Hollywood is looking more and more like a war zone.
Studios and networks blasted back Monday at the WGA’s recently announced strike rules, with AMPTP prexy Nick Counter threatening to sue the guild while TV writing staffs scramble to bank as many stories as possible before a possible work stoppage.
“We are outraged by the WGA’s ‘strike rules’ filled with threats of fines, punishment and blacklisting,” Counter said in a statement. “It is troubling and irresponsible that the WGA leadership spends so much time and energy on tactics, threats and attempts to intimidate anyone who doesn’t agree with them, and so little time and energy on trying to reach a reasonable labor agreement that would avert a strike.”
The guild issued hardline regulations last week for its 12,000 members, including bans on writing animated features and for the Internet, even though those arenas are largely not under WGA jurisdiction. The strike rules bar any writing for struck companies, delivering any material or signing documents relating to writing assignments; they compel members to honor guild picket lines, perform assigned strike support duties and reporting strike-breaking activity. Discipline for violations can include expulsion, suspension, fines and censure; nonmembers who perform banned work during a strike will be barred from joining the WGA.
Counter said the AMPTP has been “flooded” with requests for information about the strike rules and vowed to hold WGA members to their commitments, even if that involved pursuing legal action.
“We expect that all of our employees will live up to their contractual obligations, and we will vigorously pursue legal remedies if the WGA unlawfully tries to interfere with their ability to do so,” Counter said. “We will aggressively defend and protect all our employees, including guild and union members, against any unlawful action taken by the WGA.”
And, in a move akin to pouring gasoline on a fire, the AMPTP also posted extensive guidance Monday on its website as to how WGA members can file for “financial core” status — under which members resign their WGA membership and withhold the dues spent by the guild on political activities but can still work on union jobs.
The AMPTP also pointed out that members who go “fi-core” can’t be disciplined for working during a strike. But, given the high stakes of the conflict, it’s probable the WGA would move to publicly embarrass members who take such a step.
John Bowman, chief of the WGA’s negotiating committee, issued a pointed response telling the AMPTP to butt out.
“WGA members don’t need management’s help in determining the rules that would apply during a work stoppage,” he said. “Writers will make that decision democratically and for themselves. The AMPTP should worry less about our internal processes and more about avoiding a strike by negotiating a fair agreement.”
The strident tone of Monday’s comments is certain to deepen the pessimism that a strike is becoming inevitable — possibly as early as Nov. 1 — amid increasing hostility and no progress at the bargaining table, where negotiations resume today.
The contract expires Oct. 31 at midnight. WGA strike authorization ballots are due Thursday.
The looming threat of a work stoppage, meanwhile, is hitting TV writers’ rooms hard. The writing staffs of many primetime series are bunkered in this week, trying to generate as many stories and finish outlines as quickly as possible.
According to the WGA’s strike rules, scribes who also have producing duties on their shows will be able to seek the guild’s blessing to continue with those producing responsibilities — hence the mad dash to get scripts into shape.
“We’ve gone to the mattresses,” said an industry vet working on a top primetime series about the round-the-clock hours his staff has planned for the next few weeks.
It’s much harder to work far ahead on comedy series, though, because so much of the writing and rewriting is done after table readings and rehearsals with actors — a process that can’t be rushed much past the regular weekly sked.
“They asked us how many scripts we could have ready, but the truth is with TV you can only go as fast as you can go,” said one showrunner.
While there are many in the working scribe tribe who question the WGA leadership’s aggressive stance, others say they’re not inclined to turn up their output at such a sensitive moment.
“We saw little incentive to give the studios more leverage by giving additional scripts,” the showrunner said. “And we’re also prohibited from producing our own episodes if they are picketing in front of the studio. Even showrunners can’t cross a picket line to produce previously scripted episodes.”
Writers toiling on pilot scripts are facing even more pressure to get their first drafts into the network before the end of this month, rather than the more typical timetable of just before or just after Thanksgiving. Scribes want to get their scripts into network execs’ hands now, because while a work stoppage would surely throw the traditional pilot season into a tailspin, projects that execs can evaluate during the down time would seem to stand a better chance of getting greenlit than scripts turned in after the turmoil of a strike, industry insiders said.
“The pressure is on,” said another exec producer, who’s working on a pilot. “The studios are applying pressure to backlog scripts and to deliver pilots as soon as possible.”
Still, the pressure’s not across the board. Another exec producer said he hasn’t been asked to rush any more scripts before the end of the month and noted that many writing staffs — already smaller than they have been in the past on many shows — are sometimes just barely hitting their deadlines as it is.
“My gut feeling is it’s really hard to do, and I don’t know how you do it at this point,” he added.
On the feature side, studios are imposing an Oct. 31 deadline for scripts; some scribes have been notified they won’t be paid for work that had been due beyond that date. And one manager reported that dealmaking for new projects has slowed.
“You can’t really close writer deals unless it’s for something that’s already been in the works,” he added.
(Cynthia Littleton, Michael Schneider and Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)