Sunday, February 24, 2008

Nobody Messes with the Composer or the Cinematographer. Why the Screenwriter?

The screenplay is the one single most important elements of a movie production. Everything depends on having a great screenplay. Great actors are attracted to great screenplays. Directors are attracted to great screenplays. The screenplay is so important that some directors are writer-directors. So what's the problem with giving screenwriters a fair deal?

William Goldman
Famed screenwriter, William Goldman has said, and as seen in this clip, the following:

There is undeniably an adversarial relationship between writers and directors. in movies. Nobody messes with the composer because not everybody can write songs. Nobody messes with the cinematographer because nobody knows how to light things. [But] even producers know letters and alphabets and directors and everybody like to fiddle [with the screenplay]. [It] makes them feel creative.

One of the reasons there are no happy screenwriters is because you have all those people who think they can write better than you can and many of them can and many of them cannot and things [screenplays] get altered. There is this lunatic myth... that the movie is the director's, and that is about as much sense as the flat earth society, and everybody in the business knows it. I'm not saying it's [all] the writer's God knows it. I'm saying that movies are a group endeavor.

Oh I get it. If you can pass 2nd grade writing class, you're a writer. I guess it's ok to pay these people in lollipops.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Meaningless Numbers: 2% of Nothing, 92.5% of 35%, and the SAG 0.75%, aka 900

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

- attributed by Mark twain to British prime minister Benjamin Disraeli

(Yeah, he said it before The West Wing used it as an episode title)
The WGA-AMPTP deal resulted in this tentative MBA agreement: Although the official version is currently available for members to read here. But early review of the terms raise a red flag concerning new media and internet streaming.


Statement by Kristen Stavola

Two Percent of Nothing is Nothing

....I ran this window by a web entrepreneur with 3 name brand technology/internet start ups on his resume. “You will lose nearly 90% of the property's value in that window. Just look at LAZY SUNDAY — a piece of entertainment content that created a 1.3 billion dollar company(YouTube). I’m not saying people made money. It’s an example of the kind of traffic a good piece of entertainment content can generate in a 30 DAY window. No one cares about it now, but in its first 10 days, seven million people checked it out. Why would you guys give up that much real estate so easily and quickly?”

Think about it. Why are we?

Two percent distributor’s gross in the third year of the new contract? Initial streaming window? I hope by now you’ve realized that the 2% (the AMPTP has forced upon us) is meaningless. The big traffic numbers have already come inside of the promotional, Residual free zone -- and we’re left with 2% of the stragglers.

Don’t be fooled because my LAZY SUNDAY example above was a 3 min clip and not an entire episode of a broadcast series. Your episode will only get promoted from prime real estate like a network homepage for 1-5 days— TOPS!

Traffic is about promotion and virality. You need to hit that first 100k- 200k viewers in the first 1-3 days if something is to catch on virally with regards to original content. Think of that Sarah Silverman/Matt Damon video just last week! Its audience was on the decline within 3 days. However, its viewers online eclipsed Kimmel’s nightly ratings in 2-3 DAYS! Again, these are examples of how traffic views content. Something was promoting this content -- probably an email from your Striking writer pals. If there is no promotion -- viewers have to dig for your content -- and those numbers are not very sexy!

....We may even be told that because of the erosion of traditional broadcast viewing audience there is no ad-based money being made by the media congloms on streaming media — that they’re giving away streaming media to advertisers to make up the difference! C'mon! I just spoke to three web producers who are making more money PROMOTING our content in the first 3 days then we'll see in the first three YEARS of this contract. I’ve listed many links to research at the bottom of this email, use them. By 2011, in-stream advertising revenue is expected to reach $3.89 billion dollars and revenue for downloads will contribute $850 million according to the Yankee Group.

....And you better hold your hats because the number of sites that offer revenue sharing models (YouTube, Break, MetaCafe,Vio, Revver) will be on the rise this year and those deals are going to be about placement on their homepages in the first 1-7 days. If you think the episode of SAMANTHA WHO that debuted online 24 days ago is going to be getting any promotion from ABC/DISNEY....

Full Article....

34% (92.5% of 35%) of Writers Agreed to end the Strike

No, omission does not equal approval. The recent WGA vote to end the strike was touted as "92.5% voted in favor of ending" the strike. What was not reported anywhere is that 65% of the membership did not vote, which means the 92.5% is really 92.5% of 35% or 34%. What was that about statistics?

Why did only 3,500 of some 10,000+ members vote? I conjecture there are numerous reasons, possibly as many reasons as their are non-voters. But here are some generalizations on possible writer categories:

  • They're homeless due to the strike and the AMPTP's greed, which left them too poor to hold out for 3 months and now leaves them without even the means to register a vote. I know of one homeless writer's family personally. Their kids go to school with my kids.
  • They don't want to make waves with their employers.
  • They're in a quandary, tired and worn by the strike and want it to end but still can't honestly vote against their conscious to stand up for what's fair.
  • They've taken the attitude that they've been forced to end the strike given so little time to understand the deal (24 hours) being offered which would require legal interpretation.
  • They've decided the strike isn't an issue and they won't be vilified by the press for standing in the way of the Oscars.
  • They've decided to vote down the contract and don't care about the strike.
  • They don't give a shit. It's all a crap shoot business anyway, like William Goldman says.

Hey, without qualification, the numbers are meaningless.

The SAG 0.75%, aka the SAG 900.

Then there's SAG and the 0.75% member petition. 900 sounds like a lot don't it? Bull. It's 900 out of 120,000 SAG members. That's less than 1%. Zero point seven-five percent (0.75%). Yet this tiny little minority has the union split in two to discuss this issue and possibly vote on it, and the issue itself is about who should get to vote. No doubt the 900 feel they are first and perhaps the only ones in line. Not so strangely, AMPTP blog commenters support this 0.75%. Well, it's easier to buy off 900 than to give the 120,000 some decent money.

Arguments on both sides of the 0.75% proposal can be found here.

News flash! This just in (2/28/2008)! The pro-SAG disenfranchisement contract now has 1000 petition signers. This means 0.83% of SAG members are on board with elitist disenfranchisement. Bush must be proud. Anyway, before you know it they might actually have a full one percent of SAG on their side. Any month now.

Monday, February 18, 2008

SAG Splintered Just in Time for AMPTP Contract Talks

Here's the irony of it. Do you see the irony of it?

There is a debate on, apparently fueled by a 900 signature petition by SAG members to change eligibility for SAG members to vote on issues, things like I suppose, whether to go on strike or agree to a new contract with the AMPTP. Sound familiar? All of this comes on the heals of the forced WGA contract by the AMPTP, and with SAG about to go into early talks with the AMPTP on their contract. which expires in just a few months.

Of course, if the voting membership changes then the outcome of the vote changes. So if you were in the AMPTP, a business group bent on marketing and statistical analysis, what would be in your best interest here? Suppose you ran a few numbers and found that if the eligible voters happened to be restricted to a certain few who had a steady and healthy income, the chances of those voters going for your AMPTP deal would greatly increase. After all, the real deal with union contracts is to look out for minimums, which really only affect new and soon to be new members.

Yeah, I see the irony of it.

The irony of it is that proponents of the 900 (with ranks diminishing) claim that limiting voting rights to a select few will make the union more cohesive with less splintering and results more effective, since those select few are the ones most likely affected; while what this really does is splinter the union into voters and non-voters. This breeds animosity as can be seen with the comments in reaction to Nikki Finke's blog post featuring the pro-0.75% argument, championed by actor Amy Brenneman.

That's the irony of it.

On the other hand, if you read the rational view by actor Ron Livingston:

The strength of our union is not just the actor who says 'I really want this job, but I’m not doing it anymore until you pay me what I’m worth.' It’s the ten actors next to him who say 'I really want that job, too, but I’m not doing it, either, until you pay him what he’s worth.' And that’s a sacrifice, too.

You'll find comments there largely in favor and in support of his take on it. It's hard not to argue that everyone in the union deserves a vote. They pay dues, they should vote. Besides anyone involved with Swingers has to be way cool.

The real kicker for me is, who decides who gets to vote and who doesn't? Ms. Brenneman says:

"We are NOT asking for an earnings threshold. The number of days workednot amount of money earned—is the common test for 'affected' members. For work like ours, it must be averaged over a time span long enough to accommodate the inevitable 'ups-and-downs' of our business. The Equity standard is one job (typically at least 6-8 weeks) within the previous 6 years. I believe SAG should consider something similar – perhaps an average of 5 days of principal work and/or 15 days of background work per year, over the previous 6 years. (Three background days has been used as an equivalent of one principal day for union entrance.) Of course, the 6 year period would be prorated for newer members.

"A standard like this—for contract voting only—will broadly include members with working knowledge of the contract and some concrete stake in it. And because it eliminates the influence of those without such a stake, it will give the 'affected' members—those who depend on the contract and know it best—an effective voice. This gives maximum credibility to the vote and strengthens our hand in negotiations, which results in better contracts for all members, present and future.

So who says it's " perhaps an average of 5 days of principal work and/or 15 days of background work per year?" How about perhaps an average of 6 days of principal work and/or 16 days of background work per year. Anyone for 7/17? Maybe 4/14. 1/11 might be nice, for the AMPTP anyway. Less people to bribe.

Depending on the numbers selected, whole different groups become voters or non-voters. What the real question here is, 'how can we get away with disenfranchising voters?' So much for democracy, or even the illusion of it. At least the WGA had that.

But here's kicker number two. Before Ms. Brenneman states the above, she first must rationalize her logic with this gem:

"The SAG constitution requires that contracts be ratified by 'the membership affected thereby.' It doesn’t say 'the entire membership' or 'all members in good standing' as it does for voting on officers. Nor does it refer to 'potentially affected members'.

So my question to her is, "What is the distinction between 'the membership affected thereby' and 'potentially affected members?' " There can't be one because anyone who falls into either category could just as well fall into the other category depending on the time of day you make the determination. Someone doing just extra work could get booked and suddenly become voter eligible within a week or two. What about someone just coming off a gig and finding they haven't worked the required time as of a day ago? A decision is made and they aren't eligible. Then what if they book something the next day that makes them eligible after two weeks?

They have a word for this kind of faulty logic. It's called bullshit.

So what you end up with is going back to square one, where you have people voting on things that may not affect them, and other people not able to vote on what does affect them.

Now of course we all know no one would even do this, but what if a studio decided to book or not book actors based on how they expected them to vote on something like a strike? This would certainly put them is a good position to manipulate elections invisibly. Criminal genius

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Writers are Sheep?

From Variety:

WGA, studios hammer on details

Scenario emerges for strike's end

As the lawyers work overtime to hammer out the details, scenarios are emerging that could -- underline could -- bring an end to the WGA strike as early as next week....

....Given the high esteem that Verrone and Young enjoy among rank-and-file members, even as the strike enters its fourth month, insiders say they ought to be able to shepherd the pact through the votes by the boards and membership.,,,,


But wait, what do writers have to say about all this:

A formal letter to WGA members reads in part, "Regardless of what you hear or read, there are many significant points that have yet to be worked out. ....As the talks proceed, never forget that during this period it is critical for us to remain on the picket lines united and strong. We are all in this together."

Nikki Finke says, "...So now is the time for everyone to back off. That's right, BACK OFF. And to let the WGA leadership talk to its board and also its membership without outside interference. ..."

You mean outside influence like news media articles saying that the Oscars are expected to go on if only those pesky writers will just roll over and stop all this pay me nonsense?

Writers commenting on Nikki's blog aren't acting very sheepish...

Then there's this from Verone

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Yellow Journalism: Serving Corporate Moguls in a "free" Society

How else would you expect to control the people of the world, without bombing them to oblivion?

OK, maybe Yellow Journalism is a nebulous term. But it sure ain't responsible journalism and it reeks of AMPTP propaganda.

Leaks are all over the media about a tentative agreement with the WGA. Yet the media blackout is still on. The WGA has made no announcement to members yet. The WGA members have yet to consider, discuss, or vote for any agreement. They don't even know what it is. So how can the media possibly responsibly report that an agreement has been reached, unless all the WGA terms have been met. Even so, it's a low AMPTP tactic to pressure writers to accepting whatever it is.

The word is out in supposedly responsible media, like th NY Times (an AMPTP related subsidiary no doubt) that an agreement has been reached.

What happens now if WGA members don't like what the terms are? They have now been put into a pressured position by the media to agree to end the strike. This release makes it all appear on their shoulders, even before anyone knows the terms, even before formal talks have resumed. They're still in informal talks, right?

What a load of AMPTP propaganda media agenda setting bullshit.

This could be a news release that went out over a news service and got picked up, or maybe AMPTP people affiliated with big media planted the stories. The story itself is one of all rumors. There are no credible people making statements. No names at all. Just "sources".

So the act of publishing this before writers have a chance to even look at it will create lots of hope which will then be dashed once writers see what the deal really is, or if there is one. That will demoralize writers and stack public opinion against them, especially public opinion of people being hurt by the strike.

Like they say, there isn't anything legal on paper yet. There is no fine print to examine and check for loopholes. the talks are still informal. Until there is something legal on paper, there is no deal. It is wrong to print anything about a deal until that point. These media stories are pure propaganda and the lowest form of yellow journalism.

Here's what has to say about it:

It's Not Over 'Til It's Over -- And It Isn't Over

Mark Evanier provides some very wise precautionary words on his blog News From Me, putting what's happening in negotiations in the context of past strike experiences. Here's an excerpt:

... it's a fine, even prudent idea to not get one's hopes too high. It is a not uncommon negotiating technique to get the other side into the mindset that the deal is done, and then to throw in a last second demand. In past WGA-AMPTP contracts, negotiating has even continued after the deal was made and ratified. Weeks, even months after the '81, '85 and '88 strikes were settled and work resumed, reps from the studio side were still arguing over what had been agreed to, insisting that their notes said we'd agreed to X when we were certain we'd consented to Y. And even when we all agree on what we all agreed upon, we can't always agree on the interpretation of some clauses and codicils.....


From Nikki Finke's

UPDATE: Is WGA-Mogul Deal About Done?

....United Hollywood, the unofficial website for WGA info, says: "UH has confirmed from off-the-record sources that progress is indeed being made in the informal talks, and that creative solutions to the biggest differences between the AMPTP and the WGA have gotten the tentative and cautious approval of both sides. This does not mean there is a deal in principle yet. It means we may, finally, be very close to one -- as close as days away. And while we're cautiously optimistic about what we're hearing, it comes with a real caveat.

Skip to the comments to find the following, apparently from a pro screenwriter. Regardless of who it's from, it makes a lot of sense. Most of the other comments are likely from anonymous studio shills.

Anybody else notice that nobody is posting under real names here any more? I am a journalist turned TV/screenwriter and now a strike captain in the East and I am trying to buck the trend (please be kind).

I know this much is true: anyone leaking information to Nikki, or Michael Cieply, or anyone is guilty of violating the media blackout. They might just really want to be the Selfless Citizen (or Important Source) who Gets The Real News Out First, but my experience as a journalist tells me that — even if they DO have the insider information they claim — they have an AGENDA.

To me the situation is simple: You can’t be “almost” settled, any more than a woman can be “almost” pregnant. And dangling these kinds of rumors may get some people’s hopes up to make them more desperate to settle. That is at least one agenda here. Especially with stories like the LA TImes’ focusing on below-the-line workers’ anger.

If anything has been consistent during the strike, it has been the efforts to divide and conquer the guild. And the way the press works, they’re excited by squabbles, so they will publish an op-ed by a one-man political party ( John Ridley), or pick up on an email from John Wells and turn it into an official reaction to try to stir the pot. This site, for all its intentions, has also fomented flaming and bitchiness, much of it under the cloak of anonymity. And it was, conveniently or not, on hiatus when the plan went down that everyone predicted — the quick deal with the nonstriking DGA as a slap in the face to those of us on the picket lines.

The United Hollywood site has provided writers a forum to voice their support when rumors of schisms were touted, and to voice honest caution in the face of rampant email, blog, and even print journalism all rushing to be the first to say the deal is done.

I am certainly not in favor of anyone being out of work any longer, but it would be asinine and suicidal for the writers to now explode their just quest for a fair deal thanks to some mind-fuck of an endgame.

Comment by David Handelman

Full article...

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