Former Studio Exec Bashes Studio's Negotiating Tactics; Both Sides Fighting Over Chairs

by Paul William Tenny

Former and well credentialed studio exec Herbert F. Solow wrote a letter-to-the-editor which Variety published today in which he blasted the studios negotiating tactics with the writers guild, yet show restrained praise for the person shepherding those negotiations, Nick Counter. From everything I've seen Counter say in public statements, the guy seems like a guy who was beat up as a kid and grew up without any sense of self confidence, and based on his initial retarded proposals that got laughed off the negotiating table, I'd hardly call the man intelligence in any respect.

Solow has never been a studio head Solow has been studio chief at Desilu Studios and MGM, and is also a long standing member of the Writers Guild of America, which means he can speak authoritatively from either side of the fence, and the fact that he took space in Variety to kick the studios and networks in the balls really speaks to how bizarre things are this year. This "nobody is entirely right and nobody is entirely wrong" crap while true most of the time has been tossed right the hell out of a 50th floor window and has exploded on a parked car below like a pumpkin.

The writers have put on the table a tough proposal that they aren't going to back down on that the studios and networks are going to have to swallow if they want to stay in business, it's just as simple as that. They've been pushed back so far that even bargaining from a position of strength, they're effectively cornered, and they know it. To lose now is to lose it all.

There really can't be a bargain this time around, the studios and networks have gained so much by denying the WGA gains for the past 20 years that a loss here could break the guild for good. It's nice to pretend that both sides can win something they want and that both sides have to come down to make a fair deal for all parties but with this trend, it's long past time the studios and networks suffered a loss of their own. There is nothing they can gain in this contract negotiations and really need to just back down and take this one for the team.

Not out of pitty, but because that's the reality they're staring into at the table - that's the reality they've designed by kicking the WGA's ass up and down Hollywood for the past 20 years.

at a time when the film and television industries face financial and marketing unrest, at a time when competition grows from quality films and television series produced in other parts of the world, is it not time to put away the hostility and ratchet down the rhetoric and seriously approach the dispute?

Mr. Counter's knee-jerk reaction to his self-conceived "enemy moves" was particularly obvious when reading his comments on the result of the WGA strike vote.

Was there not a better opportunity to publicly and respectfully acknowledge WGA member rights and writer's issues and, at the same time, publicly ask the writers to respectfully understand the needs of the AMPTP and issues important to its members? Was there not a better opportunity to point out to those 90% of writers agreeing to a strike that the member companies of the AMPTP join with them in not wanting a strike?

This is as good a time as any to get you up to date on the strike news this week. The producers asked the guild to fill all their negotiating seats (they have 40..that sounds kind of dumb, how can you get 40 people to agree on anything?) so they could present a new proposal package, along with the following message:

But the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers also told the WGA to forget about demands for boosts in residuals.

"We will not accept increases in the DVD residual formula, in residual payments due for programs run on the CW or MyNetwork TV, or in residual payments for programs made for the pay television market," said AMPTP veepee Carol Lombardini.

Just so you understand what that means, the residual payment writers receive for a DVD say is literally about five cents. The studios who are making tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars a year on DVD sales that cost them nothing to make are refusing to up writers share of that sale from five cents. That level of greed is simply astounding on its face, yet unfortunately we already know we're probably not going to get it.

The DVD residuals are a side dish, not the main meal. Residuals for new media (read: streaming and downloaded video) are what writers are seeking and they want it to be at least the same rate as pay-TV, hopefully much better than that if possible. The studios are saying no to that, too, which is why there is going to be a strike.

That's really it in a nutshell, the writers want to get paid more than five cents for every DVD sale and want to just plain get paid in the first place for streaming video and downloads, and the billion dollar studios and networks are refusing. How is this even up for debate?

Nikke Finke had this additional quote from the WGA about the most recent meeting, to which I actually have the opposite reaction. Finke finds it "less-than-encouraging" while I see it as people tired of being pushed around sticking to their guns and demanding fair payment for re-use of work they helped create.

Later today, WGA negotiating committee honcho John Bowman issued this less-than-encouraging statement: "Our employers are growing and dominate the global entertainment industry. Yet their opening offer would have rolled back our compensation by 50%. Now they decrease the rollbacks to 45% and proclaim that they are truly bargaining. Minor adjustments to major rollbacks do not constitute forward motion. To make a deal, the AMPTP must engage with us on the issues that matter in this negotiation. With that in mind, we will respond to their proposal tomorrow."

Sighed a WGA insider: "While it is good to see some movement, the elephants still stand in the middle of the room. Without a real shift in the next six days, a strike appears inevitable."

As if the issues themselves weren't clear cut, and this really plays into my own thoughts that despite what Solow says, Counter is really nothing but a child acting like a douche bag because he's finally getting the spotlight for once in his life. This really shows how unserious the producers are about the entire deal, if the studios and networks had any brains at all, they'd fire their entire negotiating team and replace them with people that aren't such a bunch of clowns.

Today, when AMPTP's Nick Counter showed up at the WGA's bargaining venue trailing twice as many people as writers' negotiator David Young had planned, the guild didn't have enough seating. Young complained that Counter had given him a specific head count, and Counter shot back that he'd warned well in advance that he was going to bring his whole committee with him and called Young a liar (even though another witness vouched for Young's recounting of events...) "The chair thing was totally middle school. David Young totally stood up to him," one insider told me.

The squabbling continued with Counter's vitriolic rant regarding the WGA's conduct during the process. "He seems frustrated by this guild leadership that's not caving at the sight of him," an WGA insider told me. "Counter is being a little bitch." Funny enough, when I ran this remark by the producers' side, an insider agreed. "He is a bitch."

This, ladies and gentleman, is the man holding the fate of fall television and every studios 2008 feature film slate in his hands. Pardon my language, but what the fuck are the producers thinking?
in Labor


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Reading, Writing & Knowledge.

An associate sent along your 10/26 comment on a letter I'd written to Variety that Variety chose to publish.

Thanks for reading the letter...however, let me mention a few missed opportubnities to you...

1/ stating I was never a Studio Head tells me someone did not do proper I was not only Head of Desilu Studios in those days when we first produced the Star Trek and Mission: Impossible series...but several years later was studio Head of MGM with the title Vice-president of Worldwide Television and Motion Picture Production.

2/ It might have been nice to point out that not only was I a studio (and network) executive, but I have been a member of the WGA for many, many years. I know it's a better story without the WGA mention...but fair is fair, don't you think?

3/ Thank you for your courtesy

Take care.

Herb Solow

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