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Monday, December 31, 2007

2007. THE WORK IN REVIEW

As I look ahead at the daunting prospect of not being able to write in 2008, I am extremely grateful for the opportunities of 2007. I may whine, complain and bitch about networks, studios, executives, etc., but the truth is -- I am very lucky. Only a small percentage of writers actually earn a living as a scribe. I am one of the fortunate. I thank all whom I have worked with this past year -- writers, directors, executives and crew. With the help of many, this is what I accomplished: Features Punisher 2 (rewrite, Lionsgate) The Unforgettable (2nd, 3rd draft, Warners) Fix (1st draft, Paramount) Delivering Gen (4th draft, Independent) TV The Shield Coefficient of Drag (episode 701) Parricide (co-written, episode 708) Sons of Anarchy (pilot)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

FI-CORE AND THE BOTTOM BITCH

I am happy to report that my readership is up to seven. Number seven had a question, "What is Fi-core, how does it work?" Because I'm all about service, I weighed in with my layman's understanding as well as an educated description from the Huffington post.

Financial core status is basically turning in your WGA membership card. Saying fuck you and the union you rode in on. It allows writers to work outside the boundaries of the guild. They still work within the payment and dues structure, but they are not restricted by the union parameters. I'm not sure how it affects health insurance and the other great WGA benefits.

This from the Huffington Post:

"Financial core," for those not attuned to the vagaries of labor law, is a status in which members withdraw their formal membership in the guild (as far as the guild is concerned), but are still considered guild members for legal purposes. See NLRB. v. General Motors, 373 U.S. 734 (1963) and CWA v. Beck, 487 U.S. 735, 745 (1988), both of which are Supreme Court cases.

Under the law, Fi-Core members are no longer subject to guild discipline, and can thus cross guild picket lines to work during a strike. The can also work non-union as well as union jobs, and continue to receive all benefits of guild membership, when they work a union job. They also continue to pay almost full guild dues.

Since Fi-Core members can work during a strike, the guilds would lose enormous leverage. This is because the guilds would lose the ability to shut down the industry. Production would restart, and the guild becomes a mere echo of its former self. The guilds become organizations of the disenfranchised - non-working writers and actors, and those whose stature in the industry commands only low wages. Eventually even they begin to defect. The guild survives (because Fi-Core members pay dues), but loses the ability to strike, and thus to bargain effectively.

This sounds pretty awful. But, there's a flaw in the argument: show runners and screen writers would no doubt threaten to change their status to Fi-Core and go to the WGA in massive numbers before actually doing so (likewise as to celebs and stars with respect to SAG). This is exactly what ended the 1988 strike. At that point, even the hardline guild leadership would probably listen. There would probably also be a movement among the rank-and-file to go Fi-Core as well.

Oh, Fi-core actually has nothing to with bottom bitches, I just like the way it sounded.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

OH GOOD, NOW WE HAVE PR CONSULTANTS...

Yesterday's Variety had this story: WGA ENLISTS AID OF PR PAIR Democratic Political Consultants To Help Effort
The Writers Guild of America has retained veteran Democratic political consultants Bill Carrick and Kam Kuwata to provide assistance on the strategic and PR fronts of the 8-week-old strike.

The duo came aboard earlier this month at the guild's behest in the wake of the Dec. 7 collapse of negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP, which insisted that the guild remove half a dozen proposals from the table as a condition of continuing to bargain. The WGA refused, and no new talks have been scheduled, while the Directors Guild of America is widely expected to set a start date for negotiations on its contract within the next week.

Kuwata said he and Carrick will work for the WGA for as long as needed.

In their first major task for the WGA, Carrick and Kuwata helped organize the guild's participation in the well-publicized Dec. 19 hearing at Los Angeles City Hall on the economic impact of the work stoppage.

The WGA's been touting the fact that recent polls show the general public backing writers, such as last week's USA Today/Gallup poll showing 60% support among respondents. Kuwata said that he's seeing similar levels of public support in informal gatherings, such as his own family's holiday dinner...

-- I'm glad the Kuwata family is feeling our pain. Maybe I'll send them my post-holiday Mastercard bill. Is it me, or does the idea of needing to protect our public image fly in the face of our "everyman" cause? I hate being the one who keeps pulling the scab off the wound, but "what the fuck?" That's our fucking dues that are paying for Mr. Kuwata's holiday dinner. I've been told by "those in the know" that this PR hire is a necessary component of our strategy. Really? What strategy is that? The get back to work strategy or the save face strategy? I need some drywall.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

DEAR DIARY: TODAY I MET A SCENARIO, ITS NAME WAS "WORST CASE". AND I WAS ASCARED...

The six people who actually read this blog have realized by now that it's nothing more than a grocery list of my fears. I am a man torn between right and write. Nikki Fink's column a few days ago brought to light what many (if not all) writers feared. She wrote: I have learned: that the CEOs are deeply entrenched in their desire to punish the WGA for daring to defy them by striking and to bully the writers into submission on every issue, and that the moguls consider the writers are sadly misguided to believe they have any leverage left. I'm told the CEOs are determined to write off not just the rest of this TV season (including the Back 9 of scripted series), but also pilot season and the 2008/2009 schedule as well. Indeed, network orders for reality TV shows are pouring into the agencies right now. The studios and networks also are intent on changing the way they do TV development so they can stop spending hundreds of millions of dollars in order to see just a few new shows succeed. As for advertising, the CEOs seem determined to do away with the upfront business and instead make their money from the scatter market. Spin or not, it is still a likely and viable scenario. One that will rock the union to its core. All the fucking solidarity in the world does not pay mortgages or school tuitions. Yes, eventually producers will need content and eventually we will have to go back to work. However, we are all painfully aware that the writer's "eventually" has a much shorter lifespan than Big Media's. What happens if there is no settlement by March or June or August or December 2008? Clearly, I have no solution, only angst. I have no educated guess, only terrifying speculations. I am trying to trust that from these unfortunate circumstances there is a higher solution. That regardless of the result, the process will bring enlightenment. I have no doubt that when the dust settles and the keyboards are once again clacking, there will be lessons learned. Hard lessons.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

WHY I WRITE. WHY THIS STRIKE IS KILLING ME.

I never wanted to be a writer. In school, I hated English, barely comprehended grammatical structure. What I loved was TV and movies. I wanted to do that. Tell stories, entertain, make people laugh and cry. Make people notice me.

I needed attention. Lots of it.

I tried acting, teaching acting, various adventures in production. As well as a shitbarge full of day jobs – everything from selling vibrating pillows to post-payment auditing.

Nothing worked, but everything stuck.

Everything I did from the time I was 17 on, has led me down this career path. That’s not just spiritual “Let go, let god” stuff, it’s the pragmatic truth. Where I am makes perfect sense. This is the only place I could be.

I learned about the importance of organic behavior, moment-to-moment interaction and compelling character choices from three years of Meisner acting training. All of that shows up in my writing. I learned how to weed out good actors from bad and how to get great performances from actors through my three years of teaching Meisner. All of that shows up in my directing and producing.

I learned about depression, suicide and damaged souls from thirteen years of starving artistry, alcoholism and addiction. I learned about god, faith and humility from fourteen years of recovery. I recently learned about love and joy from my wife, stepkids and newborn daughter.

Eight years ago, I hit a bottom. All of my life choices collided and through some act of providence, I wrote my first script. From that script on, I found my voice, my vocation. I found my way.

I became a man.

And a man needs to work. I believe that men are defined by what they do. At the end of the day, I need to feel like I've built something. That I've hunted and gathered. Without that sense of accomplishment, I grow bitter, and hopeless. Before long, I begin to complain, find fault in everything and everyone. I slam doors and punch holes through newly-painted drywall.

Writing is not just what I do, it’s who I am. When I’m not writing, I feel disconnected from myself and my surroundings. Down time fucks me up. It emasculates me.

I have honored the strike, supported my union. I've not written a single page since October 31st. At first, it was fine. I crammed and finished three different projects before the deadline. I needed a breather. But now, I'm miserable. I feel lost. I feel like punching drywall. I know there's a lot I can do to stay busy. I have producorial duties on my pilot, I can walk the picket lines, volunteer at the WGA HQ, etc. All that fills my calendar, but not my heart. I am not a striker or an administrator. I am a writer and I cannot write.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

THE DGA UPSIDE

This is the shit that gives me hope. Rational, tempered analysis. The following is a letter by Strike Captain Steve Skrovan. Steve writes: I know this has been a discouraging week. But I’ve been talking to a lot of people over the weekend and hope this will shed some light on what has been going on. We still have cards to play, and we still have leverage. Hard to believe, but we are still in a better negotiating position than we were on November 4th.
The first point is that none of this has to do with personalities. It is strictly about pure economic interest and negotiating strategy. That’s the grown up stuff. Anything else is high school bullshit and demagoguery. What you hear about David Young being in over his head and Patric Verrone being crazy is a not so thinly veiled attempt to separate the rank and file from the leadership. There are two reasons I believe this. One: you don’t have to be a genius to negotiate a contract. Two: These people would do a deal with the devil (and in some cases have) if they thought it was to their advantage. I no longer believe that the AMTPT wants to break the union. We provide too many services to them, a stable workforce, a single negotiating entity, and the copyright to all that we write (which we gave up in 1960 in order to get health, pension, and residuals in the first place). What they want is a weak union, which is what we have been; one that provides all of these services, but then rolls over at bargaining time. What “enraged” them and surprised them is that they haven’t been able to roll us over this time. They don’t want us want us acting like a real union. Because a real union makes gains by being an adversary. That’s the nature of the relationship between management and labor. For many of us, it’s uncomfortable to be in this position. We tend to work closely with management, more than in other unions. We go to the same parties and awards shows. We leave the adversary stuff to our agents. We are not used to being adversaries and they are not used to us being adversaries. This strike has set them back on their heels. They didn’t anticipate our power to organize and our power to win the PR battle. Are the reality and animation issues getting in the way? Not really. The companies are hiding behind that in an effort to get us to pull them from the table. Our leadership is aware that we are not striking over reality and animation. Especially since, as Mike Scully points out, the actual reality writers are still working as we strike. These are bargaining chips. These are negotiable. In fact, I have it on good authority that four CEOs told our people that they are ready to lay the groundwork for something on reality. This is something they are motivated to deal with us on for their own protection. There are a lot of illegal labor practices going on in that realm, which make the companies vulnerable to lawsuits. Our people are meeting with California attorney general Jerry Brown this week to discuss these issues. This is an important chip, but it will not hold up a deal on new media. I talked to a labor expert this weekend (not in our industry). He told me that basic negotiating strategy dictates that you bring as much to the table as possible, things you don’t even care about so much. It “enrages” the other side. That’s actually a good thing. You then make a big show of taking it off to leverage the thing you really want. This is the game being played. I assume that when we are assured that the companies are ready to deal with us on new media seriously, then we will pull that chip. But, I assure you that we are striking about new media, nothing else. My personal interpretation of what happened on Friday was that our side was discussing which of these things to pull off (we couldn’t pull all of them off, because some of them struck at the heart of our new media proposal) when Nick Counter stomped out at 6:05 so we wouldn’t have a chance to call his bluff. This is what was discouraging to our people, because it confirmed their worst fear, which is that this week’s negotiating was mostly a charade. (If you’re heading toward a deal, why hire a PR firm to spin bad news your way? More on this later) Our people were ready to negotiate all night. They had brought changes of clothes and toothbrushes . The AMPTP left at 6:05 and released their lengthy prepared statement at 6:06. Apparently, there actually were some substantive discussions about formulas for streaming. Some progress was made, thin little slices, but ultimately it was an attempt to get us to reveal our bottom line. And when we didn’t do that, they stormed out in a huff. It was not in our interest to reveal our bottom line because they were nowhere near revealing there’s. What has become apparent is that the AMPTP doesn’t want to deal with us at all. We are too unified. They haven’t been able to split us off from the leadership or each other. In the past, they have been able to drive wedges between screenwriters and TV writers, between show runners and staff writers, between East and West. It’s not working this time and it frustrates them. They are getting bad press and losing money. They need to find a different wedge. That’s why they want to deal with the DGA. This is what is behind all of the denigrating (“They are incapable of doing a deal.”) of David Young and Patric Verrone. Historically, the DGA has always negotiated early and gotten certain side perks from the companies for doing so. I don’t believe that Michael Apted, Gil Cates and Executive Dir. Jay Roth are able to do this because they are so charming. They are able to do this because their needs are simpler. If the DGA had negotiated before us they probably would have accepted the old DVD formula for new media. That would have been a bad deal. Our strike has made it impossible for them to go that low. I have been assured that if they could do a deal, they would have done it already. But, they haven’t. They are in a key position, but they have a dilemma. They would have to do a deal that is not only acceptable to the AMPTP, but also acceptable to us. They want to keep their people working, but with no scripts they have nothing to direct. They have a decision to make. Hold off and let us do the deal or jump in and have to come up with a formula that pleases both parties. That’s a lot of pressure. Frankly, no one on our side cares where the deal comes from. If the AMPTP wants to save face by dealing with the DGA, that’s fine, as long as it’s a good deal. If we have to be the bad cop, then so be it. Our strike has already made a better deal possible. We continue to reach out to the DGA, which hasn’t been easy in the past. (Apparently, the DGA withdrew from the tri-guild talks in June and has been playing it close to the vest ever since.) Our relationship with them has been testy at best with probably blame for that on both sides. But again, the real testiness is over economics, not personalities. A group of WGA/DGA screenwriters have already met with the DGA leadership and delivered a letter urging them to hold off. I heard they got a stern talking to by the DGA leadership over timing, style issues and past slights, but I have to think it had an effect. We share 1800 members. Also, spurred on by those hypenates, our leadership will be meeting with the DGA this week to get a better understanding of where exactly they stand. A deal is still possible within the next ten days if the companies are serious about saving the current TV season. They are still not unified. Sony and CBS are the definite moderates. Chernin at Fox is a hardliner. It’s the same pattern. When a key decision has to be made, they fall back on the hard line so that no one can be accused of being the one to give up anything. They have to make sure they fuck each other before they fuck us. What does this mean for us? Unfortunately, we have to hit the streets again this week. As abstract as it seems, it remains the source of our strength. It is particularly important to demonstrate to the DGA that we will not accept a bad deal if they decide to start negotiating. I am confident that we will continue to win the PR war. They hired this firm Fabiani and Lehane, which to me is laughable. They are going to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a PR firm that is going up against the best writers and actors in the country. We are definitely playing a home game here. I have a hard time believing that writers from The Daily Show, Colbert, Letterman, the Tonight Show, SNL, Raymond, Seinfeld, Frasier, King of Queens, The Office, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Knocked Up, you name it are going to get their asses kicked by fucking Fabiani and Lehane. Are you kidding me? This is the firm that has won so many elections for the Democratic Party. And what’s the first thing they do? Instead of referring to our committee as negotiators, they call them “organizers.” That’s a bad thing. To be organized. That’s the worst thing they could call us. Organizers. It’s meant to suggest that our leadership is good at organizing but not negotiating. They are trying to do to the word “organizer” what the right has done to the word “liberal.” Nice try. Why didn’t they just call them “communists?” The WGA communists. At least that has some negative connotation. But it just shows that our strength has been our organization and our organization is manifest on the picket lines. They don’t think we have the guts or the stamina to keep hitting those picket lines. Yes, it was discouraging to realize that we’re negotiating with Voldemort. This is not going to be easy. We cannot give up. We cannot leave it to others. I hate to have to give this pep talk every weekend. But, we have to show the AMPTP, and now more than ever the DGA, that we are not going away, that we will not be bullied. To paraphrase Woody Allen, 99% of this strike is showing up.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

FUCKING PENCILS? ARE YOU SERIOUS?

PENCILS2MEDIAMOGULS: For the last few weeks, television fans have been buying pencils to send to the media moguls to demonstrate their support for the writers of their favorite TV series. Over 500,000 pencils have been shipped. Please join us on Tuesday December 11th when we deliver the pencils to NBC CEO Jeff Zucker, Robert Iger, CEO of The Walt Disney Company, and to Universal Studios for GE's CEO Jeffrey Immelt. I just gotta say, this is the shit that drives me crazy. Makes us look like fucking children. Why are we engaging in such petty shit-slinging in the face of what could be (and for some already is) a devastating financial crisis? If this is how my union plans to rally support in the upcoming months, AMPTP won't have to launch a propaganda campaign to undermine confidence in our leadership. Fucking pencils.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

I FUCK YOU BEFORE I LOVE YOU

Although it appears negotiations have hit the skids, I'm reminded of Tom Schulman's email last week. In it he said, "I went to a dinner party where I happened to be seated next to a gentleman who until recently had been for decades the chief negotiator for the Companies in another segment of the entertainment industry. He was a wiry guy, and he had a sense of humor. When I asked him if he was the Nick Counter of that particular part of the industry, he smiled and said wryly that he thought he was better than Nick but, yes, that was a fair comparison. He said he knew Nick and admired him. For an hour and a half, sprinkled in with the small talk, he told me about his negotiating strategy." Tom details that strategy:

Strategy for Hardball Negotiations:

Piss off the leaders and spokespersons for the other side. A leader who loses his temper loses something in negotiations. Why?

1) Anger clouds judgment.

2) It’s human nature to want to be liked, even in a tough-as-nails negotiator. A person who loses his temper is embarrassed, usually comes and apologizes, and always gives something away to get back into the good graces of the other side.

The end game is the money, but hardball negotiations aren't about money, until the end. The real game is dividing and conquering.

Tactics:

* Lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Raise and lower the expectations of the other side, divide and conquer.

* Do everything possible to destroy the credibility of the other side’s leadership, divide and conquer.

* Use confidants and back channels to go over the heads of the stronger leaders to the softer targets. Divide and conquer.

* When you figure out the other side’s bottom line, offer a fraction. It’s surprising how many times that stands.

Sound familiar? If you examine the recent "leaks," comments, and press releases from the other side, you'll realize this is exactly the strategy the Companies are employing against us today. And why not? It's worked for them for the last 20 years! They are putting us on an emotional roller coaster by raising and lowering our expectations, attacking our leaders, trying to pit the town against us, refusing to move on the issues that matter to us, bragging about their generosity when the opposite is true, fear mongering and claiming we're going to ruin this industry – hoping we'll splinter, lose faith in and attack each other, negotiate against ourselves, and cave.

___ ___ ___ ___

Although the recent negotiations seem to have collapsed, let's keep in mind that AMPTP's "fuck you and the proposal you rode in on" is part of the deal-making process. Unfortunately, we're gonna have to take it in the ass before we're given some of that Big Media love.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

THANK YOU

This was the latest email from our guild. It was factual, to the point and devoid of spin and emotion. Thank you for listening.

The WGA Negotiating Committee, on behalf of the Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) and the Writers Guild of America, East (WGAE), today issued the following statement regarding Contract 2007 negotiations:

“The Writers Guilds met today with the AMPTP and discussed issues of jurisdiction for original content for the Internet, Reality TV, Animation, and Basic Cable. The talks also were focused on contract enforcement. For the last two days, we have had substantive discussions of the issues important to writers, the first time this has occurred in this negotiation. However, we are still waiting for the AMPTP to respond to all of our proposals, including Internet streaming of theatrical and television product and digital downloads. Bargaining resumes tomorrow at 10 a.m.”

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

POV ≠ CH

I was asked by a friend (one of the few people who actually reads this blog) what is my real point of view about the state of negotiations. She claimed my blogs were like Switzerland -- self-motivated neutrality. Ouch. My point in the preceding blogs has not been about devil's advocacy. Or creating doubt or disharmony. If you read them, you see that it's about seeking the facts and making a decision on truth not rhetoric (which we get from both AMPTP and the WGA). We need to scrutinize our leaders, actions and motives as much, if not more than the other side does. When we understand and accept our weaknesses, we take away the vulnerability of those missteps. They cannot be used them against us. Let's be a pack of wolves not a flock of sheep. On Monday, I was at Warners. A couple people from the negotiating committee were there answering questions. Members fired off a lot of queries about money and strategy. But there was also this zen-like vibe from many members, requesting that the guild not engage in the propaganda warfare. In essence, stop sending the doomsday emails about how we're being screwed (that's an exaggeration but you get the point). Our guild, our members, know how Big Media is manipulating the facts. We know their tactics. We read Nikki Fink. We trust our leadership. All we need are calm, factual updates. There seems to be a sense of urgency on PV's part to discredit AMPTP's PR spin. In his communication he sometimes cannot distance himself from that emotion. It bleeds all over his missives. The most encouraging thing about the chats on Monday was the honesty. The reps from the guild copped to their imperfections. They are listening to us and are willing to learn from their mistakes. That's all we can ask for. That and a fair deal.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

DO WE BELIEVE?

Another email from my Shield brother that brings more clarity. Grateful for the insight in the following message (it’s long, but worth the read). It’s given me a much needed boost in the confidence of our leadership and our tactics. I may record it on a disk so I can play it over and over again in my car. Where I spend a lot of time these days. In traffic. Not writing.

Tim Lea writes:

Hey all --

So the AMPTP has responded. Four days of 'meetings', and the resulting offer is a strange hybrid of calculated low-balling, contempt and picaresque fantasy that would better become a Voltaire novel than an early 21st-century labor negotiation. The details of the 'deal' are by now familiar to you all (if not, wga.org has the skinny), and we are being engaged in a way that ups the stakes considerably. At unitedhollywood.com , the post 'More Clarification...' provides a pithy summary of where we are..

It may seem that we are dealing with an irrational entity. The damage they are doing to our industry far exceeds any bottom line financial impact that would result from acceding to our demands. Calculations vary, but estimates of how much this strike is costing the studios run as high as $20 million dollars a week in lost production, lost revenue, penalty clauses in advertising commitments, etc. Over the course of the contract we're currently attempting to negotiate, the Guild's proposals will cost the Studios some odd shy of $200 million dollars. On the surface, it doesn't add up.

The obvious insanity of blowing up the entertainment industry defies logical explanation, which makes clear the salient point: we're not yet dealing with the people who are in a position to say 'Yes'. We face a group, the AMPTP, whose self-described mission is to "function as a bargaining unit for over 350 signatory companies.” (Check out their website -- it's a hoot: amptp.org..) They don't actually make anything. Their sole function is to 'bargain'. In other words, their job is to say 'No' for the studios.

The reason we are talking to this group, and not to the actual decision-makers, is that the studios and corporations they represent are not yet ready to negotiate. They calculate that they have time before this year's TV season is irrevocably damaged, and that they have a little more time before pilot season for the 08-09 season is under threat. With the added and increasing pressure on show-runners as force majeure clauses kick in, the studios hope to dent our resolve in the execution of the strike, and to create fatal divisions within our membership.

There is nothing irrational or random about any of this. The first entry in a Google search of the term Union Busting provides a link to the home page of a union-busting firm. They're quite up front: "It's about winning," they say:

"Since 1987, Adams, Nash, Haskell & Sheridan has assisted hundreds of employers in thousands of engagements always protecting the employers' rights to continue to manage…unobstructed by unions or other outside third parties that can destroy productivity, profitability, and the joy of the direct relationship between an employer and its employees."

The "joy" of the direct relationship? These guys have never been on a notes call. Anyhoo, although the above mission statement is syntactically incoherent, the point is clear: there is an industry devoted to union-busting with refined strategies for dealing with union activity. And for a price, they'll pack their kitbags and show up, ready to take on whatever union they're pointed at. They have bullet points:

Most strikes are won or lost before they begin. Preparation is often the best deterrent.

Employers must know where they are before deciding to allow a strike. Our Labor Dispute Audit® [somebody wrote that! ] form will assist in that evaluation.

Almost all strikes bring with them the union's corporate campaign. Our counter corporate campaign helps the client keep its varied stakeholders onboard.

Maintaining operational effectiveness is the key to withstanding the effects of a work stoppage.

ANHS identifies the key issues a struck company faces. It is significant that in all these areas, the WGA strike is already having a huge impact. The studios were unprepared; they were caught in an untenable production cycle; they were caught by surprise by our PR blitz and are suffering substantial hits to their share values; and they are completely unable to maintain output without our active participation.

We have been effective, so the second phase of their crisis management has kicked in. They are now trying to break the strike. This tactical adjustment merely is another aspect of their overall strategy, which is to gain control over 'New Media' by breaking the unions. First us, then the rest. The Internet will be a non-union town.

The tactics of this past week have been about breaking the strike. Raise hopes, dash them. Present an 'Economic Partnership', then plead helplessness as we reject their proposals. (Key elements, which bear further discussion in another forum, of which an example: they told us five months ago that fixed residual formulas were too onerous for New Media; we proposed a percentage formula -- you make money we make money [and the obvious reverse]; they come back with a fixed residual formula. Even the federal mediator remarked that this seemed a little crazy.)

Other tactics: the violated press blackout. Who leaked information to Nikki Finke? Clearly not one of us, because its tone was merely a breathless prelude to the AMPTP's announcement that they had "unveiled a New Economic Partnership to the WGA, which includes groundbreaking moves in several areas of new media, including streaming, content made for new media and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels..."

A profoundly effective tactic: our membership reads Nikki Finke, the AMPTP leaks details of an impending breakthrough in the talks, we get pumped and relieved, then when there's nothing, we're all heartbroken. The hope being, of course, that we will blame the leadership, thus dividing the Guild.

In his book "Confessions of a Union Buster", Martin Jay Levitt details the techniques he learned in his many years attacking unions. A key element is the demoralization of the union members during any industrial action against the company. Taking away people's hopes, their aspirations for a quick resolution to any labor dispute – that was Levitt's job. "If you [can] make the union fight drag on long enough, workers...lose faith, lose interest, lose hope.” This from a recognized expert in the field of union-busting.

According to Robert Muehlenkamp, an SEIU Local 1199 organizer at Harper Grace hospital in the 70's, where Levitt was hired to consult management: "Union busters wield great power through a program of terror and manipulation – people don't, can't possibly know what's going on and who's telling the truth. Most of the people [at a work site] are just ordinary people. They have no experience … with violence, with being lied to, with manipulation, with being harassed in open, gross, insulting ways. The first time this happens to regular people, they're terrified.” And terror is the goal. The union buster hopes to control employees by employing terror.

But it isn't just about breaking an organizing drive at one single location. Muehlenkamp again: "If other hospital workers watched all the workers at Harper Grace try to organize and saw what happened to them, only to lose, they weren't going to attempt the same."

This is, of course, precisely the situation we find ourselves in today. We are the example that is being used to intimidate the other unions. The studios want the actors, the directors, the Teamsters, IATSE, all to look at our struggle and see us lose. See us fractured and divided. With the hope that they will be frightened by what they see, and accept whatever deal the studios offer.

The idea is also to make us appear demoralized, then divided. To the public, and to ourselves. Diminish the pickets (LA Times: the "relentless picketing" which was one element in bringing the AMPTP back to the table); split off core groups (oh no! Carlton Cuse has gone back to work! The Showrunners are all abandoning us!); fragment the internal leadership (the Captain's meeting Friday, although generally cordial, did show signs of strain as one writer, concerned for his laid-off production team asked "What do I tell them?" to be admonished by another member that "We are on strike!"); and create a sense that the studios can wait this out, and that we're not getting anywhere. That our strike is useless.

But it's not.

The most powerful tactic in strike-breaking is propagandistic. The union (and particularly the leadership) is portrayed as power-hungry, control-seeking, strike-happy, aloof. Leadership is described as detached from the membership and inaccessible to their demands (Patric responded to over 500 e-mails over the Thanksgiving break.) The strike is described as rudderless and futile, with declining numbers on the picket lines. The creation of a Strike Rules committee is described as fascistic. The companies are portrayed as avuncular and concerned: "We're just trying to get everyone back to work."

Levitt again: "The aim of the union buster is a war of saturation bombing in which half-truths, accusations and distortions of union positions put the union on the defensive.” Forcing the union leadership to defend itself during meetings means there's no time left for planning, or building internal unity. The workers won't have time to discuss their own issues if they're sufficiently bombarded with "twisted information" sown by the union buster. Which, in our own case, is the AMPTP.

The well-orchestrated anti-union campaign is nuanced and calibrated to human emotion. The union buster may offer a deal that creates an illusion that management recognizes its mistakes and has learned its lessons, and is trying to find a way to resolve the problem. Management really has changed, and management deserves a chance.

Okay? Confessions of a Union Buster. There is an AMPTP policy document that details how to deal with ‘negotiations.’ It essentially ends every paragraph with this simple idea: Divide and conquer. Divide and conquer. Conquer? Our ask doesn't even match inflation! Conquer what? Why? What's going on?

The New York Times today: "The nearly month-old strike by screenwriters has entered a new and perhaps uglier phase, revealing the conflict for what it has been all along: not so much a tiff over industry economics as a struggle for power over Hollywood's perceived digital future."

Oh, really? Well blow me down. It's about the Internet. Who woulda thunk? The supposed mis-step over the DVD proposal withdrawal (where the negotiating committee was assured by the AMPTP that the DVD formula was a big stumbling block, we withdrew it, they responded with nothing) is now recognized as a feint: there was no concern about DVD's. The corporations don't care. Your DVD collection is headed for the garage right now. At Ralph's, you can buy a DVD player for $29.95. That's cheaper than an 8-track player, bids on which top 100 bucks (for the really nice ones.)

So that's what the fight's over. Even the NYT, ever behind the curve on the news cycle, gets it. So now we are all clear what this is about.

And the corporations hope to smash our union around this issue. No Internet. No DVD's. No jurisdiction. No transparency. No nothing.

At the SEIU rally on Thursday, the marchers began and ended with a prayer. They bowed their heads and prayed for direction and guidance and thanked their God for the opportunity, the voice, the courage, the belief, to express themselves in their struggle.

They connect their struggle with their belief. They believe, and we must believe.

The SEIU leadership negotiates quite inflexibly with the employers because the employers see that the leadership is empowered by the belief of the members. This works in two ways. There is the obvious physical expression of the belief of the membership in being out in force, vocally, on the picket lines, and there is the emotional power of belief that underpins the leadership's work. The leadership can focus on the exhausting work of facing down the employers at the negotiating table because they are sustained by the knowledge that the membership is behind them. A leadership whose energy is divided by having to put out the fires of flagging faith cannot hold its own against the companies.

Again, this is the tactical approach of the AMPTP. Fragment the union, make the leadership have to focus on keeping us all happy, and the power of the WGA position will flag.

The SEIU workers take their struggle personally: each of them is fighting for a principle, a right. Every action is a fight not just for their specific demands, but also an affirmation of their right, their duty, to protect the sacred act of demanding a fair deal. They struggle not just for themselves, but for those who cannot, those who have gone before, those who have lost and won in this struggle, and for those who will struggle in the future. The struggle is permanent, and in this moment we are called to make a stand. Not just on the Internet or reality programming, but for our own beliefs. Our own beliefs. The issue is quite simple. While we may all have notions of tactics or strategy or which gate to picket or whether to have Christmas lunch on Peter Chernin's front lawn, it all boils down to this: What are we striking for? What do we believe? Is our purpose singular and clear?

The companies don't attack us on this question, because it's the one question only we can answer. It's also the one question that will decide whether we win or lose. Do we believe that this struggle, this sacrifice we are all making, is worthy? Are we of one heart? One mind? Do we look at each other on the picket lines and see brothers and sisters? Is our belief strong enough to carry us through to the end?

Only we can know. The companies hope the answer is no, and they will wage a psychological war to make us think the answer is no. The companies will try to convince us that we do not believe. And each of us, as individuals, must decide. Because if the answer is no, we have already lost.

Belief is victory.

In peace and solidarity,

TL

Saturday, December 01, 2007

MINDFUL OF THE MINDFUCK

More insightful emails passed on by my Shield buddy. This time from Stan Chervin and Kit Boss.

FROM STAN CHERVIN:

Dear Strike Team Members:

Since there was a lot of overlap of information given at the Captain's Meeting today and the Screenwriters' Meeting last night - not to mention the wealth of information sent to you by the WGA or available at unitedhollywood.com - I'll summarize the main points of what I feel you may not be aware of.

1. DON'T BELIEVE NIKKI FINKE. ONLY BELIEVE PATRIC VERONE

Many of us consult Nikki Finke's website Deadlinehollywooddaily.com for any news or the latest updates. Clearly, the Companies know that. So for the first three days of negotiations last week they systematically and with great pre-meditation "leaked" to her news about their "revolutionary" new proposal and how it should resolve the strike quickly. She posted the information, we all read it, and when the Companies proposal turned out to be nothing more than the same cuts, rollbacks and unfair compensation they've been offering since July all of our hopes, dreams and expectations of a happy resolution to the strike were dashed.

THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT THE COMPANIES WANT!! They want to raise our expectations, then dash them, then hope we'll be so demoralized we'll accept whatever low ball offer they put on the table. Because that's what they've always done.

It's not going to work this time.

The Companies have always worked with (and succeeded) using one principle tactic: Divide and Conquer. Raise their hopes, crash them down - divide and conquer. Lower their expectations, throw them a bone - divide and conquer. Drive them down to their absolute bottom line, offer them a mere pittance above it, hope enough writers are desperate enough to accept it - divide and conquer. Tell membership their leaders are crazy or strike-happy - divide and conquer. Spread lies and rumors about "other" writers going back to work - divide and conquer. Use "pattern negotiation" to reach an agreement with another guild first - divide and conquer. Divide and Conquer is all they know.

If we never let them divide us, they will never conquer us again.

And I can tell you, from personal experience, Nikki Finke often gets stuff wrong. So, do not believe anything you hear - a rumor, a report on a web site, a tip from a knowledgeable friend, anything! - until you hear it from Patric Verone.

2. "WE ARE NOT GOING TO BE THE NEGOTIATING COMMITTEE THAT GAVE AWAY THE INTERNET."

Patric Verone, John Bowman, David Young and everyone on the Negotiating Committee, the Board of Directors and the WGA staff know the importance of this contract. They are not going to accept a bad deal. They will stay at the table and negotiate for as long as it takes to get one. The first step, however, is for the Companies to make a serious and fair proposal. They are still waiting for that. One way to get that is to respond to their latest proposal with a strong show of unity on our part, renewed numbers on the picket line, a continued show of force by the showrunners, and further withholding of services.

There's a lot of gamesmanship to negotiating. Sometimes that means walking away from the table for a few days.

Have faith in the Negotiating Committee. They know that the Internet is the future, not just for the WGA, but for all unions in this town. They will never accept a bad deal.

3. THE STRIKE IS WORKING!

We all know what it means to "win": a fair deal, a just contract, and, above all, we all go back to work. Because the end goal is so concrete and specific, we often lose sight of the fact that we are currently winning!

Here's what the strike has done so far:

- We have effectively shut down television production. Out of 180 television shows, only 12 are still in production

- Despite false rumors and lies spread by the Companies, the showrunners continue to deny services. At most, only ten have gone back to work. And, for every show runner who went back, four have fallen out. The show runners are not going back to work because there's nothing to go back to. We have effectively halted this season

- If the Companies do not reach a deal soon, they will lose NEXT season. They know that. The pressure is on them to make a deal.

[As a side note, no one can quite figure out why they haven't made a deal yet. Their continued refusal to make a realistic offer lacks any rationale or logic. Consider this: if CBS gave us EVERYTHING we asked for, it would cost them only $4.1 million for all of next year. Right now, they are losing $2 million a week. Go figure.]

- The advertisers are asking the networks for rebates, buy backs, discounts and CASH BACK! The strike has hurt the companies where they feel it the most - in their pocketbook. Even though they knew a strike was coming, the networks foolishly sold ad time at inflated rates. Now, they are paying the price. This is a direct result of the strike.

- Of the 150 features due to start filming in the next two quarters, upwards of 75 - almost half of them - are in danger of falling apart because of the strike. Major movies, like Angels and Demons, Pinkville, Nine, and State of Play have already fallen apart. Since many of these movies were in pre-production THE STRIKE COSTS THE COMPANIES MONEY TO SHUT THEM DOWN.

- Finally, and appropriately, the WGA denied the Academy Awards broadcast a waiver. This broadcast earns millions of dollars for ABC. Money that will be lost because the show cannot be written.

4. THE DGA CAN'T HURT US

You hear a lot of talk on the line that if the AMPTP cannot make a deal with the WGA they will begin negotiating with the DGA, get them to take a lousy deal, then come back and force the WGA and SAG to take the same crappy deal.

It doesn't work that way.

First, the DGA isn't stupid. They see our strike is working. They know that whatever deal we get, they will get. They are willing to wait for us to make a good deal which they can then exploit. The same is true of SAG and the IA. These unions WANT us to get a good deal.

Second, if the DGA is stupid and makes a lousy deal, that same deal will not stick with the WGA or SAG. We will hold out for a fair and just contract.

Finally, 1,400 WGA members are also members of the DGA. That's more than 10% of their total membership, including some of their most prominent feature directors. These dual-members are binding together and speaking up to tell DGA leadership NOT to negotiate before we have a deal, and NOT accept a lesser deal.

5. NUMBERS COUNT

Every day the Guild counts how many picketers are on the line. SO DO THE COMPANIES! If they see the numbers go down, they will believe it is a weakening of our resolve or a show of disunity.

The Negotiating Committee cannot bring the Companies to the table. They cannot get the Companies to make a fair offer. They cannot the get the Companies to bargain in good faith.

Only the members can do that. We are the backbone of the strike. We are the strength the Negotiating Committee needs to get the contract we deserve.

For them to do that, we need to continue to show up in big numbers. WE cannot fall victim to the Companies use of disinformation, of divide-and-conquer tactics, to lull us into the belief the strike is almost over so we can stay at home. We need to be on the line every day. As another member put it: "This is a strike, not a vacation."

Make sure you're out there, on the line, or working at the Guild headquarters. More importantly, if you know a writer who IS NOT picketing, make sure they are out there with you. Numbers count.

6. THIS TIME IT'S DIFFERENT

Over the last 20 years, the AMPTP has negotiated over a 100 contracts with the various unions that represent film and television talent. They have used the same techniques - raising hopes then dashing them, lowering expectations, divide and conquer - to win each of those negotiations.

IT IS NOT WORKING THIS TIME. It's not working because of all of you and all the hard work, commitment and unity you've demonstrated. As a result, they do not know what to do.

One reason for our strength and unity is communication. Because of the Strike Captain structure, an articulate leadership, professional staff, and the internet, WGA membership is extremely well-informed about the issues, about what's at stake, and just how bad the Companies' proposals have been. As long as we communicate and remain well-informed, we will win. We will only lose if we lose our unity and that will only happen if they keep us from talking to each other.

Have a great weekend and I'll see you on the picket line on Monday.

- Stan

FROM KIT BOSS:

Hey, Team Carpool:

Today's Captain's meeting -- where we heard from David Young, Patrick Verone and John Bowman -- was both inspiring and bracing, like a sharp slap on my taut, bare bottom from Marsh's cold hand.

I share with you these highlights, with liberal borrowing from the re-caps of other Captains who've done a lot of typing so I don't have to:

In a nutshell, this week's "negotiations" confirm that the studios are engaged in a giant MINDFUCK... their plan is to raise our expectation of a quick settlement (through press leaks, e.g., Nicki Finke), only to dash those hopes with wholly unacceptable proposals. It's an effort to make us despair and make us believe that our only hope for resolution is to quickly drop down to OUR BOTTOM LINE, of which they're only willing to give us a tiny fraction. Their hope is that we'll cave and accept a shitty deal. Apparently, it's a tried-and-true technique of the AMPTP over the last thirty years (and is corroborated by an internal AMPTP memo that the WGA has gotten hold of and hopes soon to publish). The message from our leadership: don't let their plan work, stay strong, and keep pounding the pavement.

I know some of you have started to doubt the efficacy of picketing for hours on end. I posed this question to David Young, who made it clear that pickets are still (for better or worse) the barometer by which the studios (and the world at large) judges our resolve. He is absolutely convinced that our show of force on the lots and locations is what drove them back to the negotiating table -- and that they are still watching us. Now, especially, for signs that our resolve is weakening and our unity may be ready to crumble.

Young's assessment: Our negotiation leverage is only as strong as our presence on the picket lines.

I know that the value of picketing isn't easily quantifiable or observable as cause-and-effect; and it requires a leap of faith to take David Young's word for something none of us can actually see with our own eyes.

But another captain, Alfredo Barrios, who has done both lot and location picketing over the last four weeks attests: "I believe that our show of force really plays on the executives' minds. Psychologically, I think it makes them uncomfortable and the idea that we will not back down starts to build in their minds... and trust me, they're afraid of a lengthy strike. They have a lot to lose -- the rest of this TV season, pilot season, and many, many features in various stages of development and pre-production."

Alfredo continues:

"Lately, studios have been deploying executives to location shoots to try to back us down from our picketing -- which has been reaping havoc on their productions. I have seen the look in the executives' eyes: they are fucking afraid and weary. And when we don't back down, they go back to their offices and tell their bosses. And we make it clear that we're gonna keep coming at them. Now, they're trying to defend against our location pickets by taking out fake permits, hiring extra security, locking off bigger sections of locations, etc. It is costing them money and lots of effort. And yet, we still find a way to get to them... And they keep wondering, when are they gonna stop fucking with us? That's pressure. That shows resolve. That translates into negotiation power. So... keep showing up. It matters. That's what will ultimately settle this thing for us... on our terms."

Next week, we'll maintain the same picket schedule that we followed this week, and avoid any changes that might cause confusion. The goal: Show the studios that we're as strong as ever, and we're not going to sit still while they try to bone us.

For those who want to read more about exactly how bad an ass-rape the studio's latest offer would amount to, and why we're taking a two-day break from bargaining, I encourage you to check out unitedhollywood.com for the posting: Some Answers: Real Numbers, and what Really Happened in the Negotiations

Rest assured, Guild leadership is busy considering what should happen next, picket-wise. Strike co-ordinators will meet next Thursday to discuss (among other things) options such as consolidating our forces at fewer locations. Here at Universal, we'll be offering people a chance to take a break from the line for a few hours next week and get trained on location picketing, which figures to become much more important in the weeks to come.

Meanwhile, let's help each other try to even out the highs and lows of the emotional roller coaster the AMPTP is trying to make us ride. Don't believe the rumors (like the one that droves of showrunners are going back to work, when in fact the number amounts to only 10 out of more than 100 -- not enough to get the networks out of the pickle they're in). Try to keep a sense of humor. (The Captains have: After hearing about the 10 showrunners, someone shouted: "Who are they?” And then, when Verone and Bowman wouldn't name names: "C'mon. We just want to talk to them.") But also, stay pissed at the studios -- it makes those three hours of daily picketing FLY.

Also, I'm happy to report you can expect a few Christmas gifts to arrive early:

--Visits to every picket line at every studio on Monday from members of the negotiating committee or WGA board. A great chance to get your questions answered by the people who spent last week at the negotiating table.

--More t-shirts (including spiffy new styles available only at special events, such as a run of 2,000 for next Friday's Freemantle rally in Burbank, noon-2pm. You'll not only have a chance to get a new t-shirt, but strike a blow against the reality dreck that the networks will have to rely on to plug the gaps left by the shows we're shutting down, and exploits the people who write it.)

--More economic damage to the networks. Ad Age reports that they'll have to GIVE CASH BACK to their advertisers because the ratings for all that reality and re-runs will be so shitty, and they won't have enough inventory for make-goods.

--Direct pressure on advertisers from a group of more than 100,000 consumer activists that we can access through the data base of our sister unions and a scary piece of technology called "Robo-Call."

--No more news blackouts. WGA Prez Patric Verone promised. "Never again will we leave our members in the dark."

--No WGA waiver for writers to work on the Oscars telecast.

--A firecracker up Carson Daly's ass. And possibly a diseased partridge in a dry and brittle pear tree, too.

Until Monday,

- Kit

Friday, November 30, 2007

MY ASS IS SORE

This email was sent to me from a Shield buddy. The author of it is Hank Steinberg. He closes the email by encouraging it to be passed on so I'm guessing it's cool to post it here for all to see. I think it's an accurate evaluation of what is going down in the negotiations. It's frustrating, but there's still the real possibility that a deal will be struck by early 2008. Hank writes:

To my fellow writers, I'm sure tonight's email from the Writer's Guild was a tad disheartening, particularly after expectations were raised this week that we would be close to making a deal and that the studios were prepared to make substantial concessions. I spoke to a member of the Negotiating Committee tonight to get more enlightened myself as to what the hell happened: what was the disconnect between the rumors and expectations and the dismal results of this week? The answer, apparently, is that this is precisely the studios' strategy: raise expectations through disinformation in the media and elsewhere, get us feeling comfortable, get us psychologically used to the idea that the strike will end, and then dash those hopes. This is essentially what they did on november 4th and they are trying to do it again. That is why they leaked the news to nicky fink on monday that the deal was essentially done. If we go soft and get comfortable, the thinking goes, we'll end up accepting a shitty deal. Apparently, this strategy has worked for them in the past but we can't let it work now. As long as we understand what they are doing and why they are doing it, we should not be disheartened. The studios' real mandate is to close this deal by mid to late december to get the tv season back on track in january and to save their pilot season. They have no urgency right at this moment to resolve this. Their coming back to the table now was part of a p.r. mislead and was actually meant to raise our hopes, then thwart them as a means of psychological warfare. To wear us down. They will, in fact, probably not negotiate for real until closer to their mid-december deadline and in the meantime will try to work on our collective resolve. So although the idea of picketing for a couple of more weeks doesn't sound particularly glamorous to any of us, we're still in good shape to make a fair deal and we shouldn't allow their tactics to dampen our spirits or forget what it is we're striking over in the first place. They need to make a deal, they will make a deal, they just want to gauge us as much as they can. I thought it enormously helpful to understand where they are coming from and hope it will help you too. The leadership understands that an informed constituency is a motivated constituency and members of the leadership and negotiating committee will be out on the picket lines on monday to elucidate some of this and to answer questions, but no reason to churn and stew all weekend til then. So rest up this weekend and don't despair. And by all means, feel free to forward this email to any of our brethren. We're all in this together! Hank

_________________________________________ All I can say is that it worked, Hank. I had family and personal obligations this week and was not on a picket line. The truth is, I just wasn't inclined to throw on the red shirt and grab the sign. I was feeling relieved for the first time in over a month. I sipped the drugged martini. I was roofied by the hype and now my ass is sore and my lips are chapped. The problem is that although this philosophy has worked in the past, the WGA's resolve is dangerously strong. Look at some of my previous blogs. This action is just gonna frustrate the members. I believe it will have the opposite effect that Big Media had hoped for. I foresee more rallies, You Tube videos, clever chants and long emails from PV. Please god, no more rappin' writers... Hank is right, we need a strong show of support on Monday. I'll be back on the line. Pissed off, red shirt, sign, sober.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Acronym Anagram Analogy = Alliteration

AMPTP 1. amp 2. apt 3. map 4. mat 5. pap 6. pat 7. tam 8. tamp 9. tap WGA 1. wag 9 to 1 sounds about right. At the table, the D vs. G struggle continues. Clearly, I am really fucking bored.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

ME, A MODERATE? NO FUCKING WAY. REALLY??

Last week at the Shield Wrap Party, someone who read some of my blogs was quite surprised by my opinions. She said that she never would have thought of me as a "moderate". At first, I thought she was fucking with me, then I realized she was serious. I laughed nervously, nodded my head at an imaginary person-of-interest and slipped into the crowd. When I cleared her, I looked around to make sure no one else had heard her. Moderate? This kind of blaspheme could ruin my reputation. I’m the guy who slams doors louder than anyone in Hollywood. I’m the guy who terrifies assistants by hurling improperly dressed salads at the wall. I’m the guy who ... I'm fucking Margos, goddammit -- I am nothing, if not an extremist. I can see how one could categorize my strike opines as being centrist -- calling for both sides to put down the sword and pick up the pen. But my intent was not to incite moderation, it was and is, to incite action. When we are blinded by the extreme, our view gets very limited. In this case, the extreme being the WGA's cry for Big Media's head on a stake. We can't hear the voice of reason over the saber rattling (a moderate would never use this many war clich├ęs). As much as I relish the idea of a shoot-first-ask-questions-never reputation, the irony is that I'm a guy who seeks and craves moderation. As much as I want to be loved, honored and adored, I’m a guy who seeks and needs humility. I know I’m wired for extreme reactions. I see things a little brighter, hear things a little louder, feel things a little deeper. Not bragging, those are just the facts. I have a Belushi-esque appetite for most things -- spiritual and carnal. As my wife says, "My big energy can fill up a room." I've spent the last 14 years curbing that bigness and searching for moderation. It’s a daily challenge. Some days I’m the Buddha, some days I’m the bear. Perhaps I should be grateful that some of my moderation is bleeding through and actually having an impact. Hell, before long, people may actually want to have lunch with me.