TAKE: vote yes on WGA strike authorizationPosted: April 18, 2017
The Writers’ Guild is weird. For one thing, some of the members are owners or bosses. Writers who become showrunners and share in the profits of a show can have an owner’s interest. Another: writers have agents who negotiate for them.
Some writers make lots and lots of money. Others are unemployed, or at least unemployed as writers. It’s not really a union, it’s a guild, like a medieval guild, an association of craftspeople who work a certain trade.
Or maybe something like London’s livery companies?:
A writers union going on strike can seem silly when you picture a union like this:
and a strike like this:
and writers like this:
But, if you’re in the Writers Guild, and you’re a Helytimes reader, I think you should vote yes on the strike authorization.
If you’re not in the Writers’ Guild, here are the facts, as I misremember them:
- TV writers are making less and less money but working the same amount of time. As shows have smaller orders of episodes, ten instead of twenty-two, writers are still working the same amount of days, but since many of us get paid per episode, we’re getting paid less for the same or more amount of days working.
- The studios are making enormous profits.*
- The studios sort of owe it to us to maintain our healthcare and pension plans, due to deals that were made over the years, and they’re saying they’re not going to do that.
Like all workers, we’re getting squeezed as much as possible by companies whose mandate is to be as profitable as possible for shareholders.
Workers can and should use every tool they can to fight for as much as they can. Our guild’s leaders are negotiating and have asked us to vote to authorize a strike, so they can bargain as effectively as possible.
That’s pretty much my take. I hope it doesn’t happen. It will be very painful and hurt a lot of people. It shuts down production, which means grips, PAs, electricians, etc. are all out of work too. And actors, lots of whom have really struggled to get a shot and are going to continue to struggle.
I think the studios should just give us what we asked for. Disney is one of the studios we’re negotiating with. They have a market cap of $178 billion. I appreciate that Bob Iger has his strategic challenges with ESPN and so on but it seems wise and reasonable to me to say “fine let’s give the creators of our highly profitable content their not ridiculous demands and continue generating money from some of the world’s most popular entertainment, TV shows and movies.”
If we do go on strike, I think we shouldn’t picket. That was unhelpful. There should be some human shows of solidarity, but daily picketing got to be a weird ritual, some kind of bizarre martyrdom that in the end made us look more ridiculous. I am proud to say I feel like I did my duty, but I preferred my days answering the phones at Strike Headquarters to making small talk with Tom Bergeron while I held a sign outside CBS. Although that was fun too.
A dissenting opinion from a writer with always interesting takes:
The idea of a WGA strike in these times, when freedom of expression is a far more fundamental issue than small differences between comparatively large amounts of money, is stunningly tone deaf and offensive.
That’s on a moral level.
On a strategic level, strikes are only effective when one side has both desperation and leverage. The WGA has neither.
I voted for the WGA strike in 2008. I regret it. The tangible benefits to the lives of working writers have never been explained in any relevant or understandable terms. The tangible losses to writers’ lives were painfully clear.
This is a bad idea masquerading as the right thing to do. On every level, it is not.
The issues at stake in the last strike were complex. I thought it was important for writers to get some kind of residual for streaming content. Whether it was necessary or well-executed, I’m not informed enough to answer. There was a layer of silliness to it for sure.
I do feel some energy like “one strike is fine, but two in this short a time is awful much.”
I kind of get that? But: the WGA is sort of the first union down the chain. We’re on the frontier here, that’s why we keep having to fight.
So, that’s my take.
* I saw the number $51 billion thrown around. I have no idea where that came from. Does it include, for instance, Disney’s theme park division? It’s hard to assess how much profit the studios are making. The AMPTP represents over 350 companies. I’m sure some of them are doing terribly!
But, here are some numbers for the bigger companies, from a 2015 Forbes magazine rundown by Natalie Robehmed:
Once the theatrical run of a film is over, studios make money from home video, video on demand, and through syndicating hit TV shows, as 21st Century Fox was able to do with Modern Family. Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox clocked the second highest profit of the publicly traded studios, earning $1.5 billion in 2014. It measured revenue of $10.3 billion, largely from betting big on books that turned into box office hits hits such as Gone Girl and The Fault in Our Stars.
Undeterred by the failed Comcast/Time Warner merger, NBCUniversal outdid itself and recorded its most profitable year ever. The studio notched $711 million in profit on $5 billion in revenue – the second best ratio in Hollywood.
Warner Bros.’ films grossed a collective $4 billion in 2014, but the studio pocketed $1.2 billion in profit from $12.5 billion in revenue. This was up 23% on 2013’s tally. The studio weathered its fair share of flops: Transcendence, Blended and Winter’s Tale all failed to perform. Its pockets were fattened by the last Hobbit movie, plus popcorn cruncher The Lego Movie which has a sequel in the works. The studio is also expanding its $5 billion television business internationally, paying $267 million for production company Eyeworks which operates in 15 countries
etc. There is poor baby Paramount:
The title of least profitable studio goes to the Viacom-owned Paramount. Despite an increase in its films’ performance at the international box office, the filmed entertainment division tallied just $219 million on revenues of $3.7 billion. This was a decrease from 2013, when profit surged thanks to selling distribution rights for Marvel movies to Disney.
Hit me up if you disagree, find factual errors, want to express a contrary view!