WGA strike mediator: Has anyone considered Arnold Schwarzenegger?

Ted Johnson at Variety’s Wilshire & Washington spoke to the Governor’s press rep, Aaron McClear, on the current status of the strike’s Schwarzeneggarianess. McClear said that a Sacramento staffer has been in regular contact with each side as well as a federal mediator. But man himself? Not so much.

At a press conference today where the Governor announced that California’s suing the EPA so we can be allowed to enforce greenhouse gas emissions standards [Ed. note: Wait, we have to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce environmental standards? I am so confused], Gov. Schwarzenegger took a question about his would-be role in the strike:

“If I’m asked, down the line, I will get involved. But at this point, I’ve been talking to them, but I’ve not been asked. …I think it’s very important that we settle that as quickly as possible, because it has a tremendous economic impact on our state. …The studio executives are not going to suffer, the union leaders are not going to suffer, the writers that are striking, they are not going to suffer. Those are all people that have money. But the people that really — you know, the electricians, the grips, the set designers, those are the people that are suffering because they will not get paid now, and they are out of work.”

— DH

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  1. RSH says:

    I just read a very interesting letter written by Thomas Short, president of IATSE and addressed to Patric Verrone, president of WGA. I am not technically inclined so I don’t know how to attach it here, but to paraphrase, Mr Short tells Mr Verrone: “When I phoned you on Nov. 28, 2006 to ask you to reconsider the timing of negotiations, you refused. It now seems that you were intending that there be a strike no matter what you were offered, or what conditions the industry faced when your contract expired at the end of October.”
    Seems the WGA president has never negotiated any kind of labor agreement before this one. Also, when they were at the table in LA at midnight BEFORE the strike was supposed to go forward, the WGA in New York had already been given the go-ahead to begin striking! When AMPTP told Mr Verrone that that was not acceptable and left the room, Mr Verrone reported to the media that the AMPTP reps had abandoned the negotiations.
    Now, it seems odd that the entire industry is hinging on whether or not an inexperienced labor leader can put his ego aside to iron out a deal. Personally, I don’t think this man will be satisfied until there is no WGA left for him to preside over. His actions – and inactions – are going to destroy the industry.
    Just as another interesting aside, it seems that the writers are either lazy or someone at the WGA has a LOT of money to waste. As I go to work every day, I’ve been wondering how many members there are in the WGA since there are hundreds of people walking the lines outside every gate at every studio in Burbank (and I’m only seeing those in Burbank). Well, seems the writers have decided that the only way they can get the point across is to hire Extras to walk the lines for them… Why not spend the money and time actually trying to negotiate a deal rather than making a distorted impression on people driving by in their cars.
    Finally, to set the record straight, according to the WGA’s website, the AVERAGE annual salary of WGA members is around $100,000. I’m sure that’s blown out of proportion by the few who make multi-millions at the expense of the many. But those are also the millionaires who have the most to gain by holding out for the “pennies” on DVD sales (which by the way, the WGA already gave up as a deal point – before the strike).

  2. EJ says:

    Yes, Apple is a great example of profiting on downloads. But it didn’t happen until the song sales volume was nearly to the point where they are now — as the third largest music distributor in the US. And none of it is their content, which causes no end of consternation to both the RIAA and the MPAA. But they haven’t talked about TV/film sales profits. Universal pulled out of the video store in a highly publicized move noting that their 40% of total iTunes video sales only amounted to $15M (US$). It is reported that the studios are concerned with Apple’s power (Eisner certainly blamed Steve for all the world’s problems in his recent comments) and the lack of control over pricing and such. So, yes, Apple has shown that money can be made in distributing content. I, for one, have become a regular watcher of a couple programs because I decided try out a free download and then went on to purchase more episodes and finally DVDs. So, its power as a promotional service should not be overlooked by the studios.
    I know your question was rhetorical, but I simply chose Malaysia somewhat randomly from your list. There are going to be many talented writers from all of these countries, my point is that it is silly to think that (I’ll choose Chinese this time) writers would be able to come in and write screenplays for Desperate Housewives. (Actually, I think this could be a really funny series idea. This might be a good time for the writers to come up with some good material.)The Departed script still needed to be rewritten for US sensibilities. Even talking about UK writers coming in, everybody realizes that, despite how similar we are, culturally it would be extremely difficult to pull off.
    Although somewhat out of context in the discussion, I’m totally with you on your comments about the MPAA and RIAA behavior with regard to DRM, the DMCA, etc. and their general failure to evolve. If you ever get that going on another thread, I’ll gladly join you.

  3. dp2 says:

    Actually, several companies have already figured out how to make money off of Internet downloads. Ever heard of Apple? Apple’s iTunes store business model is currently the most profitable one. Apple is also the market leader when it comes to online content sales (over 2 billion songs sold [http://www.aapress.com/artsnews.php?subaction=showfull&id=1181863100&archive=&start_from=&ucat=6&%5D). Why? It’s because their business model makes sense (and cents too). Napster, which uses a different business model (with a pricing model that’s a lot closer to the one used in the recording and film industries), is also making money–but their sales aren’t even in the same league as Apple’s sales.
    The real issue here isn’t that no one has figured out how to make money off of internet downloads; rather, the issue is that many of the MPAA and RIAA members have stubbornly refused to open their eyes and see that the times have changed. Stated another way, they’re trying to hock VHS tapes and LPs to kids with iPods and PSPs.
    That’s not the only issue; there’s an even bigger one that’s beginning to take root. You’ve probably heard the adage, “Content is king.” Well, I have a corollary for you: if content is king, then its delivery systems are Caesar. Many MPAA and RIAA members operate businesses using business models based off of the economic principle of scarcity. Those business models will (and already are starting to) fail, and the individuals or companies unwilling to make the necessary changes will also fail. One key reason, why those business models will fail, is due to the virtually unlimited supply of content–anything can be copied a billion times. Yes, I do know about the DMCA, but I’ll reserve my comments about it for another time (and thread). Let’s just say that smart thinkers, who like to tinker, will ALWAYS find creative ways to work around any restrictions. Another key reason, why those business models will fail, is due to the fact that the costs for distributing the content are exponentially higher than the cost of the content itself. Of course, the costs to build and maintain the systems to distribute the content are exponentially higher than the costs to distribute the content, and the list goes on. My point is undistributed content is largely irrelevant, and it has little or no perceived value until it’s distributed.
    By the way, why did you single out Malaysian writers out of that list? That was a rhetorical question. Anyway, I’ll counter with an Indian example: ever heard of Sooni Taraporevala? If not, then look her up in IMBD, Wikipedia, or Google. FYI, she wrote the screenplay for Mississippi Masala. Ever heard of “Infernal Affairs” (which was made in Hong Kong)? If not, then I suspect you HAVE heard of “The Departed” (the American movie based on the Hong Kong one). Paul Haggis’ award-winning script was based off the award-winning script that Alan Mak and Felix Chong wrote.
    Although I don’t deny the causality that others might have been (or might be) laid off as a byproduct of this strike, the striking writers did not lay off the others. Arguing that position, would be like a McDonald’s milkshake operator stating, “I can’t work, because the french-fry guy isn’t here.” Yes, I realize I’m oversimplifying things a bit in this analogy. Ever heard of improvising? Jazz players do it all of the time; some classical players do too–but it goes by another name “figured bass”. Athletes, chefs, hackers, parents, and some actors (especially comedians) learn to improvise too. Isn’t that what’s supposed to be at the heart of the adage, “the show must go on . . .”?
    Whether or not the studios and/or writers wanted this strike, they have it. Most people–especially those of us who don’t live in California–don’t care who was at fault. We just want to see them grow up, show some leadership, and resolve this matter fairly and expediently.

  4. ej says:

    Yes, there are several groups that receive residuals. But your points about GoogleTV are valid. The world is changing and everybody sees that, and hence the strike. But nobody has figured out yet how to really make any money off Internet downloads. Should it be promotional? Can sales volumes be acheived? Will the consumer be willing to pay? Noone really knows yet. That’s why there is no better time than now to rethink the whole residuals idea. Pay a fair price for everyone’s work and free the studios to try lots of new things to see what works.
    As far as striking writers causing others to be laid off, no, it isn’t nonsense, it’s fact. And the notion that shows could find Malaysian writers to take over is rather absurd. UK and Canada may provide some options however.
    Frankly, I think the studios have wanted this strike. Their behavior has certainly indicated such, especially right up to the last night before the strike. And I think the writers took the bait and the studios are glad. Where this ends remains to be seen.

  5. dp2 says:

    WGA writers aren’t the only ones who get paid residuals. Most other writers also receive a portion–if not all–of their compensation in the form of residuals. Residuals are also used in compensation packages for workers in other industries. (I’ve stated this before in other blogs, so I won’t rehash that discussion here.)
    It really doesn’t matter whether or not one believes writers deserve a larger cut; market dynamics will determine who gets paid what. It appears that the market is pretty good for WGA writers, so they collectively can ask for more.
    I’ve read several posts that blast the striking WGA writers for causing others to be laid off. No offense, that’s nonsense. If the producers, represented by the AMPTP, thought they could find other talented writers who could do the job as well as the ones on strike, then they would have hired them on-spot. There’s no shortage of writers in India, China, Philippines, Malaysia, and other nations with emerging economies to whom those producers could outsource the work. Similarly, if the WGA writers get fed up enough with trying to negotiate with the AMPTP, they could outsource the production work too. My point is both parties bring something of value to the table.
    If the AMPTP and WGA leaders continue to not work together to effectively resolve this ordeal soon, then they both will lose far more than either calculated in the end. Google’s a comin’! More and more people are starting to upload their own content via Youtube. The quality of the content isn’t great now, but the content is still attracting viewers, and it’s getting better. Google is already working on ways to help those content producers to monetize their content. Stated another way, I doubt that a divided Hollywood/NYC would compete effectively with GoogleTV and an ever-growing pool of independent content producers–in all 24 time zones.

  6. EJ says:

    I’ll try again to express my thoughts. Shows have multiple writers that work together to create a story/screenplay. What they do is obviously one of the most important parts of the production and I’ve argued (in a different thread) that they should be paid well for what they do. But, they have created a story, not a show/film. When they are done, then a multitude of people come together to create a production. The music writers help evoke the mood of the story, the editorial staff has incredbile creative control over the emotion and arc of the story based on how the show is cut. Makeup, sound, the set builders — there is such a large group of people that create the show and have a big impact on it.
    My problem with ashley, and others, being so “deserving” is that they feel everyone else “deserves” to be laid off until their demands are met. Such self-aggrandizement is pathetic and ignores the fact that other people create the show.
    As I’ve stated, they are employed by a company (be it under contract or otherwise) to perform their job function and they get paid for it. If they want to share in the rewards the studios see, then they should be involved in independent film. There they can forgo their salaries and take the risks and share in the rewards. But stop arrogantly hurting the hundreds, if not thousands, of other people that they rely upon to create the shows.

  7. SC says:

    As an observer (from New Zealand) of the strike, and your comments on it, I’m so surprised to see that EJ doesn’t believe the creator of a show/film is the writer. EJ, what would happen if there were no writers?

  8. EJ says:

    “you’re right there with Schwarzenegger in Cluelessville if you think writers aren’t deserving of some tiny percentage of the tsunami of cash generated by the content they help create”
    Please enlighten me ashley as to why you are so deserving? Are you doing pro bono work for the studios?

  9. ashley says:

    Gov. Schwarzenegger’s comment shows how sadly out of touch he is. Writers are middle-class — the lucky ones anyway. The _average_ WGA member makes around $30K a year.
    And RJ and EJ — you’re right there with Schwarzenegger in Cluelessville if you think writers aren’t deserving of some tiny percentage of the tsunami of cash generated by the content they help create — today for TV and film and later today for the internet.

  10. EJ says:

    Your “The Creators” label for the show is somewhat far-reaching. Your creative writing skills, along with the others on the show, contribute to the whole. An actor brings your words to life in unique ways. Editors, cameramen, casting directors, set designers, lighting, etc. all contribute to making a show. Each bring creative elements to the process. Without the rest of them you are simply an author trying to get a novel published. How about the software developers who made the Avid software to cut the show? The Sony HD cameras required significant hardware engineering development. There are many people beyond the production who don’t get paid every time you shoot a scene. They, like you, are hired by a company to perform a service. You will likely be paid differently for your services than others based on many factors such as relative importance to the production, experience, talent, supply of people with your skills, etc. But the notion that the writers own the show is arrogant and incorrect.

  11. Heather says:

    I’m a working writer. I’m so pleased to think everyone outside of the entertainment industry thinks I’m rich, or that I aspire to have as much as the producers.
    I’ve been a writer for eight years, a member of the WGA for six. I had Guild health insurance for ONE of those years because you have to earn a certain minimum each year. I’ve been a teacher for three (see? “Real” day job!) Why teaching? Because the studios have tightened their purse strings so tight that writers often can’t get work from year to year. That “payday” pays for three years of unemployment.
    We’re asking for four more cents on DVDs. The studios get $9. The RETAILERS get 45. Why should the retailers get more money than the creators of product?
    Meanwhile, the studios, who are making record-breaking profits off writers’ material, have announced that they want to pay us once and use our material for free, in its entirety, in any way they choose, forever. Especially on the internet. They think it’s wrong for you to copy their show and give it to your friends for free — they call that “piracy” — why should we allow them to copy our show for little money and then make millions and millions off of it for eternity?
    They sell ads for all of this, btw. They’re still making money. They don’t think the writers, THE CREATORS, should make money.
    P.S. – The “Guild” is not the selective entity about allowing people in. Anyone who writes and has their work optioned or produced for a certain amount of money automatically becomes part of the Guild (it is a craft union, which is why it’s a “guild.) Blame the studio executives who buy our work if you think some of us don’t belong in this union.

  12. RSH says:

    Unfortunately, neither side is lilly white – typical. If the general public had any idea how much money a series writer makes, they wouldn’t be out here honking their horns in support. We aren’t talking about 6-figures, here either! Try 7-figures. A series writer’s only problem is paying his house payment? TOTAL NONSENSE!!! The fact that you live in too much house, maybe, but don’t complain about having a house payment when you chose to go on strike. There are too many of us working folks who can’t even afford to buy a lousy condo in any of the LA markets, so you’re getting no sympathy there, my friends.
    And, why do the headlines talk about “unions”? The writers, directors, actors, etc. are not members of any “union”. They make it very clear that they are members of a “Guild” – which was very intentional. They have nothing in common with any Union Members. These Guilds are selective in who they allow in – very much in the way old golf courses used to exclude anyone they didn’t want to associate with. Writers make their own “deals” with the producers. There is nothing like a scale in the same sense of a true “Labor Union”, because they aren’t being protected from the company in the same sense.
    The real problem is there is way too much money involved here. And, it’s not coming from any kind of digital media. It’s going into the pockets of all you rich brats – on both sides. The ones with houses in Malibu and Beverly Hills!!! Frankly, I wish the media would tell the real story of what all this nonsense is about and let the world know how much money you all actually make. The guy in Peoria is sick of you complaining AND making him watch crap – so pretty soon, there won’t be any networks or Studios for you to negotiate with – they will all stop doing business because you are all just standing there with your hand out wanting money that doesn’t exist – yet.
    Now, if you want your fair share of the revenues that don’t yet exist, are you willing to help pay for developing the technology to make it happen? That’s what the studios and networks are doing. So, please put up or shut up.

  13. EJ says:

    I appreciate the follow-up JK. Residuals are the main sticking point of this whole strike — why not start rethinking the whole thing?
    I would add, to be fair to the writers, that “the crap … coming out of wrtiers’ pens” is often dictated by the studios. Unfortunately we are faced with a population that chooses to watch shows that are often shallow and idiotic. So the studios produce what the people want. The writers can produce quality material when called upon to do so. I, too, wish that was more the case, but don’t lay all the blame on the writers.

  14. JK says:

    Not a professional writer here, but I agree with EJ. I think writers should be paid on a one-time, per piece basis. You get a chunk at the beginning (a bigger chunk to be sure), but then no residuals. That way, if your writing is good, you get paid better and better as you go. The studios are the ones taking the big risks with millions and millions of dollars, not you. They should get the majority of the rewards. This whole strike comes across as a bunch of whiners crying about how their mansions aren’t as big as other people’s.
    You’re pissed off that a studio exec gets paid more than you? Tough luck – studio exec’s decisions impact literally hundreds of people’s jobs and lives. Writer’s decisions impact almost no one. That’s why they get paid more.
    Plus, with the crap that has been coming out of writers’ pens these days in both movies and television, you folks deserve a pay DECREASE, not an increase.

  15. TakeFive says:

    If you want someone who will cave, Schwarzenegger’s you man. Look how easily he caved on budget negotiations. Forget him.
    Folks, you need to find a good PR person fast. Someone who the general public is sympathetic to. No big stars, just some B actress who is remembered fondly. Have her explain over and over that you just want a measly 4 cents on a dvd. Frame 4 cents in terms of your adversaries salaries or earnings.
    Hire some real negotiation talent. Who’s the most ruthless bastard agent you know? Hire him. Forget this do it yourself nonsense. Even lawyers hire lawyers to represent them, and for good reason.
    But you need to win the public debate first, or your strike will go as well as the grocery strike did. Remember their classic PR blunders?

  16. EJ says:

    “fair share”, “what we deserve”, … Such nonsense. You are being paid, some very well, by a company to perform a job. There are many, many people involved on a production. But at the end of the day, you get to keep getting paid. Everyone else has to go back to work. You take no risk, you don’t have to pay back your earnings if a show fails. The studios take the risk. If you expect residuals, try writing something on your own and selling it. That’s risk and reward and you have something to talk about. But don’t start talking about what you deserve when you selfishly impact the lives of thousands of other workers who will see no benefit from your behavior and whatever concessions you may “win”.

  17. NS says:

    RJ,
    Seriously you don’t get it, do you?
    This strike is NOT about today. This is about how the writers will get paid in this digital age in YEARS to come. We all know that years from now, internet downloads/DVD/podcast will be the way to go in terms of how people watch these popular TV shows. Studios don’t want to pay for that. Right now, writers (and actors and directors) get paid residuals based on TV reruns, etc but soon people won’t be watching shows JUST on TV. They already made a “concession” years ago on video because the studio “wasn’t sure” how much money they can make on it. Look what happened. Studios made TONS of money and writers/actors/directors got hardly any of them. They aren’t making the same mistake again. That’s why they are picketing.
    OK, you want to be a writer and want to be WGA someday. They are picketing for people like you. They are picketing now so that people like you have a better future than you have right now when you join WGA someday. In my eyes, you are the one who is ungrateful, more than anything.
    NS

  18. RJ says:

    i’m not discounting your point that producers are greedy. but you guys are whining that you’re not as fat as the fat cats. honestly, if the mantra is “pencils down” then stop writing propaganda!
    you said it yourself — you have heath care. do you know how many people don’t? how much do you make a year? high 5 figures? mid 6? speaking as one of the future WGA members you’re allegedly doing all this for, i find it LAUGHABLE that you guys have the audacity to hold picket signs like you’re somehow working a sweatshop in china for 12cents an hour. are you kidding me?!?!? this is the best comedy hollywood’s turned out in decades!
    oh, boo-hoo! my producer makes 60mm a year and my life is so haaaaarrrdd! boo-hoo!
    you’re not picketing for me. you’re picketing for yourself. for a fatter piece of pie because the big greedy producers live in a house bigger than yours and you want one too. you wanna fight for a better contract? go ahead, i’m with you. but put down the picket signs and GROW UP! you have NOTHING to bitch about, no matter how hard you worked to get where you are. YES, you should be GRATEFUL! and possibly slapped upside the head too!

  19. Becca says:

    I totally shocked that an ex-actor would make such a ridiculous comment as he did in this piece. The man is clearly out of touch with the working person.

  20. Erin Maher says:

    RJ. Seriously. Yes, I have a job that many others would like to have. I fought for years myself to become a Guild writer. I had lots of jobs in the meantime, including MANY jobs where I was on my feet all day. This is without a doubt the best job I’ve ever done and the most fulfilling. It’s also by far the hardest. So I have a job you’d like to have, and you think I should be “GRATEFUL”??? I worked like hell to get here. And now that I’m here, I’m going to try to make sure that the people who come after me get a fair deal — just like the people before me gave up THEIR shot at residuals so that I can have health insurance today.
    WGA writers, altogether, got 56 million in residuals in 2006. Compare that with ONE of the corporate CEOs whose per year salary is over sixty million dollars. Aside from that, below the line workers rely on residuals to fund their health and pension benefits. Think about this, and tell me who’s really being greedy here.

  21. RJ says:

    this strike is a double edge sword. on one hand, i agree the writers should get what is fair. but on the other hand, i don’t feel sorry for any of you — even the “working class writer.” with all due respect, you have a job tens of thousands of others would GLADLY take under the CURRENT contract without complaint. if it sucks so bad, quit and go work at a grocery store! maybe some of you have been at it so long you’ve forgotten how to be grateful for what you have. you’re in a top tier job that is coveted by many. you get paid to be creative. would you rather be a telemarketer? you are NOT Norma Rae. no one has ever died of writers cramp. SHUT UP and get to work, or QUIT! i’ll happily take your job, no complaints! talk about a bunch of ungrateful, whiny babies!

  22. WGA Writer with Business Sense says:

    In the most recent Dave “Studio Publicist” McNary article, Nick Counter is quoted as saying that he will not return to the bargaining table until the strike is called off.
    Refusing to negotiate with striking workers is a clear violation of the Federal Taft-Hartley law.
    Why is the WGA not going to a judge and getting a Federal Injuction forcing the AMPTP back to the bargaining table as has been done in so many other industries?
    I don’t give a crap if these people like each other or “trust” each other. They need to hammer out an agreement before they devastate this business and the entire economy of California.
    The AMPTP needs to respond to the concessions the WGA has made. If they refuse to do so they could face fines and even jail terms.
    As someone who has been walking the line, the idea of these smug “moguls” having to deal with a Federal Judge is almost as delicious as what it’s going to be like to face the corporate boards of the giant companies that own the studios. Wall Street doesn’t care who got their feelings hurt, if these businesspeople cannot end a devastating labor action they are clearly not fit for their jobs, and shareholders will demand they be let go.

  23. Allen says:

    Yet again, another example of people thinking they know more than they do. I’m not even a writer and I think the opinions on some people are ridiculous. I’d be out on the line striking with you all if I could. I hope you all get everything you deserve.

  24. Adam_Glass says:

    “The Writers that are striking will not suffer?” Arnold, I’m a working class writer for 12 years. I have a house a wife and two kids. A prolonged strike means we lose our home. Yet I’m out there everyday fighting for a small piece of what we deserve. To paint the writers as a bunch of rich Hollywood types who are only hurting the little guy is wrong and irresponsible. Most of us our hardworking, middle class people, trying to make a living for our families. You know better than this.

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