WISCONSINREPORT.COM (12/4/07) - The writers strike that has been going on for several weeks will soon be even more evident to television viewers in Wisconsin and around the world. More and more production companies are running out of new shows and will either go into reruns or the shows will be replaced by reality shows, which don't need writers. To try to reverse that trend, writers of such classic films as Diamonds Are Forever, and '60s TV favorites The Big Valley and The Danny Thomas Hour, are showing their support for the Writers Guild of America strike.
“This strike feels [as strong as] 1960 when we won pension and health benefits,” said screenwriter Christopher Knopf, who served as WGA president from 1965-to-1967. “The internet is a brand new area that we just have to get.”
Knopf was joined on the Washington Boulevard picket line at Sony Pictures in Los Angeles by Tom Mankiewicz, who wrote many of the early James Bond movies, and Norman Borisoff, 89, a WGA member since 1947, whose first credited screenplay was 1941's Murder with Music.
“The writers have never gotten a single thing without a strike or the threat of a strike,” said Borisoff.
Writers such as Knopf, Mankiewicz, and Borisoff are part of the creative community that helped found and shape the entertainment industry and the unions that support and protect Hollywood's middle class.
They wholeheartedly support the Writers Guild in its struggle to protect the union contracts that had been fought for by the WGA and other entertainment industry unions since they were first formed in the first half of the 20th century.
Said Mankiewicz of the current fight: “I've never seen the Guild with a more properly militant leadership. If we do this right this time, we won't have to do it again.”
The Writers Guild of America, West (WGAW) represents writers in the motion picture, broadcast, cable, and new media industries in both entertainment and news.
One of the major issues in the talks between the union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers involves writers receiving a share of royalties from shows downloaded from the internet. Here is a look at what has been offered so far out of the negotiations in progress:
For streaming television episodes, the companies proposed a residual structure of a single fixed payment of less than $250 for a year's reuse of an hour-long program (compared to over $20,000 payable for a network rerun). For theatrical product they are offering no residuals for streaming.
For made-for-Internet material, the companies have offered minimums that would allow a studio to produce up to a 15 minute episode of network-derived web content for a script fee of $1300. They continued to refuse to grant jurisdiction over original content for the Internet.
In the new proposal, companies did not move on the download formula (which they propose to pay at the DVD rate), and continue to assert that they can deem any reuse "promotional," and pay no residual (even if they replay the entire film or TV episode and even if they make money).
The AMPTP says it will have additional proposals to make but, as of last week, they have not been presented it. The negotiators are scheduled to meet with each other again today (12/4/07).
The Writers Guild estimates that the entire package they are looking for would cost the industry $151 million over three years. That's a little over a 3% increase in writer earnings each year, while company revenues are projected to grow at a rate of 10%.
For Sony, for example, the union estimate is that the entire deal the Writers Guild is trying to get would cost $1.68 million per year. For Disney $6.25 million. Paramount and CBS would each pay about $4.66 million, Warner about $11.2 million, Fox $6.04 million, and NBC/Universal $7.44 million. MGM would pay $320,000 and the entire universe of remaining companies would assume the remainder of about $8.3 million per year.