The Writers Guild Negotiations: Where Things Stand
Volume CI, No. 5May, 2001
You’ve undoubtedly heard a lot about the status of negotiations between the Writers Guild and the studios and networks. I appreciate this opportunity to let members of Local 802 know where things stand – what the companies are demanding in rollbacks, what the Writers Guild’s economic proposals are, and what we’ve been doing with the creative rights issues.
First of all, I want to say at the outset that there is something distinctly out of kilter about these negotiations. The producers are asking for significant economic givebacks in areas where they have had enormous financial success. They are negotiating as if they were part of a rust belt industry that is trying to negotiate itself out of the red, while forgetting all the optimism they express to Wall Street when they show their latest profit and loss statements. It’s hard to figure out how they got so poor so fast.
The producers’ current economic offer includes the following remarkable rollbacks:
- Allowing a 75 percent discount on “double bursts” – the running of a show twice during its initial two-week period; this would be a loss to writers totaling $32 million;
- Freezing network prime time television residuals; the loss to writers would be $2.4 million; and
- Exploitation on the internet of all product produced before May 1, 2001, without any payment to writers; the loss to writers is open-ended.
The Guild’s economic proposals are both reasonable and moderate. We are seeking:
- Increases in residuals (basic cable reuse, foreign TV, made-for-basic cable and made-for-pay TV) and minimums that would average an annual increase of 2.7 percent in payments made to writers over the three years of the new contract;
- Recognition of the Fox Network as a network and an end to paying for residuals at a discount of the network rates;
- Recognition that the producers should pay for all reuse on the internet when there is a fee collected from the consumer; and
- A $.01 increase in payment for each videocassette and DVD sold.
The negotiations regarding creative rights are very important to our members, and of all our proposals, they are the most misunderstood. In essence, what we want is for:
- Writers’ information to appear in the press kits;
- Writers to be allowed on the set;
- Writers to have the opportunity to look at the dailies;
- Writers to be afforded at least one meeting with their directors; and
- Writers to attend the first cast reading of their scripts.
These are not mandates. They are not meant to infringe on anyone’s authority. If a director doesn’t want the writer’s presence on the set, he can simply say what his wishes are, and the writer won’t be on the set. The writer is no different from anyone else, in that the director still has the undiminished authority to decide who is or is not on the set – or sees the dailies – or is at the cast reading. There is no rule here. The director can simply say no.
Indeed, all we are trying to do is create an easily rebuttable presumption that the writer is a participant in the process. Right now, the presumption is that once the script is in production, the writer – who has spent months, if not years, working on the script – is not a part of the filmmaking process. It’s brutal, and it’s unfair; and it’s no way to make a film.
Finally, there is the issue of the possessory credit – the “film by” credit. This is something the Writers Guild is discussing with both the Directors Guild and the studios. I believe there is consensus that the possessory credit has become so overused that it has lost a great deal of its value. Working from this consensus, we remain hopeful that an agreement can be worked out with all the parties involved.
We recognize your legitimate concerns, and we share them. Negotiations are difficult and bring with them an inevitable potential for danger. With this in mind we have tried to be particularly fair and accommodating. But we are intent on negotiating a reasonable deal – to negotiate less is to hurt ourselves and you as well. We won’t be in the hot seat forever. At some point it’s going to be your turn.
As the industry consolidates and the multinational and vertically-integrated mega-corporations take over, we as unions, which represent the best in the entertainment industry, must stand together. Our collective strength is our only leverage; it’s the only way we can continue to command the respect that is due actors, techs, directors, musicians, writers and all the unionized players who create film and television programming. On behalf of all the writers, I thank you for your interest and, more importantly, for your support.
Detailed information about the negotiations is available at our web site: www.wgaeast.org.