Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Writer's Strike

So, the writers' strike is upon us. Strikes aren't good for anyone, but I'm afraid this one is absolutely necessary. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) and the Writers' Guild of America (WGA) have been gearing up for this one for a while. The last writers' strike lasted 22 weeks and cost the industry an estimated $500M. The resulting contract was a disaster for writers.

The primary issue here this time around is residuals. In the 1988 agreement, the writers were famously snookered on DVD residuals. The WGA wants to double the $.07 per typical DVD residual to a still paltry $.14. That's 14 cents.

The BIGGER issue is around new media residuals. It's starting to look like a reasonable bet that this whole innernet thing is going to take off. But the AMPTP refuses to offer writers a dime of residuals on any new media. That means if you download the movie, the producers get all the profits. That means when DVD goes the way of VHS, writers won't get anything at all.

The industry loves to trot out the stereotype of the spoiled L.A. screenwriter with several seven-figure deals under their belt. These people do exist, of course. But the reality is far more down to earth. For every one of those, there are dozens of writers who make well under $50K. Residuals are a life blood for these people.

Writing is a highly cyclical business. It's a highly fickle business. At present, the WGA estimates that 48% of its membership is unemployed. That's the nature of the business. You get a gig, you make the most of it. And then your job becomes finding the next gig.

Residuals are what allows many writers to write and raise a family. Residuals are a retirement plan. Residuals are a writer's 401(k). The AMPTP, with combined revenue in the billions, is unwilling to pay the same residuals to writers it pays to directors, actors, and editors.

I'm reposting a posting by Micah Wright, a writer-director for many Spongebob Squarepants episodes (and much more). The posting was on a WGA board, but Wright has given permission to disseminate it as widely as possible. As you read, realize that Spongebob Squarepants is worth $12B. The writer was paid $1400 a week. With no further ado:

Some of us writers have been screwed for a while now, and not in the
pleasant sense. Below is an email post from Micah Wright, posted on
the WriterAction (WGA-only board). I requested and have his written
permission to spread it like the plague.

(FYI, to set the scene, the tone of Micah's intro is in response to
another WA poster unhappy with our current WGA leadership).

Well, this is ONE angry Hoard that's confused about your stance. The
AMPTP clearly never intends to pay us one single cent for internet
delivery. The music business model clearly indicates that internet
delivery for most, if not all content is the future. What then were
we supposed to do when faced with rollbacks and refusals to bargain
in good faith? Pray? Or just swallow the bullshit they were trying
to shove down our throats, and forget about not only what we're
making, but also what every person who ever follows us into this
union will ever make?

People like you keep bitching about the DVD negotiating point, and
yeah, you're right: DVD was lost 20 years ago, but there's no magic
rule which says we can't reopen that topic. More importantly,
though, DVD didn't take off for almost a decade after the '88
strike… the Internet is here NOW, and it's here FOREVER, and if we
give in and allow them to pay us ZERO on Internet delivery, we can
just kiss the idea of ever getting paid residuals goodbye forever.

It's not self-righteousness which is driving this negotiation… it's
quite simply the greed of the AMPTP, which clearly sees this as the
year in which they intend to break the WGA on the rack once and for
all. But you don't see that… you seem unable to get it through your
head that the AMPTP doesn't want to ever pay us anything. If you
think these people are so reasonable and that they deal in good
faith, then try talking to writers who work in Animation and
Reality… THAT is the future that the AMPTP has in store for EVERY
WRITER IN THE WGA. Because if they don't have to pay residuals to
the woman who wrote The Lion King, then why should they ever have to
pay one to YOU? Or anyone else?

Oh, and before you give me some sob story about the disastrous
strike of 1988, let me bring you up to date with a more RECENT
story: mine.

I came to this guild having had a "successful" career writing
Animation for $1400/week for five years. During that time, I wrote
on several of Nickelodeon's highest-rated shows. My writing partner
wrote and directed 1/4 of the episodes of "SpongeBob SquarePants"
and I was responsible for 1/5 of the episodes of "The Angry
Beavers." The current value that those shows have generated for
Viacom? $12 Billion dollars. My writing partner topped out at $2100/
week. In the year 2001, tired of not receiving residuals for my
endlessly- repeating work (even though the actors and composers for
my episodes do), I joined with 28 other writers and we signed our
WGA cards.

So, Nickelodeon quickly filed suit against our petition for an
election, and set about trying to ferret out who the "ringleaders"
were. In the meantime, they canceled the show that I had created 4
episodes into an order of 26. Then they fired the 3 writers who'd
been working on my show. Then they fired 20 more of my fellow
writers and shut down three more shows, kicking almost their entire
primetime lineup for 2002 to the curb, and laying off 250 artists.

Then, once the WGA's petition for election was tied up in court over
our illegal firings, Nickelodeon called in the IATSE Local 839
"Cartoonists Guild" — a racket union which exists only the screw the
WGA and its own members — and they signed a deal which forever locks
the WGA out of Nickelodeon, even though we were there first. Neato!

Then Nickelodeon's brass decided —out of thin air— that myself and
two other writers had been "the ringleaders" of this organizing
effort, so they called around to Warner Bros. Animation, the Cartoon
Network, Disney Animation, and Fox Kids, effectively blacklisting
the three of us out of animation permanently.

And why did Nickelodeon do this? Why were they so eager to decimate
their own 2002 schedule, fire 24 writers, break multiple federal
labor laws, sign a union deal, and to even bring back the blacklist?
They did all of that to prevent us from getting the same whopping $5
residual that the actors & composers of our shows get.

For five lousy bucks, they destroyed three people's careers and put
250 artists out of work and fucked up their own channel for a year.

Ahh, but my episodes run about 400 times a year worldwide, though,
so obviously Sumner Redstone (Salary in 2001: $65 million dollars)
and Tom Freston (2001 salary: $55 million) were right to do what
they did… myself and those other 23 writers might have broken the
bank, what with each of us going to cost them another TWO THOUSAND


So don't come crying to those of us who have EXPERIENCED what the
AMPTP plans for all of the rest of you, that people who are deciding
to stand up to bully-boy tactics like that are the crazy bunch of
‘hoards’ lustily marching through the streets searching for blood.
The AMPTP are the barbarians sacking Rome in this scenario.

The AMPTP and their glittering-eyed weasel lawyers are a bunch of
lying, blacklisting, law-breaking scumbags, and the fact that they
haven't budged off of ANY of their proposals in the last three
months proves that what they have in store for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF
YOU is exactly what they did to us at Nickelodeon, and what they can
do any day of the week in daytime animation. Or reality.

Strike or no strike. That's their plan: to winnow down your
membership, to snip away at your MBA, to chew away at your health &
pension plans until there's just nothing left of the WGA. Why?
Because they've had a good strong drink of how much money they make
off of animation when they don't have to cut the creators in for any
of the cash, and now they want to extend that free ride to all of
live action as well. THAT is why they have pushed for this strike at
every step, with their insulting press releases, with their refusals
to negotiate, etc. — because they're HOPING we go on strike, and
that enough cowards and Quislings come crawling out of the woodwork
after six weeks that they can force us to accept the same deal that
Reality TV show writers have.

If you doubt me, go read their contract proposals again… there's not
ONE of them which isn't an insult and a deal-breaking non-starter.

So can we PLEASE stop hearing about how it's the current WGA
management which is the problem here? Because, frankly, that canard
is getting a little stale.

Or perhaps you prefer presidents like the President of the Guild
back in 2001 who just threw up her hands when we were fired and
blacklisted out of our careers and said, and I quote, "oh well, it
was a good try"?

To our writer friends, this is why we need to stay strong and
fight. To our non-writer friends, please support us.

Please forward to everybody you know. Everybody.


Red said...

Wow I never knew it was that serious for writers, and I 400% agree with you that what they're doing to writers is horrible. Hell horrible is an understatement. I can only wish you guys luck on the whole situation.

Kim said...

That's horrible! I hope you writers will win the strike with a better contract. You guys deserve just as much, probably even more, than the others who work on the shows. You're the ones who think up the plots! Anyway, good luck to you guys!

David said...

Wow, I came to this site because I am an animation student and I a big fan of Spongebob Squarepants. Lately, I have noticed that Spongebob is not that funny and it is clear to me that there are different writers. You can just tell. The jokes are not carried out in the same way. To be honest, I'm very disappointed that the one cartoon that I really like is now lackluster. I really think it is due to a new writer. Any, it would be to confirm this. Also, what is the current situation for all of this? This the field I want to go in and I want to know what I'm going into. Thanks.