OR IF YOU’D RATHER LAUGH: amptp.com
Nikki Finke is the one journalist reporting on the strike who seems to be giving writers a fair shake. So it was odd when I got this set-the-record straight critique of her latest reporting:
DAVID GOODMAN’S EMAIL ON FRIDAY’S GAMESMANSHIP
“Since everybody’s reading Nikki Finke, I wanted to address specifically what she’s getting wrong, since I was there.
Nikki Finke’s quotes are in bold:
But the AMPTP issued demands that the writers take Reality TV and animation jurisdiction off the table as well as remove the no-strike clause in their contract. (The latter means that, if the writers settle with the AMPTP, then they must cross picket lines if the Screen Actors Guild goes on strike.)
I’m told that, after the AMPTP proposal/demands were made, the WGA negotiators went to caucus inside a hotel room. The WGA decided amongst themselves that what the AMPTP brought to the table today was a take-it-or-leave-it “ultimatum” and claimed the New Media terms were the same old/same old.
Nikki sometimes gets things right, but this is a complete mischaracterization. The AMPTP said VERY EXPLICITLY WHEN THEY MADE THEIR PROPOSALS: IF YOU DON’T TAKE ALL THESE ITEMS OFF THE TABLE RIGHT NOW, WE WILL NO LONGER BARGAIN WITH YOU. We didn’t “decide” it was an ultimatum, IT WAS AN ULTIMATUM.
Also, Nikki hasn’t listed all the items THEY DEMANDED WE TAKE OFF THE TABLE AS A CONDITION TO CONTINUE BARGAINING: one of them was our demand for a distributor’s gross definition on new media. If we took it off the table, it would completely gut all our new media proposals. Another was our “fair market value” test, which keeps companies from selling things to themselves at a lower price than they could get from another company.
So when the WGA reps went back to our caucus room, we had a lot of decisions to make, but WE didn’t define it then as an ultimatum, they had already made it clear that it was. We were still going to make a counter proposal in the hopes of keeping the negotiations going. However, we were all pretty clear that they were setting us up (this, I think, Nikki was right about).
Sources tell me that, after about an hour and a half, the AMPTP sent Bryan Lourd to the hotel room to ask what was happening. He was told by the WGA they were preparing a counter-proposal. Lourd was asked by the AMPTP to find out if that counter-proposal contained anything from the list of demands which the networks and studios wanted the WGA to take off the table. The WGA negotiators wouldn’t say.
WRONG. As we were discussing what to do, NICK COUNTER came looking for David Young. He asked him, in the hallway, “Are you going to take those things off the table?” David said we were working on our counter proposal, but wanted to present everything at once, he wasn’t going to negotiate in the hallway, and said we would be making a counter proposal very soon, that night.
This story makes it look like we were stone-walling Brian Lourd, it’s meant to characterize the leadership as uncooperative with our mediator, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Nick Counter came and got this directly. And we weren’t stonewalling him, we really were working on a counter proposal, and also preparing what we were going to say to the members in case they walked out.
At 6:05 PM, Counter knocked on the hotel room door trying to find out some indication from Dave Young what the WGA was going to do, especially on the reality/animation jurisdiction and no-strike issues. Counter brought Bryan Lourd along “as a witness,” I’m told. “David Young answered and was visibly angry.”
They got the time right, because it was clearly staged for them to make their press deadline, the rest is horsheshit. Nick came looking for David again and tried to motion David away from Brian Lourd’s door (where Brian was standing), but David motioned Brian to follow them so he heard what Nick said. Nick then told him “We’re leaving, and breaking off negotiations. If you want to take those things off the table, put it in a letter and we’ll make an appointment to resume negotiations.” And David was not “visibly angry”, all the conversations in the hallway were amicable, if tense. This is an attempt by the other side to paint David Young as a loose cannon.
Insiders say that Bryan Lourd counseled the WGA negotiators that “this was their maximum moment of leverage” and urged them to try to “trust” the AMPTP. But they told Lourd they couldn’t at this point.
I don’t know if Lourd said this or thought this. But it didn’t matter, because they clearly didn’t expect we would take these things off the table because they had their incredibly detailed, long-winded press release prepared about how talks had broken down. It was INSTANTLY up on their website the minute Nick Counter said “We’re leaving.” this was their plan all along.
“It was an ultimatum. They said unless we take everything off the table except streaming and ESTs that they’re not going to negotiate anymore and basically they’re leaving until we’ll remove all those other things,” a WGA board member explained. “We’re not accepting an ultimatum. We’re here to bargain and to talk.”
Counter then said to Young, “In that case, we are leaving. When you send us a letter confirming you will take all these items off the table, we will reschedule negotiations with you.” The WGA hotel room door slammed shut.
NO DOOR WAS SLAMMED. I loved the hackiness of this touch. We’re running around slamming hotel doors.
Even if they were serious about us taking those items off the table, we already took DVD’s off the table with a similar assurance: you take this off the table, and we’ll bargain with you. We know how that worked out. They were not negotiating with us AT ALL. They want us to negotiate with ourselves, so we keep taking things off the table in the hopes they’ll bargain fairly, and when they finally make their lowball offer we’ve given everything away and there’s no way to get a better deal. They’re trying to divide and conquer, by making it look like the leadership is keeping the membership out on strike over issues that aren’t important to them, but THEY STILL HAVEN’T GIVEN US ANYTHING AT ALL. They want it to look like it’s our intransigence that’s keeping a deal from getting done, but it’s them.
To be fair, I believe the full context of Finke’s reporting makes clear that this version of events is what was told to her by one source and wasn’t necessarily to be taken as gospel.
In any case, simple reasoning will tell you that the writers have every reason to make a deal that has reasonable treatment of new media and perhaps a few meagre gains in other areas. The ball has and continues to be in the AMPTP court.
They don’t want to settle right now. They want to put topspin on the ball and score points. That’s fine — but guess what, britches? On the internet, story trumps production value. If the strike, god forbid, goes SAGgy — it’s the studios that will get soaked.
MORE: Attributed to Steve Skrovan:
My personal interpretation of what happened on Friday was that our side was discussing which of these things to pull off (we couldn’t pull all of them off, because some of them struck at the heart of our new media proposal) when Nick Counter stomped out at 6:05 so we wouldn’t have a chance to call his bluff.
This is what was discouraging to our people, because it confirmed their worst fear, which is that this week’s negotiating was mostly a charade. (If you’re heading toward a deal, why hire a PR firm to spin bad news your way? More on this later) Our people were ready to negotiate all night. They had brought changes of clothes and toothbrushes . The AMPTP left at 6:05 and released their lengthy prepared statement at 6:06.
Apparently, there actually were some substantive discussions about formulas for streaming. Some progress was made, thin little slices, but ultimately it was an attempt to get us to reveal our bottom line. And when we didn’t do that, they stormed out in a huff. It was not in our interest to reveal our bottom line because they were nowhere near revealing there’s.
What has become apparent is that the AMPTP doesn’t want to deal with us at all. We are too unified. They haven’t been able to split us off from the leadership or each other. In the past, they have been able to drive wedges between screenwriters and TV writers, between show runners and staff writers, between East and West. It’s not working this time and it frustrates them. They are getting bad press and losing money. They need to find a different wedge.
That’s why they want to deal with the DGA. This is what is behind all of the denigrating (“They are incapable of doing a deal.”) of David Young and Patric Verrone. Historically, the DGA has always negotiated early and gotten certain side perks from the companies for doing so. I don’t believe that Michael Apted, Gil Cates and Executive Dir. Jay Roth are able to do this because they are so charming. They are able to do this because their needs are simpler. If the DGA had negotiated before us they probably would have accepted the old DVD formula for new media. That would have been a bad deal. Our strike has made it impossible for them to go that low. I have been assured that if they could do a deal, they would have done it already. But, they haven’t. They are in a key position, but they have a dilemma. They would have to do a deal that is not only acceptable to the AMPTP, but also acceptable to us. They want to keep their people working, but with no scripts they have nothing to direct. They have a decision to make. Hold off and let us do the deal or jump in and have to come up with a formula that pleases both parties. That’s a lot of pressure.
Frankly, no one on our side cares where the deal comes from. If the AMPTP wants to save face by dealing with the DGA, that’s fine, as long as it’s a good deal. If we have to be the bad cop, then so be it. Our strike has already made a better deal possible. We continue to reach out to the DGA, which hasn’t been easy in the past. (Apparently, the DGA withdrew from the tri-guild talks in June and has been playing it close to the vest ever since.) Our relationship with them has been testy at best with probably blame for that on both sides. But again, the real testiness is over economics, not personalities. A group of WGA/DGA screenwriters have already met with the DGA leadership and delivered a letter urging them to hold off. I heard they got a stern talking to by the DGA leadership over timing, style issues and past slights, but I have to think it had an effect. We share 1800 members. Also, spurred on by those hypenates, our leadership will be meeting with the DGA this week to get a better understanding of where exactly they stand.