Posted: Sun., Sep. 3, 2006, 6:00am PT
Guilds gird for residuals ruckus
Work stoppage could come as early as Oct. ’07
By DAVE MCNARY
Once every three years or so, Hollywood buckles in for the nail-biting ride that is guild negotiations.
This time, the rollercoaster’s ratcheting up even earlier than usual.
The WGA, in particular, is talking tough, and everyone is bracing for what looks like an inevitable showdown over the biz’s big growth area: new distribution platforms.
Even though the current contracts for SAG, the DGA and the WGA have more than a year to run, concern’s growing that a work stoppage could come as early as October 2007, when the writers’ contract expires.
Nets would have to scramble to replace scripted series with reality shows, and studios would have to rely on stockpiled screenplays. But at least most of the town would still be working.
The potential apocalypse comes with the expiration of SAG and DGA film-TV contracts June 30, 2008. The biz faces a total shutdown if actors and directors decide to walk out.
From iTunes and online repeats of TV shows to original mobile content, new platforms are the residuals pie that everyone’s trying to get a slice of.
The nets have been rolling out myriad new platforms for programming — usually without any notice to the Guilds and no mention of how their members will be compensated. “It would be nice to hear about these announcements from the companies themselves instead of reading about them in the press because that puts everyone in an adversarial position from the very beginning,” says WGA East prexy Chris Albers.
The unions’ only gains came in April, when the three guilds and Touchstone TV reached an agreement on ABC’s “Lost” spinoff for mobile phones. The deal called for actors, writers and directors to earn residuals at the pay TV rate — the formula the guilds have unsuccessfully been pushing to apply to iTunes downloads.
Nick Counter, president of the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, says other factors — including piracy, soaring production costs and shifts in taste — are also threatening current business models. “We have to be able to experiment and push the envelope,” he contends.
Unfortunately, every time Ol’ Nick pushes the envelope, some of the money coming to guild members falls out!
But he says there’s still time to find solutions that are fair, reflect the current market and can be adapted to the fast-changing landscape.
One possible scenario that could shuffle the deck for everyone: The studios and nets could bypass the WGA and seek an early deal with the DGA, even though the helmers’ contract doesn’t expire until June 2008.
That isn’t completely far-fetched, due to the the DGA’s historical inclination to negotiate far earlier than SAG or the WGA and the current toxic atmosphere between the writers and the companies. Counter deems the relationship the worst since the 1988 strike; WGA West president Patric Verrone says the companies have strained the partnership by opposing the WGA on new media rates and jurisdiction.
Such a deal with the DGA could serve as a template and a point of pressure for SAG and the WGA to make a similar pact. Observers believe the DGA could even get a premium in its deal, not just for going early but for eliminating the possibility of a three-Guild strike in 2008.
The directors — who have struck only once in their history — could appeal to Hollywood’s prevailing desire to keep working. And that could make for a less bumpy ride all around.
SAG president Alan Rosenberg remains cautiously optimistic, noting SAG’s managed to close four deals over the past six months. And Verrone says such speculation isn’t coming from his guild and notes, “We’d love to get our contract finished before it’s expiration date.”
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Courtesy of the current President of the Motion Picture Association of America and
Former CEO of SAG, Bob Pisano, we have been deleveraged out of sync with the WGA, because of his negotiation of 2004 TV/Theatrical One Year Extension!
And now his Producer cohort, Nick Counter, intends to use that advantage in ’07!
A.L. Miller SW Editor & Chief