John Campea still doesn't get it

by Paul William Tenny

Back in September, I rebutted some things in a post on The Movie Blog about the strike in which its author, John Campea, got just about everything wrong. You can read everything I've written on the topic since this site was launched by going to the labor category.

Since I've fallen behind in news gathering recently, I decided to target a few specific sites that I knew would have interesting content (good or bad) and topping that list was The Movie Blog. Given how badly Campea had been covering the strike up until that point, I figured there'd be some ripe material that needed corrections and explanations that Campea has proven in the past unwilling to publish, or even debate.

I wasn't wrong.
If you go back a couple of weeks to the 29th, you'll see Campea supporting Carson Daly crossing the picket line to bring his talk show back on the air. While it's true that Daly is not a member of the WGA -- and now probably couldn't be even if he wanted to -- the rub here is that Daly is scabbing.

Lots of people are crossing the lines and while it's frowned upon, there's no way to stop it and that's not really the purpose of picketing in this circumstance. Daly came back to host his show and write his own material, a far worse offense than simply going back to work when your job is something else like hosting or editing.

The bit about Daly doing it to save the jobs of the below-the-line workers for his show is misleading at best -- Deadline Hollywood blogger Nikke Finke believes Daly's own job was at risk and that if he didn't do what the network wanted, he'd be the one without a job.

Self preservation is not exactly what I'd consider a noble act.

It's hardly surprising that someone would cross the lines, hurting the strike, in a dishonest attempt to save ones own ass. Your mileage may vary, but Daly and Ellen especially who has a notorious history of abusing her writing staff deserve everything they get from the people they are screwing for their own personal benefit -- all 13,000 of them.

With a post on December 4th that chides the WGA for not accepting significant rollbacks that would have gutted their demands for new media residuals, from the horse's mouth:

The Producers Association made an offer to the writers that would have seen $130 million extra dollars being paid to the writers over the next 3 years. The WGA put together an offer that they say would have them getting about $151 million more over the same time period. So in just pure dollar values, they’re only about 13% apart. For Pete’s sake just split the frigging difference and call it a day people!

The reason that proposal was rejected by the WGA is that the increases were packaged with rollbacks that would have almost completely offset the gains. The gulf between what management was offering and what the guild wanted was much more significant than that -- in fact -- the flat offer from the AMPTP would have given them one full years worth of unlimited reruns for $250 a pop, or about 1.25% of what they get for a single network rerun.

The WGA however isn't demanding anything close to what they get for network reruns, and many reasonable moderates expect that the writers are willing to come down from what they are demanding right now (somewhere around 3%) in order to get a deal done. (Note: that's 3% of what is made from advertising from the streaming video, not 3% of the network rerun fee.)

It's of little surprise that $250 for a years worth of reruns was rejected almost immediately, as to any sane person, it represents an unfair and dishonest offer that was never meant to be accepted in the first place. Perhaps it was a place to start and bargain upwards, but considering the AMPTP's original offer in this area was nothing for streaming, it's again not hard to see what's going on.

Forgive the formatting mess, but I'm going to do a double quote here. This is from the AP article that Campea was talking about:

At this point, there isn’t enough information about digital distribution’s value to “have a legitimate negotiation” on compensation, he said. Rips suggested the studios’ offer was an attempt to shift the decision a few years to a better-informed future.

And Campea's support of this argument:

I think Rips is correct. FACT: The internet is making money for the Producers right now and therefore (if you’re going to accept a pitifully outdated and flawed residual system) the WGA should get some of that. BUT, the Producers are sort of correct in saying the medium is too new and unstable (it’s changing every week) to lock down a bona-fide accounting and residual system for it. The Producers seem to want to pay a flat amount and then re-visit the issue again in 3 years when the internet distribution picture becomes a lot more clear. I can’t say I disagree with them.

Ignoring for a moment that the flat-rate offer was so low as to be insulting, the argument that the market is "too new" and "unstable" is basically irrelevant to what the WGA is demanding. The WGA residual system is based on percentages, and fluctuates based on what a program is supposed to be worth according to the market. That system was severely flawed as corporate parent companies quickly realized they could avoid paying residuals at all simply by having a studio they own sell a show to a network they also own.

Since residuals are a percentage of that fee, the studio sells it to a sibling network for (well below) market value, insuring the writers, actors, and others get basically nothing in the deal.

This is the reason the WGA is demanding a slightly different residual system this time around, but that's beyond the scope of this particular point: that being that it's still a system based on percentages. If the new media market never develops and the studios/networks make little to no money from streaming and downloads, than neither do the writers. The big media companies can't be locked into paying writers huge residual fees in a small market when those fees are based entirely on what those companies earn from that market.

Put simply by the writers: you make money, we make money. Conversely: if you don't make money, neither do we.

That puts to rest the ridiculous argument that the new media market is too unstable and new to create a residual formula, and based on how things turned out with the previous "nascent", "unstable", and "new" home video market (which morphed into the DVD market with zero changes to the residual formula) that just isn't going to happen again.

These are not "talking points" either, it's common sense. If the big media companies are correct and lets say they only make $100 million each per year from streaming and downloads (an estimate that is accurate as of this publication) then the writers residual would be somewhere in the range of $3 million (assuming the 3% fee which has already dropped to 2.5% which the WGA would probably drop to 2% if the AMPTP would "bargain" instead of dictate terms and ultimatums) which would then be spread cross however many writers were responsible for those programs.

Think about that for a moment: $3 million dollars spread across the 5,000 or so writers that are working at any given time. That's about $600 per writer, per year, per major network. Even today with an "unstable" and "too new" market, 3% would represent almost three times what they are offering based on what those same companies are earning right this second and not paying a dime on.

That doesn't sound like a lot of money to me, when a lot of these networks are openly questioning whether or not Internet streaming and downloads are going to replace DVD and television down the road.

Also consider that whatever the WGA accepts in this current contract is probably all they will ever get. It's easy to poke fun at how the WGA obsesses over lost riches with the two-decades-old contract that screwed them over with home video residuals, but the point is perfectly valid on its face when applied to this situation.

What if the "unstable" and "too new" market blossoms into a billion dollar market that some day challenges or even disgorges DVD sales? Writers will be looking at that $250-per-year fee and reasonably want to kick it up a few notches so that it's more fair. Do you think management will happily hand over a share of those profits in an act of humanity and goof faith?

What do you honestly think the big media companies will be saying 20 years from now when the download market is worth $10 billion per year?

Same thing they are saying right now about kicking the home video residual formula up a few cents in the tens-of-billions-of-dollars-per-year DVD market: go f*ck yourselves.

Since they are doing precisely that right this second with DVDs, it only follows they'd to exactly the same thing with new media if given the chance sometime down the road.

Next up is the highlighting of AMPTP propaganda on the 9th of December which takes the politically correct and almost always wrong "it's both sides fault" route. I could go in and rebut every single point in this press release, but instead I'll pick out the first item because I've seen Campea come down on the AMPTP's side on this issue before.

(Quoting AMPTP Release): " They demand full control over reality television and animation. In other words, they want us to make membership in their union mandatory to work in this industry – even though thousands of people in reality and animation have already chosen not to join the WGA."

Campea originally said of this demand that "this one is absolutely ludicrous and I'm not going to waste any time writing about it" and declared the AMPTP in the right. For the time being, I'll simply address the claims made here. First and foremost, the reason the AMPTP doesn't want reality organized is because it's the only lasting weapon they have against a writers strike. When scripted programs go off the air, unlike in previous years, they can ramp up reality production to replace a good chunk of it, blunting the strike.

If American Idol was shut down because of this strike for example, there probably wouldn't have been a strike to begin with. Management wants to avoid that scenario at all costs, and they'll probably get their way eventually. It is by no means an irrelevant issue, though. And the truth is that the real reason reality editors won't walk off the job to unionize is because the first staff that tried it (America's Next Top Model) were all fired for trying.

That attempt was bungled to be sure, but the result was unmistakable: the first people who tried to unionize were fired from their jobs. Is it any surprise that nobody else is willing to try?

As for the WGA wanting the AMPTP to "make membership in their union mandatory to work in this industry" -- isn't that the point of a union?

Then there's this choice bit by Campea:

This disparity is insane. A new, non-residual economic system is desperately needed, and unfortunately it’s not what the WGA is fighting for.

This is the only issue that matters to the WGA and the only one that they will not return to work without settling fairly. A system without residuals is a system without writers. You can't make a living off the proceeds of a script sale every four or six years unless you're earning more than $200,000 per sale, and to remind you just how rare it is to make that kind of money in this country, you'd be earning in the top 1% of the United States just by being above $100k per year.

The WGA like any group concentrates wealth at the top, which means very few writers make that kind of money and can afford to life without residuals.

Given how long writers go between jobs on the average and how much they earn on the average, it's estimated that most writers make less than school teachers do. The only thing that keeps them afloat are regular residual checks that are, by most measures when compared to what the studios make on the other end and even other creative talent, horribly small.

Residuals keep writers alive between jobs in an industry where there aren't enough of them to go around by a factor of about 10. It's also a plenty fair demand even if that weren't the case. When the studios and networks make money reusing the work created by others, those others make money too. Never have we talked about a system where writers are making money when the studios and networks are not.

A non-residual economic system is a non-starter. Forget about the lost livelihoods of 80%+ of writers, it would literally destroy the industry because there wouldn't be anybody left to write the content.

Moving to yesterday, there's this brilliant piece of wisdom:

As the good folks over at Rope Of Silicon point out, some last minute outrageous and unreasonable demands by the WGA forced a break down in the negotiations and once again we’re sitting here with no deal, and no one is even talking. The WGA demands may be stupid, but the Producers should just stay and the table and keep talking… refuse to budge if they want… but talk… and keep talking… and don’t stop talking until someone moves.

This is so distorted as to be beyond belief, and is it any wonder that people like John Campea keep drinking the koolaid when all they read is this garbage? Let's examine a little bit of this article at Rope to see what it says and why it's less than useless:

Once again statements have been issued by both sides of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) strike against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) noting the breakdown in negotiations. Honestly, there is no reason for them to even be talking until June of 2008 when the contracts for the Screen Actors Guild and Directors Guild also expire and are in need of re-negotiation.

First and foremost, saying this was a breakdown in negotiations is dishonest and inaccurate. According to what now appear to be indisputable accounts of the last few hours of talks, the WGA negotiating team was huddled in their hotel room preparing a counter-proposal to the most recent counter-proposal made by the AMPTP, when big media's negotiator Nick Counter knocked on the WGA's door and delivered a firm ultimatum: drop (these) six demands from the table, or we're walking away right now.

Counter demanded to know what the WGA was going to do right then and there, standing in the middle of a hotel hallway, and made good on his threat when I believe it was either David Young or Patric Verone told him they'd address his demand when they present their counter-proposal which was due to be ready in just a few hours.

Needless to say, the AMPTP walked away for the second time in five weeks while the WGA was in one case literally and another case metaphorically left standing at the negotiating table. Those are facts confirmed by the people who were present in both instances and are not up for debate.

To say then, as Campea does, that there were "last minute outrageous and unreasonable demands by the WGA [that] forced a break down in the negotiations" is admitting no factual knowledge of the negotiations at all. It's just stunning to hear somebody declare that the WGA did something they did not -- when it's known they did not -- and to see these things used to blame the AMPTP's staged walkout on the innocent party.

Don't believe it? Nikke Finke posted a letter sent from Nick Counter to David Young (WGA):

This will confirm the conversation we had today at approximately 6:05 PM, in the presence of Bryan Lourd, in which I asked whether the WGA was preparing a proposal in response to the proposal given to the WGA by the Companies at approximately 2:35 PM this afternoon. You advised that the WGA was preparing such a proposal. I asked whether any of the six issues that the Companies had earlier today advised the Guild must be withdrawn before negotiations can proceed further would be included within the proposal the WGA is preparing. You responded that you did not know because you were still working on the proposal.

I informed you that when the WGA sends me a letter confirming that those six proposals are withdrawn, the AMPTP will schedule another negotiation session with the WGA.

And then the AMPTP people walked right out of the hotel, officially ending negotiations after an unsatisfied ultimatum, made in the hallway of a hotel instead of at the table where fair bargains can and should be discussed -- not dictation.

Could Campea possibly screw this up anymore than he already has?

Here's another gem from Rope of Silicon:

Taking the two statements that were issued it is obvious the AMPTP is far more interested in getting this settled than the WGA. The AMPTP's statement comments on specific issues while the WGA bats around a couple of ideas with no specific commentary.

Apparently being far more interested in settling a strike means walking out in the middle of negotiations. Twice. As for "no specific commentary", well, the AMPTP and WGA had been trading back and forth substantive proposals for the better part of two weeks until the AMPTP walked out for the second time since the contract expired on October 31st.

To say anything different is to just plain lie.

I'm sorry, there's no nicer way to put that. Either Rope doesn't have the first clue what's going on over there, or they know and are writing straight out of the AMPTP play book. Even the AMPTP, though, has admitted that both sides were trading substantive proposals and both sides have at times acknowledged that at least some progress was being made, albeit it painfully slow.

Well guess what, negotiations between huge multi-national corporations and union labor usually are.

This site and this author are not the definitive source for information and commentary on the strike, but there are better places you can go to not be fed pro-management propaganda that you can just as easily get by reading the trade papers these corporate giants also own.

If you want to know what's really going on, look for factual information first and verify it from multiple sources. Anything you read on about the strike at The Movie Blog can be tossed away along with AMPTP press releases because, and let's be honest about this, they are basically the same thing.

I have nothing against John personally, but these lopsided comments and reporting distort the publics view of a remarkably one-sided issue which is damaging to say the least, and really needs to stop.
in Digital Media, Feature, Labor, Streaming Video


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