by Mark Evanier
LB’s NOTE: This article written by the legendary Mark Evanier is the most enlightening discussion I’ve seen yet of the current state of the contract renewal negotiations between the WGA and the AMPTP. Things are getting heated, gang. And Mark is here to tell us why:
very few years, the contract between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers expires and a new one must be negotiated. Sometimes, the negotiations are simple and sometimes, they are not. When they are not, it is because someone at the A.M.P.T.P. — or at at least one of the member companies that comprise the A.M.P.T.P. — decides he or she can be a hero and advance his or her career by engineering a deal that pays the writers less or at least denies us cost o’ living increases.
I joined the W.G.A. on April Fool’s Day of 1976 so I have been through many of these and sometimes been fairly close to the negotiations. It is my observation that these dust-ups are never about what’s “fair,” at least from the Producers’ standpoint. And when they say things like, “The business is hurting…everyone needs to understand that and accept some cuts,” that is always, 100% of the time, horseshit. For them, these dickerings are only about one thing: Getting as much as possible. The less we get, the more they get.
Whenever Renegotiation Time rolls around, my guild assembles something called the Pattern of Demands — a wish list of things we’d like to discuss. Many times, it is a waste of time because the studios simply refuse to address anything on our list. Their negotiators literally end the meeting if our reps bring out the list. One of the Producers’ lawyers in years past liked to say things like, “We are never going to let these sessions be about what you want. They will only be about what we are willing to give you.”
If anyone does look at our Pattern of Demands, they’ll see items about increased compensation but they will also always see issues that are not directly about money. We want our work to be respected more. We want to be listened-to more on creative matters. We want minorities (including older writers of any color) to be given more consideration. We want our credits to be protected and so forth. Call these the non-monetary issues.
There are people in management at the studios who care about such things but we tend to not negotiate with those folks. The people we deal with only care about the money and with keeping as much of it as possible for their employers. If they address the non-monetary issues at all, it’s because they think they can trade one of the unimportant non-monetary issues for an important monetary one. In the ’85 negotiations for instance, the Producers demanded a change in credit procedures that would have gutted the WGA’s ability to control who received screen credit. They didn’t really care about that. They just wanted to be able to say, “Okay, we’ll drop our demands about credits if you drop your demands about money.”
Because we care (somewhat) about the non-monetary issues and they don’t, sometimes that works. Indeed, in ’85, they dropped those demands but in the same bargaining sessions, we accepted for other reasons a lowering of the fees we were paid when films or TV shows we wrote were put out on home video. The former cost them nothing. The latter cost us billions. From the Producers’ standpoint, that was a wildly-successful negotiation. That year, I don’t think they ever even listened to anything we had in our Pattern of Demands.
Even factoring in that our brief strike that year cost them some cash, the guys who engineered that deal for them were superstar heroes. It was like they’d made a dozen movies as lucrative as Star Wars or Titanic. Each time we embark on a new negotiation, there’s someone there who dreams of doing that again….
Read it all at News From ME (Mark Evanier’s truly enlightening blog)