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WGA set to strike - TV Season could be truncated/delayed


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#1 of 771 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted October 20 2007 - 03:49 PM

Unless a miracle happens by Oct. 31st, the WGA (Writers Guild of America) is set to strike when their current contract is up, and that means the TV season (and films) is going to be truncated early until the writers can come to terms with the studios. There has been stockpiling of scripts by the studios, but TV will be more affected due to the number of weekly shows that need scripting to continue throughout the season.

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#2 of 771 OFFLINE   TravisR

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Posted October 20 2007 - 03:55 PM

I think/hope that the strike will be shortlived. The last one was pretty long (March to August 1988) but that's mostly the off season for television. Since this one is happening during the season, the studios will have millions of advertsing dollars riding on resolving it as soon as they can.

#3 of 771 OFFLINE   Chris

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Posted October 20 2007 - 04:01 PM

Yep. But it appears as though writers on the TV side are the ones who feel as though they are most wronged. In film, writers do continue to receive some ancillary benefits through all media. But TV writers say they get no such guarantee with DVD sales and foreign market sales. The TV writers also say that the networks have made the situation worse by putting content online at their websites, and the writers get no royalty per se on that either.

Right now, as far as negotiations goes, both sides are WAY off. How this settles out is going to be very tricky. Some shows have numerous episodes already in the cans, but you may find networks trotting out unaired pilots, purchased films, and other crap if they can't negotiate a deal.
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#4 of 771 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted October 20 2007 - 04:18 PM

Quote:
the studios will have millions of advertsing dollars riding on resolving it as soon as they can.

The studios will have zero advertising dollars riding on this, because the studios don't make money on TV advertising. The studios license shows to the networks (or first-run syndicators) for a per-episode fee, period. Generally this fee is less than the cost of producing each episode. Once the studio has accumulated enough episodes of a series it can sell a package of episodes into after-network syndication. Until the advent of TV-on-DVD, that was the only way most TV shows ever turned a profit. (Which means that the vast majority of shows that made it past the pilot stage never did make any money for the studios and were dead losses. Ditto most movie flops prior to the advent of home video. The much-derided "Hollywood accounting" mostly arose as a way of covering the cost of all the product that didn't ever earn any money back for the studios. The costs of the flops was charged against the hits - as if there were anyplace else the studios could charge it off against. It isn't like the studios could demand that all the folks involved in producing the bombs give their salaries back, after all. Now that home video, TV-on-DVD, rentals and various web-based systems exist the picture has changed and accounting methods should be brought up to date to reflect the new reality - but it is silly to act as if there had never been a reason for the old methods to exist.)

So while the studios will be giving up those license fees and potential future profits (from shows that eventually earn profits) they will also be saving production costs and therefore the flow of red ink, in the short term.

The studios don't make a dime off TV advertising. The networks (and local stations) are the ones who collect the advertising money, and at the end of the day the difference in what they paid to buy or produce their shows and what they charged for ads is what determines their profits.

Now it is true that thanks to rules changes and increased vertical integration that some studios now own networks and some networks own some studios and some studios and networks are owned by the same corporate parent, but for the most part they all still work and handle their money indepently, and it is still the case that all of the networks carry primetime scripted series produced by unaffiliated studios, and all studios sell shows to "competing" networks.

The networks will throw as much "unscripted" material on the screen as possible - especially cheap-to-produce and very popular fare like game shows, celebrity competitions, and various flavors of reality show - to fill the void and hope for the best. The networks are the actual main consumers of the studios' TV product, and they'll find an alternate source of supply. I suspect that a long strike will hurt the studios on the theatrical side a lot worse. Films need a lot more lead time and many more re-writes in process. Also while TV fans will happily return to their favorite series when they come back, the last thing the studios need is to break even more people of the rapidly-declining habit of going out to the movies.

I'm hoping a strike can be avoided, too, but the studios have been such dicks to the writers for so long that I think they deserve what they get if they aren't willing to share a little more of the cash with them. Without the writers all of those expensive actors and ridiculously over-rated directors are just are worth much.

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#5 of 771 OFFLINE   Joseph DeMartino

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Posted October 20 2007 - 04:35 PM

Quote:
Yep. But it appears as though writers on the TV side are the ones who feel as though they are most wronged. In film, writers do continue to receive some ancillary benefits through all media.

Nope - pretty much everybody gets screwed. Don't forget, it is all the same union, TV and film are both covered by the same minimum basic agreement and many writers work in both media. So it isn't like there are "movie writers" over here and "TV writers" over there. Sure, a handful of "star" screenwriters like Joe Esterhaus and William Goldman can negotiate better deals for themselves, but even with them the studios avoid doing anything that could be seen as setting a precedent. (They turned down Arnold's demand to be paid for doing a DVD commentary on Eraser for the same reason - not only would every other actor in town have tried to get the same deal, but SAG would have used the precedent to try to codify such payments in the next contract.)

Like SAG, the WGA negotiates to get the best deal for the majority of its members who aren't stars and who don't even make a living solely by pursuing their craft - all the writers working at ad agencies or insurance offices, who are like all the actors waiting tables between gigs.

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#6 of 771 OFFLINE   Chris

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Posted October 20 2007 - 04:52 PM

Quote:
Nope - pretty much everybody gets screwed. Don't forget, it is all the same union, TV and film are both covered by the same minimum basic agreement and many writers work in both media. So it isn't like there are "movie writers" over here and "TV writers" over there. Sure, a handful of "star" screenwriters like Joe Esterhaus and William Goldman can negotiate better deals for themselves, but even with them the studios avoid doing anything that could be seen as setting a precedent.

No, I'm just saying when screenwriters for films find stuff going to DVD, most of them knew that would be the result as recently as 10 years ago, and it's a newer phenomenon for TV writers.

Movie screenwriters, to this point, have not had to worry about major studios showing full length films clipped onto the internet, which now all of the major networks offer in some form for TV shows.

While they negotiate under the same contract, TV writers feel as though their is immense pressure to get value for their job as they face competition from unscripted "reality" programming, a broadening scope of 3rd party channel partners owned by the same parent company, and the way in which their work is shown.

These are all factors that, at least, right now moviewriters don't face. (though the moment that "Reality Movies" start working I may have to leave the country).

Moviewriters have different pressing concerns, like the re-issuing of much older releases, remake and remake credits, etc.

One union represents all, but every wing has their own concern.
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#7 of 771 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted October 29 2007 - 09:17 PM

A day to go, any new news?
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#8 of 771 OFFLINE   Chris

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Posted October 30 2007 - 12:53 AM

At last note (last night) the parties are not even close, according to most sources (variety). So, uh.. here's hoping there is some breakthrough today, otherwise we'll get through the shows in the can and then..
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#9 of 771 OFFLINE   Brian D H

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Posted October 30 2007 - 02:30 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by TravisR
I think/hope that the strike will be shortlived. The last one was pretty long (March to August 1988) but that's mostly the off season for television.

Well the "off season" depended on the show - some had long production times. I still remember the horror that was the second season of Star Trek the Next Generation. Only it's loyal fan-base allowed it to continue to it's third (and arguably best) season. A lot of other TV shows also noticeably sucked that year - many of them didn't survive.

There are a lot of promising new shows this year that are still finding an audience. I hope this doesn't kill some of them.
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#10 of 771 OFFLINE   Chad Ferguson

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Posted October 30 2007 - 04:31 AM

Hope this is not a huge subject change but isnt SAG going to strile as well or is it the Directors guild?

#11 of 771 OFFLINE   Chris

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Posted October 30 2007 - 04:56 AM

They already agreed to continue negotiations through June. WGA tried to upstage them by saying that they normally get the short end of the stick because others go ahead of them, so they are short-circuiting everything. The moment the contract expires, if there is not a new one in place, they strike. Most of the other guilds have an agreement where they work under the terms of the old agreement as long as good faith negotiations are going on.
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#12 of 771 ONLINE   Scott-S

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Posted October 30 2007 - 05:00 AM

All of this spells more cost to consumers for DVDs. Posted Image
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#13 of 771 OFFLINE   KevinGress

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Posted October 30 2007 - 06:08 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Scott-S
All of this spells more cost to consumers for DVDs. Posted Image

Not just DVDs, but cable and satellite, as well.

If I understand a major issue from Chris' post (revenue from media other than first-run series) then I think many 'average Joes' like myself will have a hard time getting behind the writers on this one. To continue getting paid on work done before, even years? I understand that actors, and perhaps others, do get this revenue, but does it make it right? I mean, how many here have complained because integral music has been removed from DVDs due to licensing issues?

As a computer programmer I create work that continously generates revenue for my employer - even years after its completion. But yet, I only get paid ONCE for the work - unless I modify, or otherwise rework the code. Now, should I unionize my programmer friends and demand that every time one of my programs run that I get paid X from my company? That would result in NONE of my programs being run, or cost would be added to the final product- and given it's health care, I'd say it's expensive enough.

Before Joseph and others think I'm a complete ogre, I'm not saying that the union doesn't have the right to negotiate better terms for writers. And I also don't have a problem with writers trying to get more. I'm just saying that for most people, who only get paid once on the work they do, that this is hard to get behind.

#14 of 771 OFFLINE   RickER

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Posted October 30 2007 - 06:42 AM

Bet i could live a long time off what one hour long TV script sells for! I love movie soundtracks. The guys playing the instruments wanted to get paid for CDs, DVDs, and so on. Funny, thats about the time that movie and TV music started to suck, and was being banged out on a synth, instead of an orchestra. Is it not enough that they get paid, and sometimes very well for services rendered!

#15 of 771 OFFLINE   Kevin Grey

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Posted October 30 2007 - 08:09 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Chad Ferguson
Hope this is not a huge subject change but isnt SAG going to strile as well or is it the Directors guild?


Not a subject change at all. They are all very much related. Evidently the looming DGA and SAG strikes are what have the potential to really make the Writer's strike go on for a long time since any concessions that the studios make to the writers will automatically be demanded by DGA and SAG. So the studios are going to try and lowball the writers as much as possible.

#16 of 771 OFFLINE   Adam Lenhardt

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Posted October 30 2007 - 10:53 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by KevinGress
If I understand a major issue from Chris' post (revenue from media other than first-run series) then I think many 'average Joes' like myself will have a hard time getting behind the writers on this one. To continue getting paid on work done before, even years? I understand that actors, and perhaps others, do get this revenue, but does it make it right? I mean, how many here have complained because integral music has been removed from DVDs due to licensing issues?
They're called residuals and have been a key component of salaries for decades now. Residuals exist in a variety of freelance industries; when newspapers went online, for instance, freelance writers who had not signed over online publication in their contracts successfully petitioned the Supreme Court for residuals.

If you were a freelance programmer that lives project to project, you would likely either sell your programs outright for a large lump sum that lasts a while or for a smaller sum that pays out residuals too. Remember that the vast majority of guild members without fat production deals get smaller than average pay outs initially and can go months, even years, without work depending on the industry. Almost always without benefits or retirement. Think of residuals as the freelancer's retirement.

#17 of 771 OFFLINE   Derek Miner

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Posted October 30 2007 - 12:06 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by RickER
Bet i could live a long time off what one hour long TV script sells for!
I found a WGA schedule that shows the minimum amount as of 2004, and a one-hour network show paid $28,833. And that assumes you get story AND teleplay credit. Script only got you $18,969. Admittedly, most people writing on a network show are also on a staff, earning a weekly salary as well. But also consider that out of that payment, about 13 percent goes to the guild for insurance purposes. And at a minimum, most people are paying 10 percent to agents. Some people are paying 10 percent to managers, and some people are paying 5 percent to a lawyer. Then there's taxes. And it has been pointed out that writers are freelance workers who have to earn larger amounts up front to cover the time they aren't working.

For some background on the strike and residuals, I recommend these resources:

KCRW's radio program "The Business". Several episodes in the last few months have discussed the strike and residuals.

The most recent episode of the podcast "Sam and Jim Go To Hollywood" covers the looming strike from a writer's perspective. The "hosts" moved to L.A. several years ago to pursue the dream of writing for television and just came off a season on "The Dead Zone." Past episodes are great background to understanding exactly what writers have to do for no pay just to get to a point where they get an opportunity to make a sale.
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#18 of 771 OFFLINE   Ken Chan

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Posted October 30 2007 - 12:15 PM

Quote:
As a computer programmer I create work that continously generates revenue for my employer - even years after its completion.
One difference is that it continues to be sold in its original form and for its original purpose. Even if it's first pits on a CD and then bits that get downloaded, it's still basically the same product for the same kind of consumer.

If you write a TV show for broadcast, and then someone invents TV on DVD, that's two different markets with two different customers. If the nature of the original agreement was, "I get a cut whenever this is shown on-air," it makes sense they could argue for a cut whenever someone buys a copy.

And that's because the nature of the work is also different. You can be a long-term employee of the company. It is expected that you will work on new versions of the same thing, or on different things, or get promoted to management, and they continue to pay your salary. But artists work on individual projects, without that expectation. So arguably they should get a reasonable share of whatever revenue that project brings in, foreseen or not.

Quote:
should I unionize my programmer friends and demand that every time one of my programs run that I get paid X from my company?
First, they're not suggesting they get paid every time you play a DVD -- at least not yet Posted Image But secondly, with for example a subscription-based or ad-based website, programmers could definitely get paid on a royalty per-use basis, if that was the agreement.

Quote:
how many here have complained because integral music has been removed from DVDs due to licensing issues?
It's a shame when the greed of one or both parties, the musicians and/or the owners, causes that to happen. But sacrificing fairness so that we can get product seems short-sighted.

#19 of 771 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted October 31 2007 - 04:38 AM

I can only assume that people who think the writers are being greedy didn't see the proposals the AMPTP had on the table. No more DVD residuals at all? No more separated rights? These things are completely absurd.

Quote:
To continue getting paid on work done before, even years?

You can't think of it that way. Residuals are not wages.
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#20 of 771 OFFLINE   Aaron Silverman

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Posted October 31 2007 - 05:16 AM

SAG and, more importantly, the Teamsters are semi-officially behind the WGA on this now. Hopefully that added threat will reduce the likelihood of an actual strike.
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