A Message from the Writers Guild

Hey, everyone–

Just wanted to post this email sent this evening from Writers Guild presidents Patric Verrone and Michael Winship.  They say some interesting things about the post-strike world of new media and online entertainment, as well as their stance on the current standoff between studios and the Screen Actors Guild

Dear Fellow Members,
It’s Labor Day and, in a year during which we have created a stronger working relationship between the Guilds and reestablished our place in the American labor movement, we’d like to update you on some of the achievements of the past few months and the challenges of the months to come.
Following the strike, most of us expected that the gains we made in new media coverage would take time to justify the sacrifices, but they already are bearing fruit. Webisodes based on such existing TV series as The Office, Heroes, and Californication are now being written under the new MBA contract and writers working under the PBS contract now are receiving payment for Internet reuse.  Original content being created under Guild contracts includes some of the most successful projects, like Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, and the most anticipated, including Seth MacFarlane’s Cavalcade of Cartoon Comedy.
As business models quickly evolve, it’s imperative that writers, who are fast becoming important entrepreneurs in new media, involve the Writers Guilds in making their deals.  We can guide and work with you to negotiate appropriate compensation, separated rights, credits, reuse, and other provisions in addition to the benefits already guaranteed by the MBA.
While devoting time and energy to organizing new media, we have focused as well on traditional media as well, especially genres over which our coverage is incomplete.  New signatories include Chocolate News, Lewis Black’s The Root of All Evil, and The Bob Saget Roast at Comedy Central, as well as the first broadcast game show contract with Mark Burnett for Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?  We also have a game show deal with FremantleMedia for Match Game, but that company remains an organizing target following our much-publicized American Idol Truth Tour.  The Tour, in alliance with the Teamsters, has brought to light the unacceptable working conditions suffered by writers and other workers in reality TV.
Contract enforcement remains a top priority and writers, working with the staffs of the Guilds, must be the main force in instigating (Instigating violations sounds funny), investigating, and pursuing violations.  Although the new MBA increases access to information, difficulties already are appearing.  Blaming “technology problems,” the conglomerates are failing to make the correct payments due on streaming and downloads.  Even more appalling, AMPTP reps now claim that our agreement doubling the DVD formula on EST downloads only applies to movies and TV shows released after the end of the strike.  Needless to say, we are challenging the companies aggressively and will take all actions necessary to protect and collect what we won as a result of the strike.
This Labor Day we also recognize the alliances we have built with other unions that supported us during our strike and with which we continue to work to achieve our mutual goals.  Mention was made of our alliance with the Teamsters, especially Hollywood Local 399, during the recent American Idol Truth Tour; we look forward to further developing and improving relations with the rest of the labor movement, including the IATSE, to whose new international president Matt Loeb we extend our congratulations and best wishes.
The union that deserves our profound gratitude and attention right now is the one that supported us so strongly during our struggle, the Screen Actors Guild.  During its ongoing negotiations, SAG regularly has been criticized for trying to improve on the deal that we made in February.  Such criticism is unfounded.  We didn’t win everything in new media that we eventually will.  SAG is well within its rights to improve on our gains.  For example, we grudgingly agreed to certain budget levels for original new media productions, but SAG is right to demand coverage for all new media projects, regardless of budget, and we very much hope they achieve it.  The suggestion that companies need budget breaks in order to experiment in a new medium rings false.  Experimentation is too often a euphemism for “nonunion.”   We agreed in our deal to make initial compensation completely negotiable precisely to give producers all the flexibility they need in these new markets.  They don’t need to develop another non-union business model.
Naturally, we hope the SAG negotiations successfully end soon.  But we reject the notion that SAG must follow any predetermined bargaining pattern.  We worked hard to inform our members about the benefits and limits of pattern bargaining.  Unions need to support each other when pattern bargaining is used as an excuse not to address a union’s legitimate concerns.  We stand behind SAG and its efforts to represent its members’ interests, and we urge the AMPTP to return to the bargaining table.
Thanks for your attention.  We will continue to keep you apprised of developments, challenges, and opportunities.  We encourage you to do the same.
Patric M. Verrone
President, WGAW
Michael Winship
President, WGAE

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