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Robert J. Elisberg

Robert J. Elisberg

Posted: January 10, 2008 10:43 AM

Writers Strike Primer: FAQ


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 Clinic 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 toilet?

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 writers.


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?

No.


Read more strike coverage on the Huffington Post's writers' strike page.