Author: Peter Indall
Increasing tension over contract negotiations between the Writers Guild of America (WGA) and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) over the last few weeks culminated on Monday, November 5, in the first WGA strike since 1988. The former strike lasted 22 weeks and not only debilitated the entertainment industry, but also the Los Angeles economy. With 12,000 members, the WGA represents nearly all of the writers who work in television and film.
Due to the irregular nature of employment in the entertainment industry, writers rely heavily on residuals from syndication, videocassettes and DVDs. The sticking point between writers and producers is over the residuals owed from DVD sales and the emergence of new media as a revenue source. Under current contracts, writers collect 3.6 percent of every DVD sale, but after the explosive success of DVDs in the last decade, they are asking for an 8 percent cut of sales.
In terms of new media such as direct demand and internet downloads, writers receive little or no residuals. Producers said that due to the unknown revenue models of such new media, it is difficult to project how profitable they will be. Depending on perspective, the WGA paints a picture of a strong entertainment industry from which they want a piece of the pie, while AMPTP portrays an industry in dire straits that will suffer under new writer demands. Other industry organizations such as the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) are watching the developments closely, since the strike may affect their contract negotiations in the future.
The initial agreement between writers and producers expired on October 31, but emergency talks deferred the strike until November 5, after talks collapsed the night before. Now 15 studio sites throughout the Los Angeles area, as well as several in New York, are the locations for picket lines with writers striking. Several celebrities have made headlines for their support of the writers, including Jay Leno, who brings the writers donuts in the morning as they picket.
The immediate effect of the strike is the rerun of late night talk shows. Depending on how long the strike lasts, its effects will reverberate as studios will potentially have to lay off crews, actors, directors and all other employees involved in production.
During the last strike, many writers suffered enormous hardships such as losing their homes. However, despite the potential risk that the strike poses, most writers agree it is necessary to reach the goal of equitable pay for their work.
One member of the guild, who wished to remain anonymous, explained the goal of the strike. “The idea is to finally get what we should have stayed out for in 1988, a percentage of all new media and outlets as yet unused or invented,” he said. “The studios and producers have had this language in every contract since 1965, but the WGA didn’t fight for it until now, when it’s too late. What is not profitable now will be in the future. The old guys just did not get it.”
After one week of striking, the WGA seems no closer to agreeing on a contract and the current stalemate may last for weeks to come.
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