It's been an eventful month with the Directors Guild of America (DGA) making a soft deal with the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), and SAG trying as hard as possible to get away from AFTRA which AFTRA clearly doesn't want. Kind of strange, that relationship -- AFTRA doesn't respect the SAG's logical position that voting rights should be relative to income earned, as it is with the WGA-East and WGA-West, yet they don't want this split to happen and will probably sue to try to stop it from happening. So what is the WGA doing right now? A couple of things that are notable.
According to this post on United Hollywood, the WGA leadership has engaged in backchannel talks with specific CEOs within the AMPTP in an attempt to boil away certain issues before they sit down and actually resume negotiations. This is what the DGA had been doing for months prior -- supposedly -- and is always credited with being the sole factor behind quick and acrimony free deals.
You may be tempted to yell at the WGA leadership for not doing this sooner, and the AMPTP has been quick to slap writers for not handling the talks like it's some giant adolescent game of cloak-and-dagger. Whatever guys, the WGA already tried that route with super-agents acting as intermediaries and it still fell apart. The DGA making a deal in record time had a heck of a lot more to do with these being two different groups of artists looking for two different deals than it did with their approach to getting the ball rolling.
The DGA made some great gains that the AMPTP refused to offer the WGA -- in my mind this reflects terribly on the AMPTP whereas they could have made this offer and prevented a strike in the first place, but instead chose to offer insulting rollbacks instead just for spite -- but that deal isn't where it needs to be on all the issues. In fact, I've heard there are some definitions missing from the DGA deal that give the AMPTP enough wiggle room to gut a lot of the new media provisions.
This strike was all about the new media residuals, and after the deal was made, the DGA told everyone that this just wasn't the right time to take a stand on new media. That's not the whole story, but if you are wondering whether or not this deal is what the WGA was after, the answer, sadly, is no.
It can be molded into something better, though, if the AMPTP continues acting like adults as they did with the DGA. If they return to their lies, games with chairs, and ultimatums, then this strike will continue until the $35-million-per-year CEOs grow old, and die.
I don't know how accurate this is, and as unquestionably inaccurate and biased as Variety has a tendency to be, it may not be true at all. Regardless, they ran a story under the title "Wells gives thumbs up to DGA deal" on Sunday, which has since been changed completely. This is not something I'd describe as a surprise, as Wells is a member of the DGA and has been closer to big media than writers have in the past.
Wells said scribes should be happy about the gains made by directors. "This was the deal everyone was hoping for, plus a little more," he said. He made it clear the WGA strike was a key factor in the helmers' gains. "The DGA took all the leverage the writers gave them and negotiated a hell of deal," he said. "I didn't think we'd be anywhere close to this."
That the AMPTP gave the DGA something it steadfastly refused from the outset to give to the WGA says a lot about how dishonest they've been during these "negotiations." It doesn't make sense to let the fall television season crash and burn -- costing the networks tens of millions and probably hundreds of millions in revenue along with countless jobs -- when what the WGA was asking for was obviously something they were prepared to give, else they wouldn't have given it to the DGA either. The notion that the DGA got something writers otherwise couldn't have, specifically because of what the writers did, defies logic entirely.
If you look closely at what the DGA did get, and what the AMPTP told writers when the WGA asked for the very same things (I seem to recall writers being called 'batshit insane even for asking') you get a very clear picture of a broken AMPTP that knew it had lost this fight, but couldn't bring itself to cave to the WGA as a reward for going on strike. Instead, they dug in deeper, costing their parent companies more money, costing thousands of below-the-line workers their jobs over the Christmas and New Years holidays, just so they could cave to the "reasonable" and "serious" DGA instead.
When Chris Lehane was brought in to handle PR and strategy for the AMPTP, he either agreed with or formed such a strategy which has been followed to the letter ever since the congloms walked away from the table on December 7th.
The deal the DGA negotiated was an unquestionable loss for the AMPTP and in reality shares a lot in common with the deals the WGA has been signing with independent companies over the past few weeks, making claims by the AMPTP that practically any deal on new media would be untenable, look flat and debunked.
United Hollywood posted excerpts of a blow-by-blow look at the deal by Jonathan Tasini which I think is a fairly unbiased look at the deal that doesn't paint a very pretty picture, and actually explains a lot about how the DGA got a deal like this done so fast. When it comes to new media residuals for downloads, the directors looked at what we wanted, cut it in half, and the AMPTP went for it.
That number which was already quite pathetic to begin with, is now twice as pathetic, and I don't see the WGA accepting it on its face. Regardless of anything else -- and there is a lot of other things that in reality can't be dismissed so easily -- the residual percentage is going to have to come up from where the DGA got it in order for this strike to end. The AMPTP may think it can hold its breath and refuse to budge on that number, but they don't have the upper hand.
If they want scripts, they'll have to bring that number into a more reasonable range. If they refuse, SAG isn't going to look kindly on "double an already terrible number" either. If the AMPTP refuses negotiate that number upwards, this strike will continue into June and July, at which point SAG will strike as well.
Understand that the number doesn't have to move very far, but where it is now is about as lame as the DVD residual number is today. At first, the congloms didn't even want to pay at that rate, but the DGA got them up above it -- but it still stinks.
0.7% is just not going to cut it.
UH also took a look at the deal and formed their own opinions, and I think a the general feelings among those that supported the strike from the outset is that the DGA deal is a great starting point with a lot of solid gains, but it's not quite where it needs to be.
The feeling amongst those that voted to approve the strike but were under the mistaken impression that it'd either last a month and then one side would fold, think this deal is a god send above and beyond what the WGA would ever be able to get. Again, that the DGA got it means the WGA could have gotten it as well, and should have gotten it in the first place to avoid a strike altogether -- that these things were not offered to writers was a conscience choice by the AMPTP to prolong this strike.
Of course those that voted against the strike or who chose not to voice their opinion at all (I think that's about half the membership in the latter category) are those that would take this deal in a heartbeat and will be yelling the loudest at the leadership to take it and go home. They are within their rights to speak their minds, so long as their yelling is not mistaken for the same sound as a majority.
Loud does not equal majority.
Other than the rumor of new AMPTP/WGA talks starting sometime Tuesday, SAG is ramping up their efforts to kick the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) to the curb.
"Phase I isn't working for SAG members now," said prexy Alan Rosenberg, secretary-treasurer Connie Stevens and national exec director Doug Allen. "We need to start over with a clean slate, to negotiate a new joint strong bargaining relationship with AFTRA, to make sure we get fair new-media compensation for actors."
SAG's beef with AFTRA stems from the latter's refusal to reduce its 50-50 participation on the negotiating committees for film-TV and on commercials -- despite accounting for less than 10% of the earnings. In addition, SAG complained that AFTRA has been offering producers cheaper contracts in basic cable with up to 15 free exhibition days; it also cited last year's six-year renewal agreement for Nickelodeon, which allows for free Internet streaming.
"These problems are made worse by the fact that AFTRA has refused to share contract information with SAG despite our mutual obligation to do so under the Phase I joint bargaining agreements and other resolutions binding both unions," the letter said.
AFTRA is the biggest impediment to a SAG strike this summer, if the AMPTP can't grow up and bargain with the WGA in good faith. AFTRA is a lot like the DGA in that they are more interested in having a good relationship with management than they are in fighting against management and management's interests in screwing their employees as much as fiscally possible. There are good gains in the DGA deal, but not more than DGA would have had to actually fight to get.
It's like management goes to the union and says, "don't fight with us and we'll give you 10% on what you're asking for." Instead of the union saying no, this isn't what our members are willing to settle for, they make the deal and think they actually accomplished something. But that 10% is all they'll ever be able to get in the future, and what if something that they find really important isn't inside that 10%? Then management says no, and if you don't shut the hell up, you won't get your 10% either.
The DGA gets residuals because writers struck to get them years and years ago, not because the WGA went to management looking to be friends instead of adversaries with polar opposite interests -- which management and unions are.
But ultimately these problems are simply not enough for SAG to use to divorce AFTRA. This is about SAG wanting to be able to strike if they need to later this summer, knowing full well AFTRA would never allow it so long as AFTRA has 50% of the vote.