Thursday, November 15, 2007

On Strike

The big news in the entertainment world is obviously the Writers’ Strike, and it’s something I’ve been following with interest, and though I’m not really going to make this a news blog I do feel some basic comment is in order.

I side completely with the WGA on this issue. Basically, the writers want a percentage of revenue from online distribution of movies and TV shows, and since they get residuals from other forms of distribution this is only logical. The studios have claimed that there’s no money coming in or that the market is untested, but the first is patently false (somebody’s paying for those embedded ads) and the second is all the more reason for the talent to stake a claim on their fair share.

This isn’t kneejerk union loyalty (for one thing, I don’t belong to any union.) I disagree with the WGA on a number of issues, their arbitration system being the main bugaboo. But their demands are reasonable, simple, and straightforward. The residuals system is a good one, that helps keep writers in the business during periods of unemployment (which can be lengthy) and gives them a bit of a safety net, as unemployment benefits are hard to qualify for in this profession. Of course, I’m a writer, so that biases me in their favor, but I tend to be sympathetic to actors, directors, etc. asking for cuts as well, because that’s how the industry has grown to work and it’s a good system. (Compare to the music industry, where artists only get royalties once the album has paid back the advance plus promotional and other costs, and where they can even end up in debt to the label if the album doesn’t sell enough.)

As for its practical prospects- well, obviously my knowledge of the business is deep enough and broad enough that I can easily forecast the outcome. Damned if I know. The last couple of major actions or threats of action by the writers resulted in compromises where they got some of what they wanted but not much, which is what happens with most negotiations, so maybe it’ll be the case here as well. I’m optimistic enough that they’ll be able to stake out some share of online revenue, and this will be enough for them to have leverage to increase it in the future. Going from “nothing” to “something” is the big step, after all. There’ve been some defections from the soap opera circuit, but now news writers are coming in, and it looks like the DGA and SAG have their back since the issue will be coming up for them very soon. There’s some indication that the studios have been handling this badly thusfar, which may put them in a weaker position than normal, and the public seems to favor the strikers more than the studios. It’s a shame that the technicians have fewer jobs as a result of the work stoppage, but even they have a vested interest in this; though individual technicians don’t earn residuals, residual money is paid into their union pensions and health plans, so they’ll be wanting a piece of the action when their contract comes up as well. So far most folks are supporting each other, which is the whole point of collective bargaining, so that’s good.

You can follow the strike from United Hollywood, which is very obviously from the pro-writer side, but really that’s what I’m interested in. I’ll be putting up the banner for the duration, and of course I won’t cross any picket lines. Not that I really have the opportunity (I don’t even have a working copy of FINAL DRAFT at this point), but there you

Best of luck to everyone on the picket lines. Especially you, Tina.

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