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Keyser: expect more WGAW activism

Prexy says guild will become more vocal in political arena

Newly elected WGA West president Christopher Keyser has told its 8,000 members that the guild will become more vocal in the political arena, such as supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“We need the ability to speak in a loud, clear voice,” Keyser said in a message to members. “You can be sure that those who lobby against our interests in Washington are doing exactly that, with the most expensive megaphone the all-too-bendable rules permit. We will not be silent in response.”

Keyser came out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Oct. 6. He said in the new message — which arrived in member inboxes Thursday — that the guild will continue to be vocal on issues that impact writers and will be reaching out directly to politicians via its political action committee.

“We believe that writers’ voices belong in the national conversation about issues related to our business and to the plight of labor in general,” he said. “It is impossible to over-estimate the effect that decisions on issues ranging from net neutrality to vertical integration to piracy have on our members’ bottom line. We simply cannot leave those decisions to others, without our perspective being heard.”

Keyser also said the WGA West will be asking membership to contribute the PAC, adding, “It is an unfortunate truth about American politics that money is speech.”

The missive comes a month after Keyser won a two-year as president over Patric Verrone in a campaign that stressed pragmatism and minimizing internal divisiveness. Keyser said in the message to members that the WGA West board’s most recent meeting produced a consensus on three main priorities over the next two years:

— the need for the WGA West to be more involved in the life of its members and to improve communication, including a “reassessment” of its communication strategy. Keyser also promised that the board is evaluating the effectiveness of contract enforcement “with particular attention to late pay.”

— preparation for negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on a successor deal to the current master contract, which expires in May, 2014. Keyser cited setting bargaining priorities as a result of “consistent communication” with the membership, the “perennial” goal of improved inter-guild relations, the continued pursuit of its organizing agenda, and a critical reassessment of its overall negotiating strategy in the “multi-guild/AMPTP” universe .

— New media, with the intent of creating opportunities for WGA members. “The change in the way content is delivered, and the entry into the business of new production entities beyond our traditional partners in the AMPTP, suggests a future that is full of both risk and of possibility,” Keyser said. “Through research, education, and outreach, we are committed to pursuing, as a guild, a future in which the as-yet- undefined landscape of the new media world becomes ripe with opportunities for writers to create, produce and share an ownership stake in that content.”

The WGA West’s reported writer earnings declined 2.9% last year to $928 million, thanks to a 9.9% plunge in feature film salaries. New media revenues — the key issue of the 2007-08 strike — were still miniscule at $1.4 million.

Keyser disclosed in the missive that the WGA West is working toward release of the Screenwriters Survey/Report Card, which will provide members with a “detailed picture” of the working conditions of screenwriters, including issues of free rewrites, sweepstakes pitching, and late pay, as it varies from studio to studio.

He also said that members should expect to hear from the guild “regularly” over the next year.

“These are difficult economic times in this country, particularly for the middle class,” Keyser said. “We, as writers, have not been immune from that. We are, all of us, and at every level, finding careers more difficult to sustain. In such an environment, the Guild is more vital than ever – to fight the fights for stricter enforcement, better working conditions, and greater compensation.”

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