Robert J. Elisberg's Writers Strike Primer: FAQ

Okay, this is sheer theft, but I’m posting below the text of the “Writers Strike Primer: FAQ” that Robert Elisberg posted yesterday at The Huffington Post.  It’s great.  Normally, I’d just link to it and give Arianna the traffic, but it’s so damn good I wanted to put it all up here.  So in return, please go to The Huffington Post and read something.  You can also check out more great pieces from Elisberg— he’s one of my favorites, and always seems to set the record straight (I’ve given you all the links– it’ll take two seconds).  Here ya go…

I hear that Patric Verrone is nuts. Is he?

No. It turns out that
Patric Verrone is quite sane. The WGA brought in doctors from the Mayo
to certify him, and they all left liking him very much,
especially the women who found him “dreamy.” You and all those you hear
from are confusing him with Patrick Valona, who was considered insane
in 1843 for believing that fish created the combustible engine. Or
perhaps, you are just hearing a smear campaign started by the AMPTP
corporations, trying to create dissension within the WGA. Patric
Verrone is rational enough to have graduated magna cum laude from
Harvard, be on the law review at Boston College and teach law. Of
course, his move from that to writing cartoons did get his parents
concerned, though when he started giving them really nice gifts, they
relented. Some people think him odd because he always wears a business
suit in Hollywood, but it turns out that he just has good fashion
sense. And looks bad in t-shirts.

I hear that the WGA negotiating strategy is all wrong. Isn’t it?

And you would do it differently how?

Well, er, I hear the WGA should bring in new negotiators who could make a deal. Shouldn’t they?

If you brought in the Secretary General of the United Nations, even
he couldn’t make a deal right now, because the AMPTP corporations have
walked away from the table. It’s a well-accepted fact that it’s almost
impossible to make a deal with someone who isn’t there. The only known
case where this has occurred was a tribe in Kenya that
communicates by telepathy. However, it completely misunderstood the
other side, and got screwed royally, many times over. In the end, the
AMPTP corporations using their CIA contacts came in, bought the village
and threw the residents out.

I hear the WGA should never have added Animation and Reality to their demands. Wasn’t that a bad thing to do?

In fact, they have always been on the table. As in “always.” Even
before the strike. The AMPTP corporations never minded them then. Only
many weeks later, when they decided to try and divide the writers did
they suddenly jump up, “O’m’god, look, there are these six issues that
we hate, and two are Animation and Reality TV! We demand you remove
these, or we will never, ever continue negotiating with you at all,
ever.” These are not strike issues – but they are very important to
some people. (“Some people” is defined as – “people who write Animation
and Reality TV.”) But important as they are, the Writers Guild will not
strike over them. If the AMPTP corporations made a fair offer on New
Media tomorrow and left out Animation and Reality TV…the strike would
be over tomorrow. It’s a non-issue.

I hear that the directors are more mature than writers, which is why the AMPTP corporations are negotiating with them?

Some people believe that third-graders are more mature than writers,
but it only appears that way because writers rarely see daylight or
other humans very often. The AMPTP corporations are negotiating with
directors because it’s what they’ve wanted to do since Day One. You
see, directors hate striking for anything. In their entire history,
they have struck once, for five minutes. Literally. Actually, it was
more a clerical error. How far will directors go to avoid striking,
even for something worthwhile? In 1984, Gil Cates negotiated the
royalties for home video down by 80 percent, to the whopping
4 cents that artists get today. If you were the AMPTP, who would you
rather negotiate with? The WGA was a nuisance that had to be tolerated
until the directors were finally available. But now, writers have
created so much attention about New Media that even the DGA knows it
can get something good, if it tries.

I hear that all writers are rich. Aren’t they?

You probably hear this from AMPTP corporate CEOs who make $25
million a year, right? Boy, do I wish you were right about this one.
Alas, half the WGA writers in any given year earn no income writing,
which tends to defeat the purpose of richdom. The median income of WGA
members is about $62,000. But then, the median income between me and
Peter Chernin of News Corp., who earned $34 million last year, is just
over $17 million. The handful of writers at the very top of their
profession are rich. The handful of people at the very top of any profession
are rich. The 97% of other writers, they fall into the, “Okay, who
ordered the tuna fish sandwich? You owe…” category.

I hear that the studios and networks say they don’t make any money from the Internet. Why should they pay writers for it?

Studios and networks also say they don’t make any money from TV and
movies. According to studios and networks, they all went bankrupt 24
years ago and have been completely out of business since 1987. CBS
today makes athletic shoes. Paramount runs a chain of muffler shops.
Neither, they say, make a profit. By the way, if you had wandered
through the recent Consumer Electronics Show, you would have understood
how massive a galvanizing profit these companies (and countless other
companies) make from the Internet – right now. It’s dizzying. Moreover,
if you really want to scare AMPTP companies, say this to them: “I hear
you make even more money from “metadata” than almost anything.” They’ll
quickly turn and run. Simply, metadata is the data embedded in New
Media. Companies make huge money selling their metadata. (The amount is
technically known as “oodles.” ) Let’s put it this way – how do you
think Google became a multi-billion dollar company with a product line
they give away for free. Selling metadata. When figuring profit from
New Media and the Internet, it counts. No profit from the Internet. Ha,
good one.

I hear the AMPTP corporations wanted a strike. Is that true?

If they did, I wouldn’t suggest that they promote the fact. There are,
of course, some financial advantages to a company during a strike. For
instance, they save a lot on parking attendants. Also, they get to fire
people and call it “belt tightening.” And can drop the really bad deals
they made. On the downside, they have to give back several billion
dollars in ad revenue to their advertisers because ratings go down. The
optimist calls this a wash. The pessimist calls it taking a bath.
Either way, they get soaked.

I hear that when…

Sorry, let me interrupt you a moment. You seem to hear really wrong
things. Here’s a rule of thumb. If you “hear” something, assume it’s
wrong. If you have a relative who works in the entertainment industry,
and he or she tells you something they’ve heard, assume it’s wrong. If
you read it in an online blog or column from someone who “heard”
something from a reliable source, assume it’s wrong. At a certain
point, when there is actual news, you will know.

Why do writers deserve residuals? Didn’t former MCA head Lew
Wasserman once say he wished he got a dollar every time he flushed his

If Lew Wasserman could have gotten 10 million people to watch him
flush his toilet, he would have deserved that dollar. You misunderstand
what residuals are. Residuals are not a bonus. Residuals are delayed
compensation for promised income. Here’s what that means – a script has
a high value, but companies cannot pay that amount up front, it’s too
expensive. So, they reach a contractual agreement with writers: we’ll
pay you much less than your script is worth so that we can make the
show, and then if it’s successful and gets shown again and we make
additional money, you’ll get a small percentage of that, to make up for
what you didn’t get paid at the beginning. And both sides agree to
that. Contractually. People grasp that novelists get paid each time a
book they created is sold, that playwrights get paid each time the
drama they created is performed, that recording artists get paid each
time the CD they created is sold – it’s the same for TV and film

No offense, but you make me sick. Why should anyone in the entertainment industry support the WGA striking?

No offense taken. Okay, here’s the deal: the AMPTP corporations
offered writers zero for original New Media content, zero for New Media
streaming, and zero for New Media downloading. Where do you think all
future content will go? Good guess! Zero would destroy the Writers
Guild, and it would set the pattern for bargaining with the actors and
directors. Which would destroy them, as well. And for all other unions
– who think they don’t have a stake in this – their health and pension
benefits are directly determined by what the residual rates
are. (“Residuals,” remember them?) So, the more writers get for
residuals, the higher health and pension are for everyone. Yes, writers
are annoying and strike all the time, but every time they strike, it
benefits everyone. Most of the benefits you now enjoy, it’s because the annoying writers struck for them.

Wow, sorry about the “You make me sick” crack. Why didn’t you say this before?

We forgot.

I think TV and movies stink, so I’m glad writers are on strike. Why should I care?

You shouldn’t. Read a book. Read a newspaper. Play some hoops. Keep
in mind, if you don’t like what a network is showing, it was a studio
executive who decided what should be put on – and then, without any
creative experience, sent notes to the writers telling them how to
change it. For those of you who actually watch TV and movies, and have
obviously found things you like – isn’t it nice that there are writers
who are able to overcome the hurdles and turn out such enjoyable,
involving, funny, dramatic stories? But ultimately…y’know, you have
your own lives to lead. Care about whatever you want that’s important
to you. That’s America. This happens to be important to writers. And to
actors. And whoever works in Hollywood, which is perhaps America’s
biggest, most influential export to the world, America’s public face to
every corner of the globe. It’s your choice if you want to support
America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, from sea to
shining sea.

Do you know Jessica Alba?


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