Sunday, January 13, 2008

WGA strike

Coverage of the strike has tended toward the hackneyed lately -- journalists aren't really sure what's left to say. Dave Letterman's back with a contract. Leno's back with his producer's pushing him out onto the stage sans writers. After that it starts to drift into minutiae that just don't grab the public's attention. And so everything seems to be at a deadlock.

The truth is a lot less static, and it tells us a lot about this new world we're writing in.

First, production companies ARE in fact negotiating with the WGA, and signing agreements that by and large meet the WGA's fair and reasonable demands. "But I thought the AMPTP left the negotiating table over a month ago," you say? This is true. "Aren't the producers and AMPTP the same?" Nope.

The AMPTP is essentially a law firm hired by the major producers to deal with their labor problems. The AMPTP justifies its existence to the producers by promising to make the best deal possible -- to save the producers more money than they are paid. They have ZERO reason to negotiate with the writers.

But individual production companies DO have a reason to. They want to make movies. And so in the last few weeks, United Artists and the Weinstein Company, have signed agreements, and are getting back to work. They've essentially sidestepped their own counsel, and gone straight to the writers. It's a positive development.

But it's not probably not the biggest development happening right now. What is remarkable is that the strike is spawning a rafter of new companies focused on new media distribution. Many of these are the brainchilds (brainchildren?) of striking writers. They're betting that they can move faster and more aggressively into this Wild West than the majors can. And it's not a bad bet.

If you've worked in independent film, you know exactly how fluid the whole distribution market can be. Few filmmakers have any control over it, and it's more or less a movie killer. Why? Because without distribution you won't make a penny. Most independent filmmakers have to invest 100% of their time and energy with all the return to be determined *after* you've completed the film, and built up buzz, and all that stuff. We've been waiting for the next thing for a long time now. And who knows. Maybe the writers' strike will show us the way.

No comments: