The Theory of Chaos

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Please, studios, tell us more about what's in our own best interests!

Some very sober and serious folks – including an entertainment lawyer, and if you can’t trust one of them… – have an Op-Ed in today’s LA Times about the strike. I believe their argument can be summed up thusly: BOOGEDY BOOGEDY BOOOOOOOO! YOU’RE ALL DOOOOOOOOOOOMED!

To expand – they say that because the studios are rich and powerful, they’ll just “shrug” this silly strike off. And because writers and actors are weak dilettantes, eventually the successful among them will get bored with striking, file for “financial core” status (which allows them to disassociate themselves from the political activities of the guild), and go back to work, leaving the rest of us in the cold because of our Militant Yahoo Leadership™ and their refusal to accept the basket of shiny nickels we’re being offered. And that any of us who think there’s some sinister divide-and-conquer strategy being implemented by the studios and their surrogates and apologists, is just being paranoid.

As expected, they are playing the grown-ups, sorrowfully shaking their heads at our antics and telling us we really ought to stop; for our own good, you see? Strangely, they don’t address any of the following:

-The entertainment industry is projected to grow between 10-12% a year for the next few years, driven in many ways by new streams of Internet revenue.

-The WGA proposal currently on the table will grow our average member’s revenue by around 3.5%, barely above inflation and therefore, by simple math, not even a threat to the coming windfall.

-With our proposal in writing for over five months, the AMPTP has yet to make any comprehensive counter-proposal, although they did coin that nifty slogan with their “New Economic Partnership”. They have walked away from the negotiating table twice, and before the second time hired a PR firm that refers to themselves as “The Masters of Disaster” to prepare a press release about the breakdown of talks
while they were still in the room pretending to negotiate.

-The AMPTP refused to attend yesterday’s LA City Council meeting on the devastating impact of the strike on the city’s economy. Three hundred writers attended, and the city passed a resolution urging the studios to return to negotiating.

-I’m a screenwriter, not a TV writer, and I didn’t get the memo telling me I’m less fervent about this strike than my colleagues. Maybe the mail is slow because of the Holidays.

-Because of the failure of most of their new schedule and the unexpected speed with which the strike shut down their most popular shows, NBC is compensating aggrieved advertisers
in cash, having already given away all of the free commercial time they usually set aside for shows that perform under projections. The average settlement is around a half-million dollars per advertiser. Without new episodes of Heroes, The Office, or any of the Law & Order franchise, they will firewall their spring schedule with extra hours of The Biggest Loser, Deal or No Deal, and American Gladiators. I’d predict more unhappy advertisers over at NBC, once the network of Tom Brokaw and Bill Cosby, now the home of Howie Mandel and Hulk Hogan. But what do I know? I’m just some crazy writer.

-Script problems have already shut down tentpole feature films like Sony’s
Angels and Demons, and picket lines have slowed down production all over Los Angeles, hastening the exhaustion of studios’ film and television stockpile. The pilot season is already on the verge of collapse, meaning that the studios are now surrendering not only the remainder of this year’s TV season, but threatening their ability to have next year’s season ready by fall. With advertisers already up in arms, and stock analysts agog at their suicidal stubbornness, will the studios shrug that off too?

-Our Militant Yahoo Leadership™? We
voted for them. We voted for them because we knew this was coming. Two years ago we knew what issues would feature in our new contract, knew that the studios intended to play hardball, and so we voted for the candidates that promised to show some spine. Given the choice between striking and slitting our financial throats for a generation to come, we wanted our leaders to be willing to pull the trigger. The fact that they did, and that in trying they haven’t wilted in the face of threats, smears, ultimatums, and the “Masters of Disaster”, hasn’t exactly surprised us, because it’s exactly what we asked of them when we elected them, and when we voted in overwhelming numbers to authorize this strike.

-If studios think we’re the ones in trouble, I’ll quote the immortal last words of David Kahane, the screenwriter murdered by Tim Robbins’ slimy film executive in
The Player: “I can write. What can you do?


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