Sunday, February 10, 2008

An End Has A Start

Apologies for the time between posts, but this has been a crazy coupla weeks.

Thanks to all who helped out with the Blue Angels. Fingers crossed that I get this soon. I was going to set you on the Dixons next, but I realized I have all their stuff on cassette, so it has been duly digitized and iTuned. The Dixons are awesome, by the way, and you can see some of their stuff on YouTube.

Our last big group picket/hug (I can't believe I can call it THE LAST) was at Disney on Thursday and had the sense of the last day of school. Lots of group pictures being taken of new and old friends. Happiness marked with a slight tinge of regret. Would we all change over the summer? If Thursday was the last day of school, Saturday was graduation. I was a little nervous about the meeting because I thought it would become contentious. There is, after all, a writerly cabal of folks who've been down on this strike since it began. There are writers who refused to picket. And there are writers who urged our leadership to just take the fucking DGA deal, already!

So it was natural to assume that some of these writers would have something to say at the meeting.

They did not. Instead, the leadership was the focus of one standing ovation after another for their dedication, commitment and sheer tough assedness. Just goes to show you that the real moderates in this guild belong to the majority.

This strike was run beautifully. Sure, there were mistakes and oversights, but with something on this massive a scale, that's to be expected. It felt to me that the leadership's first priority was to unite us, and to make sure we stayed united. Although some of the more radical, cynical members of our guild thought unity and solidarity belonged only to coal miners, they are flat-out fucking wrong. The AMPTP spent months trying to divide us. They tried to divide the leadership, and to make the members think our leaders were unqualified asshats. But this is a negotiation tactic and if I know that, everybody else should, too.

And because of the high level of communication and the strike captain system, that shit didn't fly with the majority. Folks said, in public, that the guild was fucking this up. And while you could wallow in some doubt while in front of your computer at four in the morning, by the time you hit the picket line the next day, that feeling had dissolved. The leadership was always available for questions, comments and complaints. Patric Verrone answers every e-mail he receives. I would like to e-mail him my appreciation for all he's done for us, but I don't want to force the poor guy to respond.

If availed upon, this transparency worked. Some folks chose to remain gloomy and angry but that's truly their own fault. If they wanted to get clarification or complain, the door was open to them.

The strike is not officially over, of course. The membership is going to vote on Tuesday whether or not to end the strike, and then the contract vote itself will be a ten-day process. There was a lot of grumbling about us being forced to take this deal. Folks felt that the leadership was all up in their kitchen and wouldn't give them time to digest the information before lifting the restraining order that would end the strike. But the negotiating committee recommended to the board that rather than the board calling off the strike, it allows the members to vote to call off the strike.

So the leadership of our guild continues to be transparent and thoughtful, and that pretty much shuts up the nay-sayers. Well, it should, but nothing can shut up a truly determined nay-sayer.

We didn't get everything we wanted or hoped for in this deal but hell, it's a negotiation. That's how the things work. You win some, you lose some. The things we won are tremendous, in my opinion. The things we lost are gonna sting a bit. Maybe we'll never win those things, but we fucking tried. Our leadership went to the mat for this guild and the membership returned the favor. I felt a real sense of unity, not just out on the picket line, but at the Shrine. We also created unity with other unions and guilds, people who supported us, sometimes in unexpected ways. The cynics among us will say that it won't last. If SAG goes out, or another union finds itself in a labor dispute, the writers will look the other way. I find that patently untrue.

The support was massive, and it surprised all of us while embarrassing only a few (more on that downstream). It's one thing for the guild members to pick up a picket sign but it's something entirely different for those outside the guild to do so. The strength of character I saw from our supporters was seriously unbelievable.

Of those picketing with us, enough cannot be said about the members of SAG, who made us look like the sane ones and helped us get our deal. We had writers who aren't yet in the guild out there every fucking day (I'm looking at you, Priya and Deric!). Their commitment put that of some guild members to shame. The ancillary support was something else, too.

The Burbank police didn't ticket one car around Warner Bros for the duration of the strike. The local businesses supported us and brought us food. Drew effing CAREY, who's too Goddam modest to take credit for what he did for the writers. Jimmy Kimmel, ditto. The late-night guys for paying their staffs. Everybody who drove by and honked. Even the shouty people, because when someone screams "FUCK YOU! GO BACK TO WORK!" at seven in the morning, it wakes you up. Teamsters and other union members who refused to cross the picket line. Hell, all the unions that supported us and believed that what we were fighting for meant something. John Edwards, for giving a shit. Any politician who didn't cross the picket line. Mike Huckabee, for sneaking across the picket line and making himself look like an even worse candidate than he is. And the fans. Good lord, the fans. They brought us snacks. They donated money to the strike fund. They bought us coffee. They made websites. They signed petitions. They picketed. They wrote eloquent things about what writers mean to them. Fans, you have earned my complete gratitude with this one. Good on you. I for one will never forget it.

Once the strike was called, I supported this leadership and the guild wholeheartedly. My belief is that unity and solidarity are hella important in this situation. And that decision has been rewarded on many levels. Not with cash, unfortunately, but you take what you can get. It was scary, too, to put faith and trust in the hands of people I don't actually know. But then the showrunners walked out. And major feature writers, who could have just gone to Fiji until this thing blew over, picketed every day (except for that one day they played video games). And when you're cold and miserable or hot and tired, it means something to see these folks out there. We all sacrificed something for this strike and we all reap the benefits.

Now, things can hopefully go back to normal. But I think the strike will remain as an undercurrent of our business for awhile. I know I'm going to remember the aforementioned good, but also the bad. I'm not a political animal, which is an enormous drawback in this business and something I want to talk about in another post. But there are a lot of politicians among us and I have to say, I'm not totally jazzed at how they behaved. Before I go on, though, I will say that everybody has a right to their opinion. If you're in the guild, I would never tell you that you don't have the right to feel however you do about all aspects of this strike.

But that also gives me the right to think you're a complete tool for how you've behaved, and to use hyperbole about heart-punching if I choose to. I think that has something to do with my non-political leanings because I've seen some ugly political maneuvers and they just don't sit well with me.

I don't like it when people won't admit they were wrong, which leads me to yet another dissection of one of Craig Mazin's posts. I'm still trying to organize my thoughts about the dramatically-named "hijacking of our union" and all that other crap. I don't for one second believe that these guys had the numbers or the organization to do such a thing, so the guild was never in danger. But when you've been out on the picket line for nearly four months, you tend to get a little emotional about this sort of thing.

I also get emotional when people decide, apparently on my behalf, that we should be ashamed to be acting like a labor union. Just because we're not coal miners or auto workers doesn't mean we don't deserve a fair deal. The writers who were too embarrassed to get involved in this strike can feel free to deposit their embarrassment money into my PayPal account.

I won't apologize for the emotion, but I don't want to keep talking about it forever. I do want to try and get it out of my system a little and figure out what it really means as we move forward, though.

So over at the Artful Writer, Craig Mazin is, as he puts it, "advancing the common good." This has apparently been his goal with the blog. I did not know that. He also says this:

Once it appeared that our union had a chance to bring this strike down on the runway without splintering apart, then it seemed to me the best course of action was the shut the good sweet hell up and let leadership work it out with the other side in peace.

Honestly, I'm touched. I had no idea Craig would actually take my advice! It's pretty awe-inspiring. In all seriousness, good for him for making that decision. I sincerely mean that. However... you know what would have been even better? If he'd shown some fortitude when the going was rough. He's not the guy putting fifty bucks on Barbaro to win the Derby back when he was just a turf horse. No, he's the guy who bashes Barbaro's form and then, when he's made one of the favorites for the Derby, puts him at the top of his exacta, like he's discovered something shiny and new. Well, he hasn't. What Craig's really saying here is, he wanted to wait until it looked like we were going to win before he offered his support. Well, his sort-of support in the form of not saying anything doesn't go down well.

I think what's really disappointing about his statement is that it says something about the guild that simply isn't true. We weren't splintering. I realize that Craig has a small circle of friends who probably feel the way he does so to him, it looked like the end was nigh. But if he'd been picketing on a regular basis and talking to people who feel differently than he does, he probably wouldn't have had such a narrow radical viewpoint.

Before I go on, though, I want to make it crystal fucking clear that I don't believe, and never believed, that Craig broke any strike rules. That's a sleazy assumption and I emphatically do not believe that.


Part of what Craig's feeling has to do with the isolation of being a feature writer. I think the strike gave feature writers a sense of community amongst writers that they hadn't felt before. It was easier for us TV folks. Those who were on shows saw their bosses walk off the shows in order to support the strike and, by extension, their staffs. There were many feature writers who were confused by that and didn't truly understand the sacrifice. So I think the showrunners walking off did something for the feature writers as well as for the TV writers.

But it's about more than what kind of a writer you are. It's about character, and being able to see and care about something larger than yourself. The guild is that community and the future is that issue. Guilds in the past got us where we are now, and they suffered to do it. I realize that we live in a country that no longer demands personal sacrifice for the greater good, and I guess that has trickled down to certain members of our guild. It's all about Me, and what I want. My comfort is the only thing that matters. Fuck the rest of you and especially fuck the future.

This is a short-sighted and out-of-touch viewpoint. Because we are normally competing against each other for jobs, the sense of community only exists in times like these. People who consider themselves above it all just do not want to become joiners. That brass ring that they've so effortlessly grabbed has been taken out of reach by people who haven't yet achieved that level of success, but also by those who have: those who've shown the character necessary to throw their weight in with the less fortunate.

My vote counts just as much as Craig Mazin's or Ted Elliott's, which must make them writhe with fury. People who fill themselves with a love for power can't fucking stand equality.

Being out of touch means that you don't have any idea that anyone lives differently than you do. You can pay it lip service ("I'm doing this for the little people") but you can't truly understand the reality that there ARE people who live on residuals, and you can't fathom that those people aren't folks who haven't worked in decades. They're the writers who come in to pitch you pilots, the ones who haven't yet gotten lucky enough to get staffed on a hit. But then we're talking about people who were born on third base and think they hit a triple, so I guess their attitude makes some sort of sense.

I didn't hear from these people at the meeting, by the way. Craig wasn't there either, but I expect him to blog erroneously about it at some point, as he tries in vain to spin the deal. I expect him to either say that this is the DGA deal with a better dress on, or the time-honored criticism that we would have gotten this deal without a strike.

One thing that seems to happen in the dark corners of the universe is that people celebrate their status. They all band together and credit-whore themselves into a sugar coma. The strike has negated a lot of that. A giant ape walks the picket line exactly the way a staff writer does. This strike HAS brought our guild closer together, and those who put such a high stake in their status find this inconceivable.

But at the end of the day, it's really about character. Either you have it, or you don't. I would go to the mat for the people I met on the line, because I saw their strength of character. Conversely, there are disappointments. But in this situation, the good most definitely outweighs the bad.

Looking for a much more eloquent take on the folly of the A-list? Josh Friedman says it best here.

And for now, I am finished.

I expect a few more posts on the strike but I really do want to talk about some TeeVee stuff next, particularly how the TeeVee business is supposed to change radically because the stoopid writers went out on strike. And I think I have some comments to get to. So until later, gentle readers, and thank you for your support.


Scott Stambler said...

just to prove i read the whole post I'm pasting my favorite line

"They all band together and credit-whore themselves into a sugar coma. "

i guess that's why they call it writing.

3 cheers and all that.

Anonymous said...

Craig Mazin and many others urged the WGA leadership to take the DGA deal because they thought it was a good one. The WGA leadership did exactly that. Craig's efforts and others like him helped end this.

If I said I'd punch someone in the heart and realized I sounded like I went too far, I would give a real apology. Not a bunch of "blame the victim for making me mad" excuses typical of abusers.

But that's just me and I don't want to impose my principles on you. Not when I know you have such superior principles yourself. I know this because you constantly keep telling us so on this blog.

Erin said...

Er... we took the DGA deal? Really? Because I've heard from more than one DGA member who's pissed that we got A BETTER DEAL THAN THEY DID!!!

But if that's the way the minions want to spin it, go ahead, Mr. Anonymous.

Jake Hollywood said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crystal said...

I hear you, Kay, and I approve of how you praise all the people who have helped this campaign... they have been awesome. And commented on those who helped when they didn't need to while there were those who should have for their own interests and didn't.

But I have some questions. I understand that a negotiation means that nobody ever gets everything they want, but doesn't it concern you that these are among the things that you didn't get?

1. The cap on the percentage makes the percentage meaningless when everyone knows that the internet is going to be yielding a fortune in the future and history has shown that while the cap may or may not go up a small amount, it will be there forever.

2. The lack of favored nations, which has been there before and has been touted from the beginning as one of the reasons this is a fight for all unions, will mean that the writers won't share in any advances made by other unions on the sweat of the writers brow. I'm thinking, even the DGA, which did nothing to help writers, will benefit from whatever SAG might get and the writers won't.

3. The giveaway of leverage by allowing them a three and a half year contract to May 2011 so that the WGA will never again be able to hold their TV season or awards show season as hostage to negotiations, much like the granting of the year extension by SAG leadership last time meant that writers and actors weren't able to go out at the same time, unless the writers waited and let the studios stockpile for six months.

Those three losses bother me more than even the 17 day window, DVD, reality, etc, which are disappointing that writers couldn't get but like you say, in a negotiation, you don't get everything.