In this month's "Mind Your Business," Mark Simon hears the call of strike and feels a pain in his pocketbook.
Strike. Strike. Strike.
Words that strike fear into the hearts of those who need a paycheck.
No one likes a strike. Writers would rather write and get paid. Producers would rather produce from the scripts and get paid. The rest of the crews would rather work and get paid.
What brought us to this point? A few things. Greed and pride. I blame both sides.
Don't get me wrong. Writers and creators deserve a better share of DVD sales. They also deserve to get a share of any income earned from new technology.
Animation creators are affected because what happens to the WGA is a guideline that others follow.
Producers also deserve to make money from successfully putting together deals that make a profit. As in any business, they need to invest and earn back their investment before it's reasonable to share earnings.
The problem is that no one trusts the studio accounting system. You can't make a reasonable profit-sharing deal based on recovery of costs if you don't trust the accounting of costs.
When the last major writers contract was written, the residual deal for video distribution was terrible. However, no one knew that VHS and DVD sales would grow to be such a huge money earner. I don't blame either side for that mistake. But I do blame the AMPTP producers for not doing the right thing and increasing the residual payment clause on video distribution when it became clear how much video distribution earned.
Sound crazy? Why would they offer the writers (and actors and directors) more money out of the goodness of their hearts? Because it can make good long-term financial sense (such as no strikes) and sometimes it's just the right thing to do. Plus, this type of action is not unheard of.
Years ago, when South Park became a giant hit for Comedy Central, the network offered to pay Trey Parker and Matt Stone more money without being asked. They realized that it was smarter to do the right thing and offer Parker and Stone more money than to risk losing their biggest stars.
By not doing the right thing then, the AMPTP is losing money now during this strike, both for themselves and everyone else involved in production, and they are losing future money, as the studios are canceling development deals.
The networks haven't helped the prevailing attitude among writers that theyre not getting their fair share. For years, networks have hyped, with their pride, how big Internet and mobile streaming income is going to grow. They have been predicting billions of dollars, even though that has yet to happen.
In case you haven't looked, in most cases it still costs more to implement and market mobile and web video than you can make from it. Hardly a profit center.
Will income from these new technologies eventually make big money? Of course. But the problem with bragging about huge money is that writers, directors and actors tend to think it's available now and decisions are being made on false assumptions.
That said, the time is overdue to set the residuals at a fair rate for writers, regardless of the platforms where the content is being distributed.
The AMPTP has not done the right thing and they have now lost their writers to a work stoppage. Everyone loses.
Here's another question. Are the heads of the Writers Guild of America receiving a salary while the very writers they represent have to go without pay? They should feel the same burden as those they represent.
Of course, I also believe those representing the AMPTP should also suffer economically during the strike. I know that the strike was scheduled to hurt producers and the networks. Unfortunately it's more likely to hurt the individual producers and all the working crews than hurt those negotiating on their behalf.
Here's a thought. How about doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do?
It seems like every negotiation has to be I win-you lose. Why? Look where it got us. Tens of thousands of people are out of work and a lot of threats and angry words are being thrown around.
If negotiations were made with a win-win attitude, there would be no strike. Everyone would still be working, creating and earning money.
In a win-win negotiation, there is a fair sharing of ideas, which helps to find a better, stronger agreement.
In a win-win negotiation, there are happier people who enjoy working together and everyone earns a great living. Gee, that would be terrible...trusting one another and everyone earns money.
Patric Verrone, president of the WGAw, has threatened writers with disciplinary actions, even those working under the IATSE Animation Guild agreements and not his WGA. How is this good for the industry? The only thing this threat accomplished was angering IATSE management, as reproduced in the October issue of the Animation Guild newsletter Peg-Board, which stated:
"If the WGAW follows through with this threat, the IATSE is prepared to take legal action against the individuals and institutions involved."
So now we have writers against writers. How is this helpful?
There are times when threats work in a negotiation, just not in a win-win negotiation. Early antagonistic talks between both sides set up more of a battle than a discussion.
Unfortunately, if either side tried to do the right thing now, the opposing side would see it as a weakness and try to take advantage and the battles would start all over again. This is why I blame both sides.
This is why it's likely to be a long, difficult strike.
We may never see a day when major labor negotiations are handled with a win-win attitude, but we can never give up hope. Right now, all we give up is work and income.
Mark Simon is co-founder of www.SellYourTvConceptNow.com. He has a guided mentorship to NATPE and training available at www.HitMakerTour.com to help pitchers prepare for and succeed at TV conferences -- and it looks like there will be lots of openings in the network schedules to fill once the strike is over. He may be reached at MarkSimonBooks@yahoo.com.