Sunday, February 10, 2008

Labor History or Nuclear Winter

"Are you a writer??"

Cameras and microphones being shoved at a decidedly unglamorous lot as they tried to enter the Crowne Plaza Hotel on Saturday afternoon. I felt a little bad for the press. Most writers for tv and film are a phantom breed. Even the names you might know, you probably don't know what they look like. Reporters trying to get a story from invisible people.

I made my way through the press mob. I wasn't wearing any WGA paraphernalia and I don't really resemble the average WGA member.

It was a private meeting. WGAE president Michael Winship tried to emphasize this—that what was said in the ballroom would REMAIN in the ballroom and asked that we exercise some restraint in talking to the press outside... but word started leaking almost immediately. Halfway through the meeting, someone tipped off Winship that people were leaving the meeting and freely spouting off to the ravenous media.

So, between that and the fact that no one really reads this blog, I don't feel so bad writing about the experience.

There's some conflicting opinions on the "temperature" of the room. I sensed tension from the start.

The email that was sent to the members from the presidents of the WGAE and WGAW just hours earlier had an air of finality about it. Some preliminary legalese concerning the details of the tentative contract was also released. The guild represents such a broad spectrum of careers, it was perhaps inevitable that not EVERYONE would be content with the ground we made and the battles we lost.

Tensions aside, the meeting started out very positive. The board went through the contract, explaining what we'd won. Winship's favorite line was, "Let's not let 'perfect' be the enemy of 'very good'."

Biggest problems, IMHO, is that the legalese is dense and the issues we're dealing with are projections of what the future will look like. When they opened up the floor for questions, I think the angriest people were the ones who think it's a foregone conclusion that "THE INTERNET" will completely take over from broadcast television within the next 5 years. Which, I think, is an unreasonable expectation.

The most inspirational speaker was Terry George, the man behind United Hollywood, a man who's no stranger to labor disputes, who emphasized how we've made labor history with these negotiations. With this contract, we've established groundwork to BUILD UPON.

Our biggest leverage was the Oscars and television season. And we exploited them. For the people who think we should keep this strike going to get EVERYTHING we want, to stay out till June when the actors' contract expires, the response was clear:

That would be a nuclear winter scenario for us.

Our leverage would be gone if we killed off the Oscars and the tv season. There's no guarantee the actors would really go on strike. We would LOSE EVERYTHING that's on the table right now and have to fight just to get back to the tentative deal we've got now.

The last big writers strike was 20 years ago, in '88. It lasted almost 6 months and ultimately they took a deal that had been offered to them about 2 months in. It ruined careers.

A lot has changed since then. In 1988, I was 12 and I vaguely remember reading a magazine article on the strike. Today, writers have managed to use the internet to inform people.

There's a lot of debate but it seems that the strike should officially be over SOMETIME this week. Not necessarily Monday.

The press mob was even thicker on the way out. A layer of press and a layer of tourists, drawn to the lights like flies, vainly expecting to see some celebrities.

I made my way through anonymously. Contemplating how I'm going to get the momentum of my career back.


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