By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
AS THE STRIKE DEADLINE draws near, the nauseous stench of flop sweat has saturated movie and TV writers’ rooms, sound stages, and executive suites. The reason for the malodorous cloud currently hanging over Hollywood has less to do with fear over the fires raging around the outskirts of Los Angeles than with the combustible relationship between the Writers Guild and the moguls. Pissing off the studio and network big shots used to calling the shots in this Industry is the hard line taken by the WGA’s membership, which has voted by more than 90 percent to let its leadership call a labor action anytime after the current contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers ends on October 31. And pissing off the Schmucks With Underwoods, as that shithead with money, Warner Bros. founder Jack Warner, so unaffectionately dubbed the scribblers long ago, has been the arrogant determination of his Big Media successors to use the strike as an excuse to rethink their business models.
Excuse me for gagging, but I’m not sure which is worse: the smell of stinky armpits or the odor of caged animals. Ugh, every three years, the writers and producers who occupy the same pen known as Hollywood act like monkeys flinging their feces against the walls. Both sides make menacing noises to indicate they’re going to bite the hands that feed them. They don’t care that the last WGA strike, in 1988, dragged on for 22 weeks and dragged down the Industry by a half-billion bucks. If that happens again, then I say drag everyone away from the bargaining table and put them in the same padded cell.
The latest news is that Nick Counter, AMPTP’s chief negotiator, wants all of the negotiating-committee members at Thursday’s session, no matter what. That’s leading the Writers Guild of America side to think maybe something’s gonna give.
But the order comes because Counter claims only a dozen people, out of the 40 who should have been there, were at Monday’s face-to-face session, including “not a single exec from WGA East.” This isn’t true: WGAE was repped at Monday’s session by screenwriter and negotiating-committee member Terry George. I hear the moguls’ negotiating team wanted two days of caucus time afterward because they’re working overtime to devise a new combination of alternatives and options to present to the WGA, as I reported on DeadlineHollywood Daily. It would include a stepped-up new-media plan that would give writers a share of digital revenue, make it retroactive, and also allow for a few years’ study and refinement. The reason for the full-attendance request is that the bigwigs want as many from the other side as possible to hear the producers’ POV up close and personal, not just the usual militants but also the bigtime writers/hyphenates who have enormous sway within the guild’s 12,000-strong membership.
Despite news reports about a sour meeting Monday where neither side budged, I’ve heard that session actually went pretty well. “WGA proposals were actually addressed, and people were pleasant,” a source from the writers’ side told me. But, immediately after the talks, both AMPTP and the WGA side issued scathing statements. This posturing is exactly why nothing that’s happened before now matters. Because all the huffing and puffing and, most of all, bluffing going on didn’t penetrate the executive suites and palatial homes of the top Hollywood moguls, who have been letting their lower-level lackeys keep track of the negotiations to date and don’t even have a meeting planned among themselves.
It’s not like their Lifestyles of the Reviled and Useless are going to suffer if, say, the writers suddenly get a decent percentage of new-media residuals, one of the thorniest issues being negotiated. Jeez, I’m sick to death of hearing the studio and network big shots repeat that old saw about residuals, the gist of which Lew Wasserman supposedly summed up as “My plumber doesn’t charge me every time I flush the toilet.” But go back and read my “Screenwriters in the Shit” column in the L.A. Weekly from a year ago to know just how horrible things are out there for formerly successful writers who can’t get arrested in the biz now that they’re aging. They’re selling the family home, taking kids out of private school, moving out of Los Angeles, because their film careers are over. For them, residuals are keeping the mortgage paid and food on the table.
Already, the majors are quietly announcing no more overtime as well as hiring freezes on temps, contractors and consultants (excluding those approved in conjunction with capital projects). And producers have started making quiet calls to persuade certain writers to finish scripts or start new ones as “consultants.” Others in Hollywood are tightening their belts as well. Agencies are cutting expenses even deeper and warning secretaries and assistants there could be layoffs or a total shutdown. Some tenpercenteries are asking everyone to take a 20 percent cut in salary and even bandying about that dreaded term “force majeure” to avoid having to pay agents in the event of a long strike. And all the ancillary businesses that depend on Hollywood will be hurt; those mom-and-pop stores and services — everything from dubbing houses to flower shops and nail salons — will disappear or get bought out at bargain prices.