Weinstein's make WGA deal; SAG & DGA Items

by Paul William Tenny

I admit, I thought the "divide and conquer" strategy wasn't much more than PR. "They want to split the guild and weaken us, so we'll do it right back!" and all that, only unlike the AMPTP which hasn't made so much as a dent in the writers' solidarity, independent companies are telling the AMPTP to bugger off one after another with opportunities to get back to work while their richer and more stubborn (and greedy) rivals sit on their hands, holding their breath.

David Letterman's Worldwide Pants came first, and was dismissed as irrelevant since that company only owns two shows: Letterman's, and that other guy who comes on after. Then United Artists signed a deal and was "inundated with scripts -- a number described as "staggering" by one insider" -- followed almost immediately by a deal with Academy Award winning director Paul Haggis for a new film.

That too was described by the AMPTP as irrelevant because UA was a has-been studio that only made one or two pics per year, and hasn't seen success in a long time. (UA is owned by another studio, MGM, which isn't signing any new deals and has zero future prospects as a struck company.)

Everyone figured more independent studios were considering making deals but were waiting to see who else broke ranks and how many were going to pile up. TWC, the company the Weinstein brothers left Mirimax/Disney to create, just made the third independent deal under writer-favorable terms the WGA has been offering to the AMPTP since the "group of cooperating rivals" group jointly walked away from negotiations -- proving without a doubt that the new media demands are both reasonable and doable.

That fact isn't really disputable now, which means the AMPTP has nothing much more than "because I don't want to" left to fall back on as a reason for not talking, and not making a deal that gets everyone back to work.

All signs point towards Lionsgate being the next studio to rearrange their priorities that places making movies ahead of corporate greed and outright adolescent bickering and self destructive lockouts. It'll be interesting to see if any cable net or major studio sees a change in the winds and follows suit.


SAG is still being hamstrung by a very DGA'esque AFTRA that hates the kind of confrontation that results in higher wages for its members. Both unions used to bargain collectively with 50/50 voting rights, even though SAG outnumbers AFTRA in membership nearly 2-to-1. SAG recently changed their rules internally in such a way that a majority stance (no matter how slim) on an issue would garner the full vote between SAG and AFTRA negotiators.

AFTRA is whining because it gives the real majority real power, rather than giving equal power to a much smaller faction that has thumbed its nose at SAG repeatedly by settling for much lower wages.

There may be more to it than that, but AFTRA really needs to back down and let SAG deal with the next contract since it's likely going to take another union strike to force the AMPTP to bargain in good faith -- something AFTRA, like the DGA, probably doesn't want to happen under any circumstances.

Ultimately, I feel the same way about AFTRA that I do fi-core WGA members: if they want to screw themselves, they need to accept the repercussions of it. If AFTRA doesn't want a strike and is satisfied not ever fighting for higher wages, they really ought to go it alone and see what it's like not having SAG get their backs.


Another industry "report" is circulating that the studios are utilizing emergency clauses to break their contracts with talent that extend beyond writers -- they are targeting actors now as well, in a move that will surely make SAG more inclined to side with the WGA when push comes to shove this summer, making a dual-headed strike all the more likely.

These provisions, by the way, are being abused by the studios in unconscionable ways. According to the definition of "force majeure", these clauses are only to be used in the event of an unnatural and unavoidable catastrophe that interrupts the "expected course of events." In other words, an earthquake, a bankruptcy, or perhaps a war might qualify under this definition, but certainly not a labor dispute that was caused by the party trying to terminate these contracts.

The studios should be challenged in court over these invocations as their purposeful, calculated, avoidable, natural and long predicted actions in the course of a valid labor dispute cannot possibly be a legal justification for breaking a contract.


The often times unreliable and, maddeningly, often times scoopy blog Deadline Hollywood is keeping very important news fresh in the minds of their readers, primarily that the two biggest losers in this strike are the local Los Angeles economy (meaning lots of below-the-line workers being laid off) and, apparently, agents.

That's the big picture though, not pointing out that studios are now being forced to eat their own from not having any TV shows on the air. Warner Brothers is preparing to axe staff soon, which perhaps will make them reconsider the failed AMPTP "scorched earth" policy of ruining their own corporations along with the lives of their employees in a pathetic attempt to break a union that has, thus far, held up fairly well -- all over a small pay increase of about $50 million per year, for some studios that that could mean paying as little as $1 million each depending on how much business they are doing in new media.

Every extra day that this strike drags on, the anger over such indescribable greed will only pile up on the doorstop of the AMPTP companies. The public, and to a lesser degree but not to be underestimated the shareholders, when weighing the situation will be far more likely to start screaming JUST MAKE A DAMN DEAL AND GET IT OVER WITH than they will be to turn to out-of-work writers who make less, on average, than school teachers do, to say "cave to corporate greed just like you have for the past 20 years."

Okay, maybe the shareholders would.

People aren't stupid, they know who is responsible for this strike and they aren't likely to forget anytime soon. These CEOs would do well to remember that 20% of the TV audience that left during the last strike never came back, and it wasn't because they were boycotting the writers.


Finally, it looked like the DGA was going to begin negotiations with the AMPTP in earnest,  five months before their contract actually expires. I think the DGA has only struck once in their expire history, and their eagerness to bargain early and not fight for deals they could possibly secure if they had the guts for it, have made them pretty reviled amongst many over the years.

The AMPTP has been looking for any excuse to start those talks and ignore writers, believing they can push a lame deal on a weak DGA, and then force it on SAG and WGA a few months later under the cover of "pattern bargaining." Many writers feared this was the AMPTP's plan all along and ultimately couldn't be avoided, no matter who was running the guild or what tactics they may bring, that the AMPTP planned never to bargain with the writers all along.

So then is this a bit of a surprise: the DGA is "far from reaching the bargaining table with studios and producers" and "not yet within shouting distance" of a framework on which to even start talking.

I've been wondering how the AMPTP would play this out. Would they come down from their consistent demands of rollbacks, stonewalling, walkouts, and other generally unproductive behavior, and actually offer the DGA a "good" deal?

Good being something the DGA is willing to accept, of course, not something that would actually constitute "good" in the traditional sense.

Or would they play the same stupid games they've been playing with the writers for the past two months, alienating their best chance at setting a less-than-favorable precedent since it appears that SAG is every bit as ready to step up to this fight as the WGA has been?

Today, it appears the latter of those two scenarios is the what we have.

The sub of "sides remain too far apart on key issues" may ultimately be the second best news that writers have heard, only because of the recent trio of independent deals. New media is important to all three guilds, and if the AMPTP thought it could just ignore the WGA and force the DGA to come down from those demands, they appear to have been sorely mistaken.

It wasn't reasonable to even hint at the possibility of a three-guild strike given how weak the DGA is, yet if even they don't find the AMPTP deals appealing, they won't have to strike to make a three-guild stoppage a reality. Consider that with the WGA already on strike and dug in for the long haul, with SAG ready to do the same this summer, all the DGA has to do to  make this a perfect trifecta is to do nothing at all.

With the WGA making independent deals with two movie studios -- United Artists and The Weinstein Company -- and David Letterman's Worldwide pants, and news that the DGA of all the guilds is "far away" from settling on a framework for talks with the AMPTP, this could be the beginning of the end of unified billion dollar conglomerate control over Hollywood.

(Probably not, but we can hope.)


As a side note, I read the other day that USA just absolutely clobbered NBC in profit for parent General Electric last year -- $600 million for the cable channel to just $100 million for NBC.

The rumbling over whether or not NBC, being the worst performing network of the big four, would break ranks with the AMPTP to make a side deal might have been the wrong narrative. If any of these companies is desperate to get back to making gobs of money, it's apparently The USA Network. Perhaps their own success and lack of enthusiasm for seeing those gains go down the drains (heh!) might persuade them (and GE) to at least get back to the table.
in Digital Media, Film, Labor


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