WGA signs landmark digital deal

by Paul William Tenny

I call this a landmark digital deal because the interim agreement may the first step towards changing how television is created and then delivered to viewers. Doug Liman has founded a startup called Jackson Bites to foster out-of-industry development of online entertainment.

"If the last strike is best remembered for the studios attempting to show they could create programming without writers, this could be the strike where the writers show they can do it without the studios," said Liman. "We are at a moment of opportunity in television where we have gone from three networks to six, and from a handful of channels to a thousand and YouTube. In that environment, what matters is compelling programming -- and compelling programming starts with the writer."

This is the sixth independent agreement the Writers Guild of America has made since the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers walked away from negotiations for the second time, on December 7th.
Among those companies that have signed deals that allow writers to go back to work for both television and film have been (in no particular order):

Worldwide Pants
- the first company to sign a deal with the WGA was created by David Letterman, which owns and produces both the Late Show, and Collin Furgeusons show.

United Artists - Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner recently took over the creative reigns and were quick to get a jump on their larger competition, and were said to have been "inundated" by scripts immediately after the deal was signed. UA immediately made a deal with Oscar winning director Paul Haggis for a new project.

UA is owned by MGM, which has not made a deal with the WGA and is currently on the outside looking in.

The Weinstein Company - Probably needed a deal more than just about anyone else. Sure, they've got one hell of a rep for busting out good flicks with Oscar potential, but they've struggled a bit since leaving Disney to go their own way. Competition is more fierce than it was in years past, and this agreement lets them get right back to work while the monoliths sit around and feel content losing money.

Like UA, TWC now has their pick of the best scripts in the business whereas most of them perhaps were only being shopped at larger studios with more cash on hand. It's not inconceivable that either of these companies could dig a diamond out of the ground with everyone else sitting at home.

Media Rights Capital - Not a name you hear often (or at all) yet possibly more significant than any of the other deals. MRC does both television and film, and has some names under their banner you will definitely recognize:

This deal began as an effort to get Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane and his writers a WGA contract on fifty webisodes which are being produced for Google. It quickly developed into a negotiation with MRC that would cover all of its Internet content (including projects with Larry David, Gordon Ramsay, and Second City), as well as a full slate of independently financed feature films and television series.

Nearly three dozen active projects are covered under this agreement.

The new media clauses come into play here for the first time as MRC is actively producing and owns digital property. This only strengthens the WGA's claim that the new media demands are both reasonable and achievable.

And then there is this bit pre-strike:

And that doesn't include films being made by studio specialty arms or projects funded by the likes of Media Rights Capital, which will spend $250 million to finance eight films that include the Sacha Baron Cohen comedy "Bruno," Ricky Gervais comedy "This Side of the Truth," Robert Rodriguez-directed "Shorts," and the Richard Kelly-directed thriller "The Box" with Cameron Diaz. Only "Bruno" has a distribution deal, made at Universal prior to the release of "Borat."

MRC is not a small, insignificant company. That deal was huge.

Spyglass Entertainment - Another independent studio deal along the lines of TWC, made around the same time as MRC. According to WGA West President Patric Verrone, there are even more of these deals in the works.

That proverbial tipping point that Variety gleefully announced wasn't going to come after waiting less than two weeks after the UA announcement is starting to materialize.
in Digital Media, Film, Labor, Television


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