The Truth Is Out There… Maybe

I’m not gonna lie.  Nikki Finke’s Wednesday-night posting on the ongoing feud between the Writers Guild and the stagehands’ union, IATSE (The International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees), made me think.

First a little background… the WGA and IATSE have long had a very public, very acrimonious relationship, and the strike– as well as the herky-jerky negotiating process leading up to the strike– has only exacerbated it.  But in Wednesday’s post, Nikki– who, I think, has been more than fair to the writers throughout this entire ordeal, often giving voice to their perspectives when Variety and the Hollywood Reporter wouldn’t– posted an excellent play-by-play of some of the WGA/IATSE maneuvering over the past twelve months.

Basically, IATSE chief Tom Short claims that as long ago as September, 2006, he had a dinner with WGA President Patric Verone and WGA Chief Negotiator David Young in which he urged them to begin negotiations for their upcoming contract (still fourteen months away) as soon as possible.  They refused, and Short left that dinner convinced they were gunning for a strike no matter what happened.  Over the next several months, Short implored them to take early negotiations seriously.  If they didn’t, he said, they would wreak irreparable damage on the industry.  His predictions– an early glut of production, studios hording scripts– were “prophetic.”  But no matter what he said, Verrone’s response was, “Nonsense, that isn’t going to happen.”

Now, understandably, with Hollywood shut down and hundreds of people out of work, Short is pissed.  After spending months warning people exactly how the sky would fall… the sky has fallen.

In a letter from Short to Verrone sent on Tuesday, Short comes down especially hard on David Young, the labor leader hired by the WGA to organize the strike and negotiations.  Young has never worked in Hollywood or negotiated a writer-studio contract, and Short paints him as a man who finds satisfaction not just helping the underdogs he’s supposedly paid to help, but in creating chaos and destruction.  Short even cites a powerful Los Angeles Times piece from Monday’s paper, in which Young says the strike has made him feel like a “rock star” and he likes to “lay back and look at the havoc I’ve wreaked.  They [the studios] don’t care
for the fact that I tried to build as much strength for our side as
possible. I’m not going to apologize for that.”

I won’t regurgitate Nikki’s entire piece– she does a great job, and you should check it out here.

The point is this: it made me think.  It made me realize that while I do believe there are clear-cut good guys and bad guys in this thing, this is a war being waged not just with picket signs on studio sidewalks, but with words and spin and manipulation in newspapers, press releases, YouTube ads.

I mean, I dunno… maybe Verrone and Young were gunning for a strike.  Maybe Young’s always been a movie buff and saw this as his chance to suddenly be a star– maybe it was (quite literally) his shot at the Hollywood limelight.  Maybe this whole thing could’ve been avoided, but certain egos orchestrated its fruition for selfish reasons.  Who knows.

But every day, we’re bombarded with “truths” from the different sides, and it’s difficult to pick out which truths are… well… “true,” and which are just shaded versions of the truth.  The AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers), for instance, took out full page newspaper ads yesterday claiming writers are asking for portions of ad revenue of online streaming.  USA Today reported this as well.  It’s not true, and– as the AMPTP points out– studios have never shared ad revenue with with artists.  Nor should they.  Even in the writer-driven world of television, writers don’t share in ad revenue, and the WGA knows better than to ask for it.  The truth is: the WGA is  asking for residuals, or re-use fees, for studios re-using writer-created content… which is exactly what writers receive in television and the AMPTP refuses to translate to the internet.

(On an interesting side note, reality mogul Mark Burnett actually does get a share of CBS’s ad revenue from Survivor… thanks to a contract snafu when they made his first season deal.  Survivor, of course, has gone on to become a massive hit, making Burnett a far wealthier man than most other producers.  Thirty-second ads in this season of Survivor were selling for $208,000 a spot, which is lower than previous years.  But back to the issue at hand…)

Anyway, as I said before, Nikki Finke has done an excellent job giving voice to the writers’ side of this epic… while Variety and the Reporter, which get paid when networks and studios fill their pages with ads, have tended to lean more toward the media conglomerates. 

So both sides– the writers and the studios– are using the press, the internet, and sympathetic bloggers and reporters to disseminate their message and sway the industry and the public.  (Although the writers seem to be doing a better job of it: according to reports from Pepperdine University and Survey USA, almost 70% of the general public support the writers; less than 10% support the media conglomerates.)

So how do you know?  How can you tell which side’s telling the truest version of the truth, and which side is layering on spin and confusion and manipulation?

Honestly?…  I have no idea.  I think most people tend to believe whichever side they’re rooting for.  In other words– and maybe this goes for all of life, not just the writers strike– maybe we choose the truth we want to believe.  So try as we might to see the facts– the cold, hard, absolute truth– we’re ultimately only as “absolute” as we want to be.  Which doesn’t diminish the sanctity of what the writers are fighting for, it’s just me wondering if– in retrospect– there were other ways to get what we wanted without having to strike.  And that regardless of what we’re fighting for, once we all get on the battlefield, we all use the same weapons. 

(Except the studios use them more.  And in more evil ways.) 

(And ultimately the writers are right– everyone knows that, or, at least, 70% of them do– and if the WGA has been deceptive at all, it’s simply because they were trying to be strategic in protecting the writers or strategizing how to win the fight…)

Of course, as I write this, I can’t help but wonder if I’m not sounding dangerously close to the sentiment of the GetBackInThatRoom blog I bashed the other day… the one that begins: “Who is at fault doesn’t matter… fixing it does.”  But no– screw it, that’s still a shitty, spineless blog, and I can tell you exactly who’s at fault… the studios. 

And anyone who doesn’t see that is clearly reading the wrong propaganda. 

And to prove it to you, here’s a hilarious video from The Daily Show writers…

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