WGA week in review: why talks broke down


Last week brought back deteriorating (and then broken) negotiations between WGA and Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers, after WGA had a few days to consider an offer the week before by AMPTP. Their proposal would deliver more than 130 million in additional compensation to writers over three years. The WGA issued a joint statement from WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Michael Winship calling the proposal as "a massive rollback."

WGA Chair/Negotiating Committee John Bowman also sent an email to members on 12/4, providing a summary of the latest WGA proposal. It would cost the companies 151 million over three years—a little over a 3% increase in writer earnings each year, while company revenues are projected to grow at a rate of 10%.

He said AMPTP claims its proposal would give WGA 130 million over three years. “Our analysis – and again, please visit the website to see for yourself – tells us their offer is worth only 32 million. But if you factor in the companies’ regressive proposal on “promotional use” (streaming TV shows and feature films in their entirety for free) writers could potentially lose 100 million in income over the course of this contract.”

WGA released some of the AMPTP proposal’s details, mentioning the companies presented in essence their 11/4 package with “not an iota of movement on any of the issues that matter to writers. 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 whatsoever for streaming.

For made-for-Internet material, they 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 1,300 dollars. They continued to refuse to grant jurisdiction over original content for the Internet.

In their new proposal, they made absolutely no 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).”

Reality TV: straw that broke the camel’s back?
Another sticking point became discussions of Reality TV. WGA reportedly demanded network and studio CEOs no longer make deals with Reality TV producers like Mark Burnett Productions, Fremantle and Endemol unless those companies sign with the WGA. This is part of the WGA’s ongoing efforts to make sure Reality TV writers (often dubbed the shows’ story editors or story producers) start to receive the same perks and pay as the union’s members. WGA’s demand may have been timed to coincide with a protest outside Fremantle Media HQ.

We found this to be a “cover all your bases” move at the last minute from WGA, as they realize more and more the networks and studios are gearing up for a midseason of reality shows. It’s unlikely this negotiation fodder will get any traction whatsoever with AMPTP, as it is their trump card.

Good faith negotiations out the window
Verrone also called on producers to break ranks with the AMPTP, whom he said is allowing "hard-liners" to obstruct negotiations. "If any of these companies want to come forward and bargain with us individually, we think we can make a deal," he told The AP while talking to picketing writers at NBC’s studio in Burbank. "I don’t really feel like they’re negotiating, and part of how they operate is the AMPTP allows bottom-line hard-liners to rule the day."

Just before the talks officially broke off, Peter Chernin, President/COO of News Corp. and Chairman/CEO of the Fox Group reportedly privately told folks the producers plan to quit the talks any day now, “That they have no intention of coming back with another streaming proposal ‘until we are close.’ And that they’ll only give a better electronic sell-through formula ‘at the last minute’ when a contract with the writers is virtually signed,” reported LA Weekly’s Nikki Finke. “I’m told Thursday’s talks began at 10 AM, and both the WGA and AMPTP had a brief discussion about streaming, made-for-web content pay and jurisdiction, and electronic sell-through. Then one of the negotiators from the network and studio CEOs’ side declared, ‘The DVD formula is good for you, and you should embrace it with open arms.’

The AMPTP then claimed it had ‘a proposal coming’ supposedly based on the writers’ streaming counter-proposal from Tuesday and asked the WGA side to wait around. By 5 pm, it wasn’t done. Then the producers claimed they would work on the proposal at the hotel straight through midnight or later and give it to the WGA at Friday’s session. But some of the WGA negotiators hung around the hotel and, to their surprise, watched the AMPTP contingent get in their cars at exactly 6 PM and individually drive off.”
WGA West President Patric Verrone and WGA East President Michael Winship issued a message early Friday regarding negotiations:
See the letter here:

“Dear Fellow Members,

Before we head into negotiations this morning, we want to give you an update on where we stand. On Tuesday, after the companies had requested a four-day break so they could work on their proposals, we returned to the bargaining table.  We presented a counter proposal to their streaming proposal of November 29. They presented no new proposals. On Wednesday, the AMPTP again had no new proposals, but they did have detailed questions about our streaming counter proposal and other aspects of our overall proposals – and from the give and take of those discussions, we felt that they might finally be ready to engage in serious bargaining. They told us they would have new proposals for us Thursday. On Thursday, we met at 10am, and they told us their new proposals would be ready shortly. At 5 PM, they told us their proposals still weren’t ready, that they would be working on them late into the night, and that we should come back this morning at 10am. The fact that we saw everyone from the AMPTP leave the building by 6:45pm is not a promising sign, but we will be at the table at 10 AM this morning, ready to receive their new proposal.

We’d like to address some of the disturbing rumors and back channel communications we’ve been hearing. For one, we’ve heard that one or more of the companies are prepared to throw away the spring and fall TV season, plus features, and prolong the strike. Aside from the devastating effect this would have on the unions, workers, and their families in this industry, it would certainly explain the AMPTP’s refusal to put any new proposals, even a bad one, on the table. Also, highly placed executives have been telling some of our writers that the companies are preparing to abruptly cut off negotiations. They say the companies plan to accuse the WGA of stalling and being unwilling to negotiate, and that the companies will use that as an excuse to walk out.

The Writers Guilds of America, West and East are going on record now that any such claims are absolutely untrue.  We have been at the negotiating table every day, willing to bargain. Furthermore, we hereby challenge the AMPTP to negotiate in good faith, day and night, through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays – whatever is necessary – to get this done and get the town back to work.  The Writers Guilds will remain at the table every day, for as long as it takes, to make a fair deal.

Thank you for your patience, support, and solidarity through these difficult times. Please come to the Freemantle rally today.  We remain all in this together.”