Writers Guild Fighting For What’s Right

In one corner sits the giant of creative media, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). In the other sits a collective of nerdy, inventive writers, the Writers Guild of America (WGA). On Nov. 5, negotiations between these two organizations failed, and the WGA began setting up picket lines in Rockefeller Center in New York City.
This strike is the culmination of decades of conflict between the AMPTP and WGA. In 1985, the WGA held a strike for 22 weeks over residuals from the home video market. The VHS and Betamax home video formats were just reaching the market, and were brushed off by the AMPTP as an ‘unproven’ market, and gave the WGA 0.3 percent of gross video profits. Videos at the time cost up to $100 and, as the cost of production decreased, the WGA realized its mistake.
Twenty-two years later, the WGA is in an almost identical conflict as it argues over its right to profits from DVD sales. The only difference is that this time, negotiations extend to its right to be paid residuals from downloadable content, video-on-demand, straight-to-Internet material and smart-phone programming.
The WGA is attempting to assert its right to a decent portion of the profits while the AMPTP is attempting to pull the exact same trick it did in 1985. AMPTP has stated that all the products the WGA wants residuals from are ‘experimental’ and ‘unproven,’ but the WGA has become wise since its last mishap and refuses to budge in negotiations.
It is easy to dismiss the WGA as another greedy union, but it has every right to earn money from its creative property, no matter what format it travels in. The fact is that money is being made off of its creative property in several venues, not just over broadcast television. While people watch online content, they are bombarded with advertisements that bring cash to producers, executive producers and studio managers, but leave the creative brains behind the moneymaking machine to rot.
The Hollywood juggernaut behind ‘Superbad’ and ‘Knocked Up,’ Judd Apatow, explained on Nov. 6, ‘If you’re a teamster, you get paid to drive a truck. But if someone invents a new kind of truck, and you’re still driving it, you should still get paid.’
Imagine if tomorrow someone invented a flying truck that could make deliveries. The teamsters that drive it would still get paid the same as if it was an ordinary truck. Currently, the media is switching trucks, and the writers are not getting their due. To illustrate how important the new media deal is to the WGA, it actually pulled its DVD demands off the table in order to get more money for Internet downloads. The AMPTP refused, saying that WGA demands are too high and would damage this new technology.
If the WGA deserves a share of the profits from this new media, why doesn’t the AMPTP pay the WGA? DVDs cost less than one dollar to manufacture, and writers currently only receive 4 cents for each DVD sold, while studios sell them for over 20 times the cost of production. Why not use the extra profit to pay writers? The AMPTP’s stance is that because of the rise of production and marketing costs in recent years, the DVD costs are justified, and it cannot spare the money for writers. Even if this was a valid point, wouldn’t writers be included in production costs, entitling them to the increase in profits? The truth is that the money goes into the pockets of studio executives out to exploit the creative figures at the bottom.
The strike boils down to relatively simple terms. The WGA wants a fair portion of money made from DVD sales. Currently, writers do not see any money from new media content, and they demand a piece of the benefits when their art is used to make capital. The AMPTP is attempting to pull the same scam as it did 22 years ago, and the last strike lasted 22 weeks and cost the American entertainment industry $500 million.
The current strike will probably not end any sooner, and America will soon feel the consequences. People looking for up-to-date political satire or goofy late-night comedy will be sorely disappointed as ‘The Colbert Report,’ ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ and ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ have all begun to show re-runs. Many shows will stop airing new episodes in two to three weeks, including ’30 Rock’ and ‘The Office,’ while the ‘Scrubs’ series finale may never be made. The once-a-week heroin injection that is ‘Heroes’ will stop with an 11-episode season, until the strike ends.
The AMPTP has no intention of beginning negotiations until strike actions cease, even though the WGA simply wants a share in the money made by its creative property. The AMPTP is out to make maximum profit, no matter how logically entitled the WGA is to the money made by its work. So be prepared to curl up with a good book for the following weeks or even months as the AMPTP continues to shaft the WGA.
Kevin Pease is a third-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.