I don’t blame you if your eyes glaze over at coverage of the Hollywood writers’ strike. For those interested, the L.A. Times on Saturday published op-ed columns by the chief negotiators on both sides.
This one is by David Young, executive director of the Writers Guild of America, west. This one is by Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP), which is negotiating on behalf of the multinational entertainment corporations.
And boy, Mr. Counter does a spin job that really roasts my chestnuts.
Before I get to that, I must correct something I posted earlier. I was under the impression that writers receive no residual payments for digitally downloaded TV episodes.
Apparently, in the absence of a contractually stipulated payment formula, the corporations are going ahead and paying a residual for Internet downloads equal to the DVD residual. So for a $1.99 episode of “30 Rock” downloaded from iTunes last season, for example, the writers’ residual is... less than a penny.
I stand corrected.
Now... Nick Counter. In his attempt to portray screenwriters as already over-compensated, Counter wrote this in his L.A. Times opinion piece:
“[M]embers of the Writers Guild and its sister guilds are covered by the country’s finest healthcare and pension plans, and our contribution to those plans has consistently increased while other industries’ contributions have decreased.”
Guess what? The Writers Guild had to strike – for five months in 1960 – to get Hollywood studios to pay health and pension benefits in the first place!
How ironic for Nick Counter to bring up our health and pension plans, as if writers hadn’t had to fight like hell for those... just like we’re fighting now. The corporations give up nothing without a fight.
Speaking of the 1960 strike, that was a hugely important one. The Screen Actors Guild was on strike for part of the same time. And those strikes led to the creation of “residual” payments to writers and actors for TV reruns, and for shows sold overseas.
“The exploding power of television had brought a new kind of militancy to the [Screen Actors Guild], especially over TV residuals,” wrote Dennis McDougal about the run-up to the 1960 strikes. “While studios grew richer every day collecting TV fees for syndicating old movies, actors still got nothing, and a growing faction within SAG as well as the Writers Guild began talking seriously about shutting Hollywood down.”
Today’s strike, then, is a little bit of history repeating itself. A new media technology triggers new prosperity for the entertainment industry... and Hollywood’s creative talent must fight to share in that new prosperity.