Thursday, November 08, 2007

WGA strike, day 3

As explained by Sandra Oh, who is awesome, even if her show's not on my watch list.

Here is a pretty good article explaining the reasons for the strike from Forbes.

Atrios on the emerging argument that you shouldn't support the writers because they are well-paid, and therefore, I guess, greedy:
I'm always surprised how many people fail to be sympathetic to striking workers simply because they perceive them to be "well-paid." Certainly one can always find a more worthy cause, a more desperate case, someone more "deserving." But ultimately this is about whether management gets to screw workers, and that's something we can all be concerned about whether it's janitors, Hollywood writers, or even millionaire baseball players.

Support the strikers. Stop watching TV until this blows over. And especially stay away from soap operas; they've started hiring pseudonymous scabs to replace the strikers until the strike blows over.


Rene said...

here's my problem with the writer's strike:

everyone else.

when the writers strike the following people lose thier jobs almost immediately:

everyone else on the set

everyone else behind the scenes
-casting directors
-production coordinators
-set supervisors
-audio supervisors
-location scouts

lots of people in post
-video editors
-color correction
-dialogue editors
-sfx editors

We work closely with prison break because its shot here in Dallas.

We're going to lose out on some business because PB shut down production last week. We can handle it.

Everyone else that we know in association with that project is going to get laid off next week. Many will lose thier mortgages. These people are not writers.

Before you whole-heartedly throw your weight behind the writer's strike because of the strong union angle, think of the non-union members who are being affected here. Kick on the TiVo, watch the credits scroll, and consider the fact that the writers are firing 80% of the names you see. Then consider the fact that the studios set a precedent a few years ago with the actors guild. The actors struck over the exact same issue (internet $$), the industry tanked around here for a while, and the studios waited them out. In the end the actors were granted a minor concession and they went back to work. Membership in the actor's unions nationwide (and especially in Texas) fell off the map.

People should be able to unionize and strike. I get that.

The writers are refusing to acknowledge the repercussions of their actions in this case however. They are firing lots and lots of people, they won't get what they want, and they are ignoring the facts of history.

The writers want to make this hurt for the studios. The writers aren't exactly virtuosos however, (consider the fact that TV is generally pretty bad) and the studios lose lots and lots of money with the vast majority of the offerings of these writers. The studios already have the reality TV "safety valve" workflow in place. They'll make more $$ with the actors striking than they generally do when the actors are writing money losing sitcoms and dramas.

Strikes are generally risk-reward propositions.

In my opinion the reward sought is tiny, and the guaranteed costs of the strike are great.

Rene said...

sorry, don't mean to keep riffing on your blog here bro, but I don't have one of my own because I don't often have anything interesting to say. :)

One more point:

Television will eventually move entirely to the internet, and sitcoms and dramas will eventually be entirely on-demand. That much is understood.

The problem with the writer's position here is this:

Copyright laws as we know them are eroding, and will eventually go away as well.

This is evidenced by the prevalence of bit-torrent, limewire, and other P2P sharing sites. The concept of copyright is being subverted by the US populace on a massive scale.

Follow me here: No one in congress will ever get re-elected by taking people's free downloads away. The people in this country do not value the individual works enough to finance them in a residual model, and will kick dudes out of office who overtly take that away. The reason residuals work now is because with each repeated showing advertisers have paid dearly to be forcefully interspersed with the programming. As that model falls away with tivo and the internet, the end users are going to be unwilling to pick up the financial slack. Since there will not be the same residual stream of revenue coming in, it cannot therefore flow back out to the writers/actors/musicians who created the works.

This means that the model will have to change.

The change will be that writers/actors/musicians who historically have received residual payments will have to move towards a work for hire model similar to what architects get. The great writers/actors/musicians will be compensated handsomely on the front end of a project, and that will be the end of it.

An architect doesn't get a check every time someone walks into his buildings. In time, writers will not get checks every time someone views one of their episodes. This is something with which they will eventually have to come to grips.

el ranchero said...

I see your point, but here's my problem with the issue about others losing their jobs: this happens with all strikes. In virtually any industry, if one group strikes, there are lots of other people peripherally related whose jobs are suddenly jeopardized. In fact, if I were to guess, I'd say this is probably a common argument that big business uses to justify unionbusting in lots of industries.

I don't want to be callous about it, but though the strike is a blunt weapon, it is the only one workers have against management. The only one. If writers decide they shouldn't strike b/c other people will be negatively affected, then they could never strike, and thus could be mistreated and underpaid by management into perpetuity because they will have voluntarily relinquished the only leverage they have.

Furthermore, if the writers don't strike now, the management will take it as a sign that they can force even more concessions at the next negotiation, and the one after that, and so on. Yes, the business model the writers want a cut in is transient and unsustainable, but if they don't use the leverage given them to get a fair cut in this one, on what basis would they ever be able to expect a favorable negotiation in the next one? More specifically, if they allow themselves to get cut out on residuals, how can they hope to get a favorable arrangement on front-end contracts?

And as far as writing quality goes, I point you to last week's ratings, in which 14 of the top 20 shows were writer-created content, including 4 of the top 5. And that's just on network TV, so we're not even talking about the highly popular, critically acclaimed shows coming out of HBO, Showtime, FX, Comedy Central, etc. TV ratings are zero-sum in the sense that people only watch one show in a given time slot (at least at the time of airing, but I don't think the Nielsons count content that is watched after the fact via TiVo or other technology). Therefore, networks are going to lose money on many shows regardless of the quality of the writing as a whole, because it's only the best shows in a given time slot that are going to prove lucrative, and there are only a finite number of highly watched time slots, i.e., primetime.

Rene said...

sweet! I haven't had a good solid non-poker debate in a good long while. :)

re:strikes in general:

we agree that strikes are blunt and effective weapons that workers can use against management.
we don't agree in that all strikes affect peripheral people equally.

if autoworkers strike - detroit doesn't make cars for a while. some peripheral people lose thier jobs
if television set crews strike - production in union states is relocated to non-union states. set crews lose thier jobs, and a few periphery people married to the original locales
if nurses strike - people get sick and die a lot faster in hospitals.
if writers strike - the cast and crew of all production shows are fired and production moves to reality based programming until the strike ends.

clearly tv crew strikes affect fewer people than writer strikes. clearly nurse strikes would be more damaging to the community at large than autoworker strikes.

unions strikes are like hand grenades - you just have to hope you get it thrown at the other guy before it blows up.

In the case of the writer's strike, I still believe the risk/reward ratio out there would dictate a different course of action. Specifically: the WGA should refuse to write web-specific content and actively solicit legislation that defines web-based broadcasts as seperate content than airwave distributed broadcasts. Then they should realize that the current model is going to die and begin pushing for more front-end money for their services. Striking unduly risks destroying the union because A)the studios have already shown the ability to stand up to the actors on the same issue and B)the concessions sought are still undefined and subject to being marginalized.

I saw what the actor's strike did to the actor's union. IMO the WGA could have picked a far better spot.

el ranchero said...

FWIW, I never intended to imply that all strikes affect peripheral people equally, just that they all affect peripheral people.

I think writers would have a hard time refusing to write web-specific content because it looks to me like most of what they're talking about is the same TV show or movie posted online at some later date after it was originally shown. These generate their own commercial revenue and my understanding is that this is the revenue writers want in on. As such, the writers can't refuse to write it unless they walk out on the show entirely (which, thinking about it, may have been precisely how the strike started). The extra web content for a show like The Office is really just throwaway website filler; the writers could quit drawing up that crap tomorrow and neither management nor viewers would really notice.

And sure, the writers could (and probably should) push for legislative help, but Hollywood has a huge lobby and would almost certainly crush any legislation that cuts into their bottom line.

They should push for front-end content, but here's the problem: the management will probably never go for it, because it passes the risk from the writers (and, ultimately, actors) to the studio. As long as writers, actors, etc. get paid in a royalty-style system, studios won't get caught forking out vast sums of cash to writers for a losing show. They can pass on at least that part of the risk. Your idea, while a good one and much better for the writers, walls off that safety valve.

We may think there's a better tack to take for the WGA, but at the end of the day this is about whether or not the AMPTP can treat their writers however they want. My plan or your plan or some other guy's plan is not the point; either the management gets what it wants or the writers do.

"So join the struggle while you may;
The Revolution is just a T-shirt away"
-Billy Bragg