WGA goes for a spin

Guild wary of upcoming negotiations

In an indication of how contentious next month’s negotiations may be, the WGA West is warning members about upcoming spin from studios and nets. In short, the guild’s already declared that it doesn’t believe much of anything that’s likely to be said by the studios and networks.

In response, the lead negotiator for the companies has asserted the WGA’s leaders are singing the same old song — a tune out of touch with fast-changing showbiz realities.

In a two-page essay in Written By, the WGA West’s official monthly mag, assistant exec director Charles Slocum dissects each of the likely arguments by studios and nets, indicated in italics:

  •  “Threats vs. Opportunities.” Slocum notes the argument is that new methods of distribution threaten existing ones. But the same companies tout wide-open potential when tubthumping their prospects to Wall Street. “The Wall Street optimism is closer to the truth,” he adds.

  • We Are Under Siege From Piracy.” “Piracy is our shrinkage,” Slocum responds. “Let’s minimize it, but it’s no argument against residuals.”

  • “Stockpiling will dilute a strike threat.” “This rhetorical gambit is at least three decades old,” he writes. “It’s never altered the course of negotiations.”

  • “We are losing money.” “Perhaps the granddaddy of rhetorical offerings is the bromide that they are losing money in this terribly unprofitable entertainment business,” Slocum writes. He counters that there’s more biz than ever, even for nonhits.

  • “We need to study the issue.” “A great gambit to try and put off the biggest issue in negotiations is to study it,” Slocum notes, adding that there are plenty of existing formulas for paying writers, appropriate to whatever the revenue source is.

Slocum’s essay was published a few weeks after Nick Counter of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers dismissed the WGA’s 25-item wish list as “an assault on the entire industry.”

Of the essay, Counter told Daily Variety, “Mr. Slocum is simply wrong if he really believes that nothing in our industry has changed. The fact is that everything has changed. Everything is different.”

And Counter signaled again that he’ll be pushing hard for a revamp of the residuals system — with payments coming only when shows break into the black — when negotiations launch July 16.

“We refuse to be like other industries — such as the newspaper and music industries — that failed to adapt to changes and so have cost themselves and their workers dearly,” Counter said. “We are committed to making a deal that is fair to both sides, but no one should underestimate our resolve to keep our businesses competitive and healthy.”

One might conclude, then, that a strike is inevitable when the contract expires Oct. 31.

Not at all, Slocum writes in an upbeat take at the end of the essay.

“Citing these bromides is not to trivialize the power of studios and networks — we respect our bargaining partners,” he adds. “As the cycle plays out, the point will be reached when problem-solving overcomes rhetoric and a deal is struck.”

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