say “What if we changed the drugged out rock star to a nun?” But if they’ve been sitting on your draft there’s no hurry then look out. They’ve had four months to obsess over the script. They’ll want you to change the rock star to the nun even if a rock star is not in your screenplay.

1 comment:


    The strike might have started as David and Goliath but as we all know, writers pack a punch. No negotiation is ever perfect; like turkey at Xmas there's always a little left over for next time. But some very important principles have been conceded by the studios or, as the WGA put it: "'When they get paid, we get paid."

    Writers should always be paid fairly and honourably for their work, and the WGA went through the hell of a 100 day strike to get what only should be natural justice. We're proud that the WGGB had already secured the DVD and download royalties in question a year ago. But more and more, the price of our future writing income is eternal vigilance. The world will be a little warier taking on writers in a fight in future. The strike has united writers globally as never before, and we've definitely proved the blog is mightier than the sword!


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