Suddenly we find ourselves at the precipice.
If the Writers Guild and management cannot reach an accommodation in the talks that start today, a nightmare scenario will be set in motion that could have a cataclysmic impact on the Hollywood community.
Make no bones about it: This is a moment when we look to industry leaders to exercise restraint and responsibility.
In a community of dealmakers, each side now must stand ready to deal.
Surely the writers and actors must acknowledge that they’ve been thriving as never before in this industry. Yes, there’s runaway production and, yes, the underlying contracts are 20 years old, but the jobs have been plentiful, the pay abundant. Hollywood is riding high.
Yet a recession looms. The profit margins of the major companies are fragile. The entities that control Hollywood were recession-proof once; they are no longer.
So two questions present themselves: Is this the moment to demand exponential leaps in cable residuals or in video? Are these talks, with their narrow two-week window, the appropriate forum to arbitrate complex, generations-old issues of creative rights?
Thus far the writers have delivered some macho mandates. The two-week window is their idea. The demands that the talks take place on the writers’ turf rather than at the producers’ headquarters is their initiative, as well.
A Daily Variety survey of top-line writers and writer-producers demonstrates a pervasive confusion about the issues and apprehension about the talks. That apprehension is justified.
Meanwhile, a costly de facto strike has been all but assured as a result of the actors’ reluctance to start early talks. The current frenzy of pre-strike production will guarantee a lengthy hiatus resulting in significant unemployment.
On the management side, studio and network leaders of late have retreated from their earlier doomsday pronouncements. They insist they do not want a strike; they assert they are fully cognizant of the consequences.
Yet management’s shrill cries of poverty are wearing thin. Though margins on specific movies or TV shows may be dicey, talent is fully aware that the networks and studios are mere tentacles of giant multinational corporations. The full value of what Hollywood’s artists and artisans produce may not be reflected in domestic box office alone but rather in the ultimate value of film libraries and in myriad ancillary revenue streams.
Twenty-year-old contracts deserve review. Accommodations made to encourage new technologies must be revisited.
Do the multinationals want to accept responsibility for shutting down the town? Having usurped control of our global pop culture, do they now want to extinguish it in the interest of economic gain?
Clearly this is a moment for compromise, rather than posturing. Having agreed to this narrow two-week window, both sides must focus on pivotal issues and set aside peripheral ones for later review. And if the talks hit gridlock, both sides should promptly appoint a committee of arbiters to review the issues and recommend solutions.
The stakes are too high. There’s a moment in the film “Thirteen Days” when, at the darkest hour of the Cuban missile crisis, Kevin Costner says, “If the sun comes up tomorrow, it’s only because of men of good will.”
Standing at the precipice, this community could use the help of men of good will.