Inside the WGA-AMPTP Negotiating Room

A succinct and, overall, quite fair report on the negotiation process in the 2017 WGA-AMPTP contract negotiations from one of H’wood’s favorite trade mags:

by Cynthia Littleton

The dam broke at about 10:30 p.m. on Monday night. With 90 minutes to go to the strike deadline, the WGA and major studios began to find their way to the compromises that had been elusive during the previous five days of contract negotiations.

By 12:15 a.m. Tuesday, after a break for caucusing, the sides returned to the big table at the Sherman Oaks headquarters of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers to declare that the deal was done.

What tipped the scales? From the WGA’s perspective, it was the pressure of the ticking clock and the unquestionable demonstrations of unity among guild members to strike if the leadership didn’t feel like they were being offered a fair deal.

From the view of the AMPTP, the WGA’s strategy was one of brinksmanship. With the threat of a walkout hanging over the room, the WGA, led by chief negotiator David Young, used their leverage to successfully push the studios for incremental gains nearly to the last minute before settling. Young once again earned the admiration of many members for his steely resolve and confidence that the guild was on the right course, even if it meant a work stoppage, to secure justified gains for writers.

Sources close to the situation credited the AMPTP, led by president Carol Lombardini, with the tactical decision to not throw down the gauntlet of a last, best and final offer. The absence of such take-it-or-leave-it pressure allowed the sides to keep talking well into the night, a process that helped both camps move toward common ground. The desire to avoid the disruption and financial losses incurred a decade ago during the 100-day WGA strike from November 2007-February 2008 was also a motivating factor for both sides.

In the heat of the negotiations, sources on both sides of the table noted the leadership demonstrated by Christopher Keyser, who co-chaired the negotiating committee along with Billy Ray and Chip Johannessen. Keyser, a veteran showrunner who served as president of the WGA West from 2011-2015, is said to have made an eloquent final pitch for why the guild was pushing so hard for a codified family leave plan in the master WGA contract. He cited the hardship that job insecurity has on young writers in particular when starting a family. In the end, a source said the family leave agreement does not give TV writers paid time off but does guarantee for the first time that they will be able to return to a job after up to eight unpaid weeks off, as long as the series remains in production.

Sources close to the situation also credited the high level of engagement in the talks by top industry leaders — including CBS Corp. chairman Leslie Moonves, Warner Bros. chairman-CEO Kevin Tsujihara, Fox Networks Group’s Peter Rice and Disney/ABC TV’s Ben Sherwood – in providing the will for AMPTP negotiators to address the most pressing issues raised by the WGA. Throughout the talks, Lombardini with the support of the CEOs gradually met a significant number of the WGA’s most urgent demands in order to neuter them as strike-worthy issues. The studio chiefs weren’t thrilled about writing a big check — said to be about $90 million — to shore up the WGA’s over-taxed health plan, but they knew that was a central issue for writers at all levels that would have fueled strike sentiment had it been ignored….

Read it all at Variety

Read another view – more entertaining, maybe, but who can tell these days? – at SFGate

What the Latest WGA-MPTP Agreement Means

by Gerry Conway


LB’s NOTE: TVWriter™  has been getting a lot of email asking us – mostly in a more subtle way – what the big deal is about the result of the latest negotiation with the AMPTP and why are we, the members of the WGA, so thrilled about the result.

Good questions, for sure. And my good buddy Gerry Conway has some good answers, right here, right now (and also on his blog, where this short but perceptive reaction originally appeared just a few days ago):


Just got an email from the WGA negotiating committee, and for the first time since I became a member in 1978, I believe the Guild has achieved the impossible– we pushed back against the studios’ greed and intransigence without having to destroy or damage careers and livelihoods in the process.

I became a member at a time when union power in the United States was under assault by the growing countervailing power of mega corporations, and, after 1980, by the resurgent power of a growing anti-worker conservative political establishment. The 1980s was a traumatic time for the WGA, as a series of strikes forced by the studios’ refusal to negotiate fair terms for new media (and even, in the case of VHS sales, refusing to comply with deals they’d previously made) did serious damage to the careers of many writers, actors, directors and craftspeople – as well as to the lives of hundreds and thousands of supporting workers throughout the state. That decade left all the unions in Hollywood weakened and demoralized through much of the 1990s and well into the early 2000s. It took the rise of the internet and the apparent willingness of the studios to try to break Hollywood unions once and for all in the mid-2000s to finally bring writers back together again. The strength the Guild showed ten years ago, and the passion and determination of an idealistic younger generation of Guild members, is why the Guild was able to stare down the studios this year– and force them to blink.

I may be overly optimistic, but I see a parallel between the Guild’s victory over the studios this weekend and the victory of the Democrats over the Republicans in the budget battle, also this weekend.

In both cases the power to force their will upon a smaller, apparently weaker opponent seemed to be with the ruling establishment– the studios in one case, the Republican Congress and President in the other. Yet in the end the power was more apparent than real. Historical forces decide– in the 1980s, history was moving against unions, workers, and progressive politics. In the 2000s, history is moving against corporate economic dominance, wealthy elites, and conservatism. Despite momentary victories– weakening financial regulations, current electoral triumphs– the cultural order that’s held sway since Reagan’s election in 1980 is crumbling. That flush of victory Republicans perceived when Trump was elected may turn out to have been the flush of a breaking fever.

Congratulations to my brothers and sisters in the WGA. May ours be the first of many future victories for workers and unions and people-first policies yet to come.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.

WGA Official Tentative AMPTP Agreement Message

From the officers’ and negotiators’ lips to our ears:

 

It’s WGA Day on TVWriter™!

One map reader to another – shouldn’t the WGA West be on the left? Just asking….

And why not?

Lots of Writers Guild of America, West and East, doings recently, as y’all may have noticed, so we’re devoting this whole day to GuildAc, as the fannish world might call Guild Activity – and, now that we think about it, why shouldn’t the WGAs have fans?  Start as a fan, donate time and love to your Guild, move on up to pro ranks–

But we digress. Time for the posts. For the latest on what’s happening in the pro writing world, scroll on up. Why up? Because…interwebs, gang. Inter%#@!Webs.

Reacquainting Yourself with Doctor Who

The lesson to be learned here, kids, boils down to “Make sure your work stays accessible!” We’re talking to you, New Showrunners. Because if you don’t keep the audience coming back to the dance floor, you and your band won’t be invited to the next big event.

Jumping in on Doctor Who
by Mindy Newell

The Doctor: “Time is a structure relative to ourselves. Time is the space made by our lives, where we stand together forever. Time and relative dimension in space. It means life… This is the gateway to everything that ever was and ever can be.
Bill: …Can I use the toilet?

“The Pilot,” Doctor Who, Second Series 10, Episode 1

 My daughter Alixandra has wanted to watch Doctor Who but she’s been intimidated by the idea of catching up with 50 years of the show’s history. Hey, who wouldn’t be? I told her to start with “new Who,” with Christopher Eccleston’s as the 9th Doctor, which was “only” 12 years ago (is it really over a decade already?) and that “Rose,” the first episode, would do a great job of hooking her into the basics – although she already sorta knows them, as she remembers me watching the Tom Baker years of Doctor Who when the show aired on Saturday mornings on Channel 13, the New York City PBS station.

She was very young then, not much more than a toddler, so that was a surprise to me – as well as a lesson to grown-ups: be careful what you say around the young ‘uns. Apparently, little pitchers really do have big ears.

I also sent her a list of shows from a website I found, “Desperately Unrehearsed,” which lists every episode from the aforementioned “Rose” to Matt Smith’s dénouement, “The Time of The Doctor,” with a pretty good opinion – at least one I basically agreed with – of what was essential and what was not (along with YMMV).

But I also just sent her a text: “The 10th series premiered Saturday night. It’s called “The Pilot,and it might be a good place for you to start, as it introduces a new companion and reintroduces the basic ideas.”

She sent me back a “thumbs-up” emoji.

I texted her back a few minutes later, because I forgot to say in the first text: “Plus, Peter Capaldi.”

Fans of Outlander (me, included) are currently suffering from what is known as the “Droughtlander,” – the last episode of Season 2 aired on July 9, 2016, and the series is not returning to Showtime until September – but the wait for Series 10 of Doctor Who has been interminable. The last episode of Series 9 (“Hell Bent”) aired here in the States on December 5, 2015. We did get two Christmas specials, the first run three weeks later on December 25, 2016 (“The Husbands of River Song”) and the second (“The Return of Doctor Mysterio”) a year later.

Outlander is not even giving us that…

But was the wait worth it?

“The Pilot” was not only a singularly great show all by itself, it was also a fantastic kick-off, with past and future colliding – dialogue that was timey-winey-twisted; pictures of a lost wife and granddaughter; sonic screwdrivers from just about every regeneration collected in a jug; and a vault (reminiscent of the Pandorica box) that the Doctor is protecting….

Read it all at ComicMix

WGA Strike Authorization Vote Results

Like they say in The Lion King, “And so it begins.”

Maybe. Remember, we’re not walking the picket lines yet.

Anyway, here’s the email sent by the WGA late yesterday afternoon:

April 24, 2017

Dear Colleague–

The results of our strike authorization vote are now in.

96.3% of you have voted YES.

6,310 ballots were cast. 67.5% of eligible WGA members voted, a historic turnout.

We thank you for your resolve and your faith in us as your representatives. We are determined to achieve a fair contract.

Talks will resume tomorrow.

Your 2017 Negotiating Committee

Chip Johannessen, Co-Chair
Chris Keyser, Co-Chair
Billy Ray, Co-Chair

Alfredo Barrios, Jr.
Amy Berg
Adam Brooks
Patti Carr
Zoanne Clack
Marjorie David
Kate Erickson
Jonathan Fernandez
Travon Free
Howard Michael Gould
Susannah Grant
Erich Hoeber
Richard Keith
Warren Leight
Damon Lindelof
Glen Mazzara
Alison McDonald
Jonathan Nolan
Zak Penn
Luvh Rakhe
Shawn Ryan
Stephen Schiff
David Shore
Meredith Stiehm
Patric M. Verrone
Eric Wallace
Beau Willimon
Nicole Yorkin

Howard A. Rodman, WGAW President, ex-officio
Michael Winship, WGAE President, ex-officio
David A. Goodman, WGAW Vice President, ex-officio
Jeremy Pikser, WGAE Vice President, ex-officio
Aaron Mendelsohn, WGAW Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Bob Schneider, WGAE Secretary-Treasurer, ex-officio
Writers Guild of America, West
7000 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048
Phone (323) 951-4000 • Fax (323) 782-4800 • www.wga.org

Solidarity!

Showbiz Mind Games

Say hi to the Id Monster

by Gerry Conway


LB’s NOTE: Convincing ourselves that whatever show or film etc. we’re making is worth all the time and effort we put in is a show business way of life. Writer-producer Gerry Conway, whom I’ve known since we both were wee tadpoles swimming in Harlan Ellison’s Wonderland pond, brilliantly puts it into real-world perspective:


Hollywood is a weird small town.

That’s hardly a new observation, but new or not, it’s true. And because Hollywood is a weird small town, that’s how I came to know and befriend the man who directed one of Steve Bannon’s alt-right documentaries.

For twenty years I made my living as a TV writer-producer in “Hollywood” (which is less a place than a set of business and social connections) and it really was like living in a small, tight community. Everyone either knew everyone or knew someone who knew someone. There were cliques and in-and-out groups, the cool kids and the nerds, the crazy Old Man who lived in the big house on the hill, the rough neighborhood and the new money arrivistes, the rundown homes of the formerly great…

And the schools. In “Hollywood,” there are several “industry” schools favored by parents with the financial resources to keep their kids out of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

(Before the tax-decimating years that followed the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, California had a top-ranked educational system; today it’s the 10th worst. That decline can be traced entirely to Republican tax-cutting fervor. But I digress.)

For the Hollywood parents of a K-6 child there are a number of options, ranging from schools in LA’s West Side for “artsy” kids, to more “academic” schools in the Hancock Park area and the Santa Monica mountains, to “nurturing” schools in the Valley, and “religious” schools in Bel Air and Beverlywood. My wife at the time and I decided to send our daughter Rachel to one of the “nurturing” schools– a terrific family-run K-6 school in the mid-Valley that, until recently, had slipped under the “Hollywood” town radar.

(That changed the year our daughter arrived when Peter Guber decided to enroll his child. Shortly afterwards his competive ex-partner Jon Peters enrolled his child. Then Kate Jackson arrived, and Al Pacino, and Ben Stiller, and within a few years our little family-run K-6 in the mid-Valley was buying property and expanding and had become one of the hottest places for actors and producers to send their kids and network at father-daughter dances and school wide fundraisers. But again, I digress.)

Rachel has an outgoing and social personality. She’s in college now, where she’s well-liked and respected. All likeability and respect was also present during her years in K-6 , where she made friends with whom she’s still in touch now, years later. Since I’m not the most eagerly social person myself, many of the people I befriended during that time were parents of Rachel’s friends. One of those was a man I’ll call Harry.

Harry was (and is) a director of documentaries. That’s a tough business to make a living in, unless you find a gig working in “reality TV”, which, for anyone with an ounce of creative talent must be a soul-crushing experience. Harry had worked in TV for various light-entertainment shows but he wanted (and needed) to branch out into the world of independent documentary film. Like I said, a tough business, especially for a first-time director. Most independent documentaries are either self-financed or funded by foundation grants, because documentaries aren’t profitable for investors. Pursuing such funding can be a full-time job in itself. But at the time we met Harry had lucked into a financing network that promised almost unlimited funding resources– all because of an unlikely accident.

Remember Michael Moore’s post-9/11 anti-Bush documentary “Fahrenheit 911?” It’s one of the few documentaries that actually crossed over into near-blockbuster territory. The success of “Fahrenheit 911” infuriated conservatives, including the handful of conservative filmmakers who occupied Hollywood’s right-wing fringe. One of those conservative right-wing filmmakers decided to make his own pro-Bush 9/11 documentary in response.

(Another digression: there is a vocal right-wing creative element in Hollywood, though it’s much smaller and less vocal than during the days of the Hollywood Blacklist. As a practical matter, Hollywood is culturally progressive, though upper management is often fiscally conservative– particularly when it comes to paying talent. That’s a different rant, though.)

Despite his powerful desire to outmatch Michael Moore’s liberal outrage with his own conservative outrage, however, the filmmaker/director who wanted to make a pro-Bush documentary wasn’t an actual documentary director. After raising funds for his project from right-wing financiers, he discovered he couldn’t make a documentary on his own. So he asked around–like I said, Hollywood is a weird small town–and Harry’s name came up as someone with the skill set to assemble a documentary who might be willing to take on the project as a way to showcase his own talents.

As far as I know, at the time he took the job, Harry wasn’t a conservative, let alone a hardcore right-wing conservative. When we first met at a K-6 social event I felt we had a lot in common politically. We both expressed contempt for Bush’s idiotic jingoism, we were both socially progressive, we liked the same kinds of movies, and we were both doting fathers. Our wives liked each other. Our families hung out. Barbeques, movie nights. Good times.

First time directors often don’t get to pick their projects: if an opportunity presents itself, you jump and try to make if work. If you don’t grab the brass ring the first time around you might not get a second chance. When that right-wing filmmaker offered Harry a chance to get his name on a feature length documentary, Harry grabbed it. He told himself he wouldn’t make a conservative propaganda film. Like most fair minded observers he saw Moore’s film for what it was– a scream of liberal outrage. (I like Moore’s film, but let’s be honest, it’s as fair and balanced as an episode of Sean Hannity.) Harry convinced himself his documentary would be a counterweight to Moore’s film. He wanted it to be fair but strong, passionate but not strident. He seemed to think his own desire for objectivity would influence the final product and make it less a piece of conservative propaganda than it might be otherwise.

He was wrong, of course. As a first-time director working under supervision by a right-wing ideologue he didn’t have any power to influence anything. The film that resulted, the film he was credited with directing, was the film the writer-producer wanted it to be, not the film Harry hoped it would be. Yet that creative defeat was a career-making triumph. Harry was now on the radar of right-wing financiers who wanted to make more “documentaries” like the one skewering Michael Moore which Harry had just “directed.”

People like David Bosse, President and Chairman of Citizens United (yes, that “Citizens United”) and future Deputy Campaign Manager of Trump’s Presidential campaign; and the Dark Lord of Breitbart himself, Steve Bannon.

Over the next few years, as our daughters moved through K-6 together, Harry and I had several interesting conversations about his work. I hadn’t seen his first film, but I understood from what he said that he wasn’t happy with how it turned out; he seemed to feel he’d been thwarted in his effort to put together an honest criticism of liberal attacks on Bush. Like I said, Harry and I shared similar progressive beliefs, though he tended to be slightly more moderate. But as time went on I noticed a subtle change in how Harry spoke about his projects.

While making his second film, Harry described it as a serious appraisal of international politics. He said he was discovering things he never knew that surprised him and that he felt were important for Americans to understand. Of course, he said, he knew his backers had an agenda, but he was steering the film down a middle course. While the movie didn’t entirely express his viewpoint he felt it was less biased and more balanced than his first film. He seemed happier with the outcome. I felt pleased for him – though I was also skeptical, considering how the film was financed as well as the obvious political agenda of the subject matter. Since the film was only available to conservative audiences at conservative conventions and gatherings, I never saw it myself so I can’t judge whether Harry was correct in his assessment.

I did see his third film, however, the one financed and produced by Steve Bannon… and that was an eye-opener.

Harry was proud of this film, so proud he invited my then-wife and I to the “premiere,” a special screening at a theater in Burbank. In conversations leading up to the showing he talked about how he’d worked to create a legitimate documentary about a crisis in American politics, a failure of government to address a growing and horrific problem that threatened the nature of American society– the criminally weak Washington response to the threat of illegal immigration.

My wife and I went to the premiere, expecting to see a documentary on the problem of undocumented immigration told from a moderately conservative viewpoint–a reasonable expectation given how Harry described the film in contrast to how he’d talked about his previous films.

Remember that scene in “The Producers” when the curtain goes up and the unsuspecting theater audience experiences the opening number, “Springtime For Hitler?”

Yep, it was like that.

The documentary Harry had described as a serious examination of the problem of undocumented immigration was a ninety-five minute diatribe against Mexicans and Mexican immigrants, told almost entirely from the viewpoint of hardcore right-wing Arizona border patrol guards and civilian vigilante Minutemen, interspersed with interviews of wives whose husbands had been killed by illegal Mexican immigrants and subtitled interviews with “illegals” who were drug mules or who had been left to die in the desert by “coyote” smugglers. The only “pro” immigration interview was with a radical Mexican nationalist who argued that America’s possession of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico was an illegal occupation and it was Americans who should be kicked out.

We were, to put it mildly, flabbergasted. After the showing we made polite noises about the documentary being “very effective” and fled quickly while the rest of the invited audience heaped praise on Harry and the producers.

After that, though we stayed friendly with Harry and his family because our daughter and their daughter were friends, I made a point of discussing work and politics as little as possible with Harry. Even so, I found myself wondering if Harry was conscious of the dramatic change in his self-perception.

This was the same man who recognized his first documentary was manipulated by his writer-producer into a blatant right-wing propaganda, who’d known he made compromises in his second film to accommodate the financier’s point of view, and who, nevertheless, had tried – and failed – to produce a balanced piece of work. He’d been aware of the compromises he made. I liked to think he was unhappy but resigned to the financial reality of an independent documentarian’s life. He was also constrained by the fact that after his first film–so much right-wing propaganda–he found financing from less conservative sources closed to him. His only recourse was to make films backed by conservatives. That was the reality. What surprised me, though it shouldn’t have, was the extent to which he rewrote his reality to fit the films he made into his self-concept of being a fair and moderate voice of reason.

The reason Harry’s self delusion about his work shouldn’t have surprised me is simple: I’ve been there. I’ve done it myself and seen many others do it. In Hollywood, it’s a way of life. It’s how people who should and often do know better convince themselves the project they’re working on is brilliant and insightful, when, in truth, the show or movie they’re devising is often a piece of crap.

William Goldman, master screenwriter, once said, “No one ever sets out to make a bad movie.” There’s a corollary to that observation: Very often, no one knows they’re making a bad movie.

When you devote ten hours a day, six or seven days a week to a job–making a film or a TV show– for the sake of your own sanity you must believe the effort and sacrifice is worthwhile. Not just financially worthwhile–in Hollywood, that’s an easy call–but creatively worthwhile. Go talk to the writer or producer of the worst dreck on TV and often you’ll come away astonished by their belief in the worth of their own shitty show. “We’re doing something special here,” says the writer of every predictable family comedy. “We have a great cast and we’re telling important stories,” says the producer of yet another teen drama. These people aren’t lying to you; they’re lying to themselves. They have to lie to themselves– otherwise they’d be forced to admit they’re wasting valuable and irreplaceable hours and days and months making mindless and forgettable entertainment at the cost of marriages, families, health, and sanity. Lying to ourselves under stress is a human defense mechanism. I’ve done it, everyone in Hollywood does it who isn’t a sociopath, and it’s one reason I was happy to leave the business behind more than a decade ago.

So, I understand Harry’s self-delusion. He’s in a tough spot. To make a living doing what he wants to do, he has to convince himself he wants to do what he’s doing. To see himself as a serious documentarian he needs to believe he’s making serious documentaries. To see himself as a progressive moderate he has to ignore the reality he’s promoting a fringe right-wing agenda.

It’s tragic, really. Unfortunately it’s the current reality of the small weird town that is Hollywood, and the much larger, much weirder nation that is Trump and Bannon’s America.


Gerry Conway is one of the Kings of TV and film and comic book writing and also one of our Beloved Leader Larry Brody’s longest-lasting and closest friends. Everybody who comes to TVWriter™ should be reading his insightful blog, where this article first appeared. Learn more about Gerry HERE.