I am not a master negotiator by any stretch. I get embarrassed when my wife haggles with antique dealers and I break out in a flop sweat whenever I have to buy a new car. But I’m not as stupid as the AMPTP seems to think I am. I wasn’t the least bit surprised by the timing of today’s front-page story in the LA Times about how important residuals are to writers …and the AMPTP’s subsequent announcement hours later that they’ve pulled the plan off the table in the interests of furthering negotiations.
Extending an olive branch to Hollywood’s restless writers, the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers today said it would withdraw a controversial and deeply unpopular proposal on residual payments that had threatened to derail talks on a new contract when the current one expires Oct. 31.
The action does not mean the two sides are much closer to a deal, but it does remove what had been a major stumbling block in negotiations.
"In the overriding interest of keeping the industry working and removing what has become an emotional impediment and excuse by the WGA not to bargain, the AMPTP withdrew its recoupment proposal," Nick Counter, the industry’s chief negotiator, told guild leaders this morning.
Aren’t they sweet? Aren’t they caring? Aren’t they so reasonable? All the networks and studios want in return now is for the radicals at the WGA to pull their insane demand for a larger cut of DVD and new media revenues off the table.
Is there anybody who believes for one second that the demand for a complete revamp of the residual system was anything but a negotiating ploy? It was obviously a PR stunt to manipulate the media and play on the fears of the weakest-willed of the WGA membership.
The media may be gobbling it up ("Extending an olive branch to Hollywood’s restless writers.." !?), and also a lot of anxious below-the-line crew members who will be terribly hurt by a strike, but I’m not that stupid and I hope the majority of my fellow WGA members aren’t, either.
The AMPTP’s ploy reminds me of a trick that an old mentor of mine used to pull on the network. He would always add a scene to a script that knew the network would object to. And when they did object, he would fight for the scene as if it was the most important thing in the script to him. But later, when they were arguing over another point in the script, one that really did mean something to him, he would give in on the other, hotly disputed scene. It would appear to the network that he’d given up something very important to him, that he’d made a real sacrifice, and they would relent on the other scene…which, in fact, was the only scene he really cared about. He called those fake scenes his negotiating chips…and the network never caught on to his act.
I hope the WGA negotiating committee has caught on to the AMPTP’s…and that they stick to our reasonable demands and don’t fall for this obvious and insulting ploy. I see the fight over DVD and new media revenue as nothing less than a fight for the future of our Guild…a fight as necessary as the battles fought to get us residuals in the first place.
Are these issues that I believe are worth striking over? Hell yes.
Do I want a strike? No, but so often in the past when we have caved in to the AMPTP’s pleas to cut them a break on "new media" (like video cassettes and basic cable once were) by granting them a "temporary" residual system that gives us pathetically small percentage of the revenue, we have been rewarded by being stuck with that "temporary" system for good. We have been weak, and we have been played for fools, too many times before.
It’s time now to take a stand.