Christopher Keyser has already faced one big disappointment in the first five months of his tenure as the 30th president of the Writers Guild of America West — last month’s stalling of Hollywood anti-piracy legislation on Capitol Hill.
“Piracy’s a very real issue for our members because it takes money right out of our pockets,” he notes. “Unfortunately, the industry lost control of what had been a very populist message when it became more about censorship.”
It’s unusual for the guild to find itself on the opposing side of a censorship debate, but because piracy is such a bread-and-butter issue to members, Keyser said it’s clear the industry will have to regroup but continue the fight against copyright-infringing activity.
As the guild prepares to honor some of its leading lights at Sunday’s Writers Guild Awards, Keyser says he’s acutely aware of how tough economic times have taken a toll on members who aren’t marquee names.
“It’s a tough time for all middle-class people,” he says. “The real issue for us is how to get through what continues to be a very difficult economic period.”
For that reason, he came out in support of the Occupy Wall Street movement early in his tenure — during the first week of October — and pledged that the WGA West would continue to be vocal on issues that impact writers and reach out directly to politicians via its political action committee.
Keyser says the board’s already laying the groundwork for negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers on a successor deal to the current master contract, which expires in May 2014. He was part of the board during the last negotiations cycle when the guild quietly reached a deal in early 2011 — a sharp contrast to the previous round of negotiations, which featured a 100-day strike in 2007-08.
WGA East president Michael Winship, who’s in his third term, asserts that the outreach to members is well under way. “When you’re getting ready for a negotiating cycle, you need to know about your constituents’ concerns — such as parity in cable with the broadcast networks and late pay,” Winship says.
Keyser’s not venturing any kind of prediction as to how the negotiations might go when they start, noting that the key is to set bargaining priorities as a result of “consistent communication” with the membership.
Both Keyser and Winship remain optimistic for expanding guild jurisdiction. The WGA East has scored some successes in organizing non-fiction cable TV at Atlas, Lion, ITV and Optimem.