Saturday, November 10, 2007

Strong Words

Entertainment Weekly has written the first fair article about the strike in the mainstream press. My favorite quote:

''Corporations are fond of reminding their employees that they're all a 'family' during tough times. But when families sit down to dinner, Dad doesn't get to say, 'I'm gonna eat until I decide I'm full, and then we'll see if there's anything left for the rest of you.'''

Full article here:,,20159387,00.html

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Strike Day #2

Today a lot of disturbing information came out about the strike that is so infuriating and heart rending it's unbelievable. The Producer's Alliance has essentially pulled a fast one on the WGA, luring them to the table by saying that if they pulled the DVD issue off the table they would restructure the internet package. The WGA held up their end of the bargain. The AMPTP did not. Not only did this force the strike, but it will keep both sides from even going back to the table for quite some time.

For the time being I suspect this blog will be primarily about the strike. If you read this and agree (or are just interested), please pass this information on to your friends. Public support will be key. Fortunately the politicians have hopped on the writer's bandwagon -- Barack Obama and John Edwards have voiced their support for the writers, so that's something.

There have been a lot of eloquent and passionate articles and blogs appearing over the past few days that are well worth the read if you are interested in this issue. (We are writers after all, so you can expect a lot of prose flowing as the strike continues). I will be linking to or posting them here.

Here is one of them written by Micah Wright, passed on to me by my friend Brian Stack who writes for Conan O'Brien. I am assuming that he won't mind it being reprinted here, but I am sure someone will let me know if it is a problem. His overview of the issues is really interesting, passionate, and astute:

(The following was written by Micah Wright on WriterAction. It's in response to a writer who takes issue with WGA leadership.)

The AMPTP clearly never intends to pay us one single cent for internet delivery. The music business model clearly indicates that internet delivery for most, if not all content is the future. What then were we supposed to do when faced with rollbacks and refusals to bargain in good faith? Pray? Or just swallow the bullshit they were trying to shove down our throats, and forget about not only what we're making, but also what every person who ever follows us into this union will ever make?

People like you keep bitching about the DVD negotiating point, and yeah, you're right: DVD was lost 20 years ago, but there's no magic rule which says we can't reopen that topic. More importantly, though, DVD didn't take off for almost a decade after the '88 strike... the Internet is here NOW, and it's here FOREVER, and if we give in and allow them to pay us ZERO on Internet delivery, we can just kiss the idea of ever getting paid residuals goodbye forever.

It's not self-righteousness which is driving this negotiation... it's quite simply the greed of the AMPTP, which clearly sees this as the year in which they intend to break the WGA on the rack once and for all. But you don't see that... you seem unable to get it through your head that the AMPTP doesn't want to ever pay us anything. If you think these people are so reasonable and that they deal in good faith, then try talking to writers who work in Animation and Reality... THAT is the future that the AMPTP has in store for EVERY WRITER IN THE WGA. Because if they don't have to pay residuals to the woman who wrote The Lion King, then why should they ever have to pay one to YOU? Or anyone else?

Oh, and before you give me some fucking sob story about the disastrous strike of 1988, let me bring you up to date with a more RECENT story: mine.

I came to this guild having had a "successful" career writing Animation for $1400/week for five years. During that time, I wrote on several of Nickelodeon's highest-rated shows. My writing partner wrote and directed 1/4 of the episodes of "SpongeBob SquarePants" and I was responsible for 1/5 of the episodes of "The Angry Beavers." The current value that those shows have generated for Viacom? $12 Billion dollars. My writing partner topped out at $2100/week. In the year 2001, tired of not receiving residuals for my endlessly-repeating work (even though the actors and composers for my episodes do), I joined with 28 other writers and we signed our WGA cards.

So, Nickelodeon quickly filed suit against our petition for an election, and set about trying to ferret out who the "ringleaders" were. In the meantime, they canceled the show that I had created 4 episodes into an order of 26. Then they fired the 3 writers who'd been working on my show. Then they fired 20 more of my fellow writers and shut down three more shows, kicking almost their entire primetime lineup for 2002 to the curb, and laying off 250 artists.

Then, once the WGA's petition for election was tied up in court over our illegal firings, Nickelodeon called in the IATSE Local 839 "Cartoonists Guild" -- a racket union which exists only the screw the WGA and its own members -- and they signed a deal which forever locks the WGA out of Nickelodeon, even though we were there first. Neato!

Then Nickelodeon's brass decided --out of thin fucking air-- that myself and two other writers had been "the ringleaders" of this organizing effort, so they called around to Warner Bros. Animation, the Cartoon Network, Disney Animation, and Fox Kids, effectively blacklisting the three of us out of animation permanently.

And why did Nickelodeon do this? Why were they so eager to decimate their own 2002 schedule, fire 24 writers, break multiple federal labor laws, sign a union deal, and to even bring back the fucking blacklist? They did all of that to prevent us from getting the same whopping $5 residual that the actors & composers of our shows get.

For five lousy fucking bucks, they destroyed three people's careers and put 250 artists out of work and fucked up their own channel for a year.

Ahh, but my episodes run about 400 times a year worldwide, though, so obviously Sumner Redstone (Salary in 2001: $65 million dollars) and Tom Freston (2001 salary: $55 million) were right to do what they did... myself and those other 23 writers might have broken the bank, what with each of us going to cost them another TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS each! OH NO! That... that's... FORTY EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS!


So don't come crying to those of us who have EXPERIENCED what the AMPTP plans for all of the rest of you, that people who are deciding to stand up to bully-boy tactics like that are the crazy bunch of "horads" lustily marching "through" the streets searching for blood. The AMPTP are the barbarians sacking Rome in this scenario.

The AMPTP and their glittering-eyed weasel lawyers are a bunch of lying, blacklisting, law-breaking scumbags, and the fact that they haven't budged off of ANY of their proposals in the last three months proves that what they have in store for EVERY SINGLE ONE OF YOU is exactly what they did to us at Nickelodeon, and what they can do any day of the week in daytime animation. Or reality.

Strike or no strike. That's their plan: to winnow down your membership, to snip away at your MBA, to chew away at your health & pension plans until there's just nothing left of the WGA. Why? Because they've had a good strong drink of how much money they make off of animation when they don't have to cut the creators in for any of the cash, and now they want to extend that free ride to all of live action as well. THAT is why they have pushed for this strike at every step, with their insulting press releases, with their refusals to negotiate, etc. -- because they're HOPING we go on strike, and that enough cowards and Quislings come crawling out of the woodwork after six weeks that they can force us to accept the same deal that Reality TV show writers have.

If you doubt me, go read their contract proposals again... there's not ONE of them which isn't an insult and a deal-breaking non-starter.

So can we PLEASE stop hearing about how it's the current WGA management which is the fucking problem here? Because, frankly, that canard is getting a little stale.

Or perhaps you prefer presidents like the President of the Guild back in 2001 who just threw up her hands when we were fired and blacklisted out of our careers and said, and I quote, "oh well, it was a good try"?'

Monday, November 05, 2007

The Strike

The midst of the WGA writer's strike seems like as good a time as any to ressurect this blog. I certainly won't be writing anything else for a while.

Yesterday I walked the picket line in support of the Writer's Guild Strike. Most people who read this blog are fully aware of what is at issue, but for the few of you who are not indoctrinated here is a quick overview:

- DVD revenue: Currently writers get 4 cents per DVD. They are asking for 8 cents. The average DVD sale price ranges from 10-30 dollars, so this request is not exactly breaking the bank.

- Internet Coverage: Currently writers get no residuals for any television content shown on the networks websites (or elsewhere). Also there is no contract for any new content that is created for the internet, meaning any web shows, etc. Since, much like the music industry, internet is the future, this is a pretty serious issue. If the writers lose this battle, it in essence means that writers will not be paid for their work, since down the line most shows will be viewed via the internet.

The writers actually took the DVD issue off the table and the producers still walked out. Then they went to the trades and said that the writers walked out. Douchebags.

The AMPTP is trying to paint a picture which implies that writers are greedy and unreasonable when all they are asking is their fair share of the profits from content they helped to create. (A successful show can generate millions, sometimes even billions, of dollars and the writers get a very small portion of that.) Due to their complete unwillingness to negotiate, particularly on the topic of internet usage, they have forced the writers to strike, which seems to be what they want. They are in essence trying to break the union by showing reality TV and reruns. However if writers capitulate on the internet issue it is in effect saying that writers will not be paid for their work if it is shown on any medium other than television - like the music industry, new media is the future so capitulation on this issue is impossible.

The Producers Alliance keeps citing the fact that they don't know how new media will work, which is why they don't want to commit to any percentages. Which makes no sense. If they make money, writers get a percentage, but if they make no money writers get a percantage of nothing, which doesn't hurt the producers bottom line in the least.

What is inspiring is that many show runners (quite literally the people that run each show) have refused to cross picket lines even though they are technically producers. This includes showrunners from The Office, The Shield, and Grey's Anatomy, to name a few, which has brought production on those shows (and others) to a complete halt.

A few people have asked me why I chose to walk the line even though I am not a Guild member. Sadly this strike effects me and almost every one of my friends in innumerable ways. I walked because:

1-I want to support my many friends and acquaintances who are directly affected by the strike.

2-As a writer who expects to be in this union sooner or later they are essentially fighting for the contract that I will eventually live by, so as far as I am concerned this is my fight as much as anyone's.

This strike will affect me and all of my friends: no acting work outside of commercials and a few movies already in production, no pitch meetings, no industry to come see our shows, no development deals. My friends who recently sold shows to TV or got cast on shows are now going to wait around and hope their deals don't fall through by the time everyone gets back to work. This is what me and all of my friends work for and there will be nothing for us to do until the strike is over. Despite all this, we all support the strike because the producers want to give us (all writers and actors) literally nothing.

Good luck to everyone. Let's hope it resolves itself soon.

Me and my friend Doug Mand outside of 30 Rock. (picture by Dan Gregor)