22 November 2007

The Writers' Strike : Some Definitions, and Is There a Future Online?

The writers' strike in Hollywood fascinates me, but we need some definitions of what we're talking about to be going on with.

Who is striking?
The Writers Guild of America : The WGA

Who is WGA?
A combination of the Writers Guild of America, East, and the the Writers Guild of America, West. (You'd think, being writers, they could come up with a really cool acronym for themselves). It is a labor union for members of the Guild work in the television and motion picture industry.

To be a member, they have to be working in the industry. They have to have done at least 24 units of work in the industry in the three years before they apply for Current Membership. Those who have done some work in the industry, but not 24 units worth, can apply for Associate Membership.
What's with the 'units'?
Work in the film and television industry is so piecemeal that they've had to work out a peicemeal way of calculating the amount of work that anyone has done. So a week of employment might earn you two units, a 90 minute story might earn you 12 units. If you want to know more, you can check out the Guild's website.

Who are they striking against?
The WGA is striking against the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP).

Who is AMPTP?
It is, to quote from their website "...the trade association responsible for negotiating virtually all the industry-wide guild and union contracts".

What WGA striking about?
The writers want residuals from work that is placed online and/or in digital form. 'Residuals' here meaning 'a little bit of money'. It's not usually much. However, as the online medium becomes increasingly important, writers naturally feel they should be paid for the work they do in this area. They get paid for the work they do on the initial movie or TV show, but that's no help if the project goes out as a DVD or is webcast instead. It's a little matter of fine print, but to writers, who don't usually get much money, a little bit of money means they live to write another day.

What's the problem?
  • AMPTP - Alliance of Motion ... feels that WGA is arguing with the Networks while their contracts are actually with producers.
  • WGA wants residuals from the advertising revenue gained online, but producers don't get any from this source.
  • Media business is changing, and producers are still trying to figure out how it's all going to work in the future.
  • "...Producers have already put their money where their mouth is by paying millions in residuals for permanent and pay-per-view downloads." - AMPTP website.
  • WGA feels that digital and online is the future, and they want that taken into consideration when their contracts are drawn up. In fact, they're still waiting to have a clause about DVD put into their contracts.
  • AMPTP feels writers already get pension and health care etc and don't need to strike for more.
  • WGA feels that their work is very piecemeal and most writers get little work and no health care
How is the media business changing?
As you know, people are turning to the web for entertainment. Obviously, we are downloading on an individual basis, rather than entering cinemas en masse, or sitting on our couches in front of the TV like good little spuds. As far as the producers are concerned, there isn't much money in online entertainment.

If there is no future in online entertainment, why are some of us trying to monetize our blogs?
For a start, everyone's idea of money is relative to what they're used to.

What do you mean?
Well, it seems that the corporations that own the TV studios and networks are so huge that even a year of bad revenue will not bother them (New York Times, 20th Nov, '07). These corporations are so big that their entire TV branch is really just a small finger. On the other hand, bloggers and other online entertainers just want enough money to fuel their hobby.
And what about YouTube?
Exactly. If you haven't already, go to YouTube and check out what the writers are doing during the strike. Writers aren't stupid: They know where the future is. If you prefer to watch celebrities, see what actors are saying about the strike. Actors aren't stupid, either: Their own contracts will be coming up next June, besides which, some are writers as well as being actors. Besides, not being stupid, they know where the best lines come from.

Here are some links that talk about the strike.

Writer's Blog: Joss Whedon ...

Writer's Blog: Strike May F...

What's the point of this strike, anyway?

Writers Guild of America, West

Guild of America, East

Nikki Finke's Deadline Daily

Media Report - 22November20...The Great US Writers Strike - Take Two

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