Variety’s Dave McNary reported that the WGA rejected requests for strike waivers by the Golden Globes and Oscar telecasts today. While the Guild granted waivers during the strike in 1988, I doubt they will now- even to Letterman and Leno -until and unless meaningful negotiations resume for two reasons. Awards shows present a high profile opportunity to make an adverse and very public impact on the quality of these telecasts. Secondly, any waiver now, absent meaningful negotiations and in the face of mounting holiday debts for WGA members, may erode the widespread support of Guild members to the cause.
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The LA Times ran a story that striking writers are in talks with venture capitalists to finance and launch Internet start-up companies. “Silicon Valley investors historically have been averse to backing entertainment start-ups, believing that such efforts were less likely to generate huge paydays than technology companies.” There’s been a change in that perspective, albeit a limited one, after the success of Youtube. I’ve been involved in several of these deals. One started just before the strike and was in production as late as last week. They’re interesting opportunities on the cutting edge of where the entertainment business appears to be headed. However, without the right business model, these ventures will – if they go anywhere – lead to cross-over deals for TV programming rather than a big pay day for an Internet venture. It reminds me of Web 1.0’s icebox.com or my stint with Film Roman’s Level 13 back in the day. Despite the risks, more and more of my clients are migrating to the Internet, if not for the potential payoff then for a chance to broaden their experience and marketability down the road.
Jonathan Handel’s blog alerted me to the pending “day and date” release of the “The Bourne Ultimatum” on both DVD and via Internet delivery on December 18th. As Handel and the LA Times report, this will be the first day and date release of a motion picture on video in both Internet/electronic media and physical media. Usually (if there is such a thing given the pace of things now), electronic delivery of a motion picture streets with the pay-per-view or pay-TV windows.
Simultaneous Internet/Home Video release dates are consistent with current deal terms and those of older vintage that producers and distributors routinely negotiate for home video rights on motion pictures. The difference now is the form of delivery; physical media vs. electronic media. Although the revenue splits on existing deals might get tricky depending on the terms negotiated, the business is already acclimated to evolving home video revenue structures having moved from the traditional royalty formula to revenue sharing. While Handel correctly raises the prospect of brick and mortar retailer resistance, I suspect the issue of greater impact will come from producers, actors, financiers and other profit participants on motion pictures. Once they become aware of the more favorable cost differential between video tape manufacturing costs and broadband delivery they will expect a payment structure that accounts for the savings much as the WGA is demanding now.
That’s Variety headline-speak (yes, I know, it needs work) for the WGA’s apparent decision on Tuesday to pull back on its demand that reality TV programs come under the Guild’s jurisdiction. Most of the reps I spoke with during yesterday’s client negotiations believe this is a positive sign that the Guild won’t strike. However, the ground shifts every day so nobody really knows.
Deal flow on my desk continues to support the widespread consensus that reality TV and other non-scripted television programming will continue to be a substantial part of TV deal making. The irony is that the ’88 WGA strike had a significant impact on increasing the popularity of the genre in the first place. “Unsolved Mysteries” and “Cops” both received a significant boost in viewership during the ’88 strike.
Apparently, the Guild intends to spare writers working in reality TV the rod if they work in the genre during the strike. According to Dave McNary’s piece in yesterday’s Variety, “the WGA’s efforts to sign up reality shows have fallen so short that members won’t face any sanction for working in that sector should a work stoppage occur. In a telling move earlier this month, the WGA forged extensive strike rules that did not include any mention of punishment for working on reality shows — even though the rules contained sanctions for work in other areas of limited guild coverage, such as new media and feature animation.” You can get the WGA Strike Rules here.
According to McNary, real progress in negotiations won’t start until a day or two before the current agreement with the Guild expires. Nothing like writers working under a deadline!
After five producers received Best Picture Oscars for “Shakespeare in Love” in 1999, the Motion Picture Academy placed a three producer per Oscar limit on any film under contention. The Academy also required the honored three to be fully functioning producers on the pictures; studio execs, personal managers and lawyers (oh, well) need not apply.
Subsequent to enactment, certain producers who were credited on “Crash,” “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Departed” but eliminated for award contention by this rule made some compelling objections against it. As a result, the Academy is relaxing its requirements, albeit slightly, to allow for the inclusion of one additional producer under certain rare and extraordinary circumstances. Each of the producers must be credited as “producer,” thereby excluding any individuals with executive producer or associate producer credits.
Meanwhile , the Television Academy is tightening its eligibility requirements in an effort to “crackdown on producer credit inflation” by capping the number of individual producers who can receive an Emmy for a comedy series at 11 and a drama series at 10. But even with these higher numbers, exceptions seem to be proliferating with “Gray’s Anatomy” and “House” each having grandfathered eligibility for 13 producer nominations.
Note that neither of these rules limit the number of producer credits accorded to any motion picture or television program. They just limit the number of producers eligible for award nominations. Nevertheless, the academies are right to be concerned with credit dilution. These awards are intended to acknowledge the creative efforts of those responsible for the works in contention. They are also a great way to increase box office gross. As I have said elsewhere in this blog, credits are “the coin of the realm” in the industry and diluting any credit reduces their value just like real currency. However, it is wrong-headed to set arbitrary caps on the number of producers eligible for an award as a means of addressing this capricious credit problem. Mandating that all award eligible producers render meaningful, creative services is a far more equitable way to go.
Until the academies modify their position, reps will need to be creative to increase their clients’ chances. Although the Motion Picture Academy asserts that it is “not bound by any contract or agreement relating to the sharing or giving of credit and reserves the right to make its own determination of credit for award consideration,” I have been involved in several negotiations where reps for producers (myself included) negotiated producer credit order “for all purposes, including award consideration.” Without a more logical approach, it is inevitable that the contractual intent of the parties to producer agreements versus the subjective consideration of the academies will be tested in the near future.