As Allegro went to press, the following letter had just been posted on the Web site of the Writers Guild of America, East (www.WGAeast.org), dated Jan. 23, 2008.
To Our Fellow Members,
We have responded favorably to the invitation from the AMPTP to enter into informal talks that will help establish a reasonable basis for returning to negotiations. During this period we have agreed to a complete news blackout. We are grateful for this opportunity to engage in meaningful discussion with industry leaders that we hope will lead to a contract. We ask that all members exercise restraint in their public statements during this critical period.
In order to make absolutely clear our commitment to bringing a speedy conclusion to negotiations we have decided to withdraw our proposals on reality and animation. Our organizing efforts to achieve Guild representation in these genres for writers will continue. You will hear more about this in the next two weeks.
On another issue, the Writers Guild, West Board of Directors has voted not to picket the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles. Members of the American Federation of Musicians face many of the same issues concerning compensation in new media that we do. In the interest of advancing our goal of achieving a fair contract, the WGAW Board felt that this gesture should be made on behalf our brothers and sisters in AFM and AFTRA.
Michael Winship, President
As the writers’ strike enters its third month, a few musicians are back to work while others find themselves still in the dark.
In late December, David Letterman’s production company signed a deal with the Writers’ Guild of America, allowing his show to go back on the air. Separately, Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien have re-opened their shows, but without writers. Musicians are back on all three late-night shows, but not on Saturday Night Live, where new shows are not being produced.
The writers have also signed separate deals with United Artists, the Weinstein Company, Media Rights Capital and Spyglass Entertainment, allowing those companies to begin work on new films.
“While I’m happy to be back at work, we must remember the strike continues,” Letterman saxophonist Bruce Kaplan told Allegro.
Kaplan added, “I am fortunate to work on a show whose production company signed an agreement with the WGA that met all their demands. But still today, there are hundreds of WGA members walking a picket line and thousands of workers in related industries out of work. The WGA still needs the AFM’s full support as well as the continued support from SAG, the DGA, AFTRA, and the Teamsters. Anyone who has ever collected a residual check has a stake in the issues contested in the strike.”
Because of solidarity between the writers and the Screen Actors Guild, this year’s Golden Globe awards did not air.
The AFM has issued a statement supporting the writers on its Web site and is encouraging musicians to join the writers on their picket lines.
The main issues of the strike include DVD residuals; union jurisdiction over animation and reality program writers; and, perhaps most importantly, compensation for new media – content written for or distributed through digital technology such as the Internet. Writers are demanding their fair share; studios are holding back.
Local 802 members can support writers by joining them on their picket lines. The writers’ hotline is updated daily at (212) 767-7850 with times and locations of picketing. The latest news is posted at www.WGAeast.org.
As Allegro goes to press, the Directors Guild of America had just signed a deal with the producers, which may influence the writers’ negotiations.
AXIUM IS OUT
One unexpected casualty of the strike has been the payroll company Axium, the third-largest entertainment payroll company, which abruptly declared bankruptcy in early January. Some have speculated that Axium had made some bad investments; that plus the strike may have tipped the company over the edge.
Axium processes some of the paychecks for Local 802 and AFM recording musicians. Some members may see their paychecks bounce. See box for more information.
Axium’s bankruptcy “shows that while money circulates in the land of film, if the circulation stops, there can be problems,” said Local 802’s recording supervisor Jay Schaffner. “Payroll companies are using today’s money to pay yesterday’s obligations. As long as the flow continues, it is endless, but when the flow stops, there are problems.”