Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Pencil-Pushers, Unite!

I'd like to say a little something about the current television & film writers' strike.

Upon hearing the writers would be striking to protest their lack-of-compensation for shows offered on the internet, my initial reaction was, "Of course they should be paid for that. They did the work, they should be fairly compensated."

I was going to leave it at that. Really. I promise...

But the media wouldn't leave it alone, so I actually thought about it some more.

And I started to switch sides a bit. Now, it's no secret that I'm generally anti-union. I get a little hot-under-the-collar every time I pay $500 for an airplane ticket, knowing that I'd be paying markedly less if the airline didn't have to pay a bunch of guys $25/hour to lose my bags.

Even so, I have family who are in the entertainment industry, and they've done film and television work before. They are intensely pro-union (especially, of course, SAG & WGA). I look at the time and effort they put into their jobs, and I'm astounded that someone could so devote themselves to a craft that, Cruise/Hanks etc. aside, is not terribly well-paid. And that's just the actors. So, when it comes to a situation like this, I firmly stamp down on my anti-union bent, and try to look at it in an unbiased manner.

And where my head keeps meeting the wall is: These folks are creating a product. Sure, it's not really tangible, and it's pretty much nothing until someone else runs with it, but it is a product. Scripts can be bought and sold just as any other tangible thing.

So should, for example, manufacturers of movie seats get a portion of ticket sales? They spent their time, effort, and money creating those foldy beauties, so that we might enjoy a movie now and again, right? Those movie seats are arguably as integral to the movie business as the movies themselves, right? I mean, c'mon, nobody's going to pay box-office price if they've got to stand up while they watch Brokeback Mountain, are they?

Of course they wouldn't. But why should we scoff at a movie-seat-manufacturers-union? This argument is about the right to do work, and keep getting paid for it loooooooong after that work is done.

Nobody else gets to do that. If I set up a corporation for someone -- drafting articles, bylaws, and all the other documents as well as providing education to the person in control -- should I get to demand a portion of all proceeds from that corporation, in perpetuity?...


On third thought, I've re-switched sides. I'm all for the writers again. I'm going to form a Creative Thought Incorporation Network (CreTIN, for short), to unite all attorneys who set up businesses so that we may stand in solidarity with our ink-stained brothers and sisters. We'll demand equal rights for all keyboard-jockeys, no matter where they roam!

Pencil-Pushers, Unite!


SheepishLion said...

Cretins Unite!

Aggle said...

I smell a revolution a'brewin.

SheepishLion said...

I will wake up Che and ask if he wants to join.

I was in IATSE, building props/sets. I think I should get a royalty check for every viewing of The Alamo.

Aggle said...

Absolutely you should!

After all, you exercised your talents to create something, and we should never have to totally give up anything we've created.

PG said...

After all, you exercised your talents to create something, and we should never have to totally give up anything we've created.

Wasn't that the position of the goblins in the last Harry Potter book?

More seriously, as far as I know the writers aren't demanding that they have some underlying statutory or constitutional *right* to a share of profits from online media. What they are pointing out is that online media is the way of the future, and if they are stuck in contracts that only give them profits from TV transmission, they're basically going to make nothing because most of the profits will be coming from downloads and streams. So they are sensibly refusing such contracts and demanding ones that give them a share for the future.

If the contract everyone worked under were actually like the seat-manufacturers -- where they don't have to give a damn about how successful the product is, b/c they get all their payment up front -- your analogy would be correct. However, that's not how a lot of writers work. And it's for good reason; people are more incentivized to work if they get a share of the profit, whether it's because they own shares in a corporation or because they're paid by the percentage of profit.

Aggle said...

I'm right there with you, PG, except that with the current crop of crap coming out of Hollywood, it's pretty obvious the incentives aren't working.

Yes, the writers are pointing out that "online media is the wave of the future," but without any evidence to back it up. Sure, BigMedia is investing in the online marketplace, but nowhere near as heavily as they are in their newfangled HD broadcasts.

At the risk of sounding like an old-timey VHS naysayer, I just don't see a big shift coming from broadcast to internet. At least not as far as traditional television fare goes.

I'm also not saying the writers should be precluded from getting a share of the profits. What I do believe is that it should be made relatively clear what those profits are going to be before the down-and-dirty negotiations start taking place.

Otherwise, aren't both sides in a position where they're arguing about something they don't really understand?

Not a good position to negotiate from, when all you're arguing about is maybes.