Tag Archives: craig mazin

SAG’s Thaw

"Fire & Ice"  courtesy of Nathan Harper

Variety‘s Dave McNary reported that the Screen Actors Guild’s national board just approved a tentative two year deal on its film-TV contract, triggering a ratification vote by the guild’s members on June 1st.

As McNary writes in today’s Variety:

Should the deal be approved by members, it will extinguish what’s been a nagging uncertainty for the business for the past year. Production on film and TV was thrown off-kilter by the writers work stoppage, then by studios’ and nets’ fears that a SAG strike might emerge. During the period of uncertainty in the fall, control of SAG’s national board shifted to a moderate coalition, while the economic crisis helped create a big slowdown in local feature production. (First-quarter off-lot activity in Hollywood was at an all-time low.)

The terms of the new deal are generally the same as those the networks and studios agreed to with the WGA, DGA and AFTRA. That means that all of the guild’s protracted stang und drum sturm und drang was a waste of time and may have even hurt SAG’s chances to assert jurisdiction over all television programming.

SAG and AFTRA have joint jurisdiction over dramatic television and most television actors are members of both unions. The networks saw an opening and took it by entering into TV agreements with AFTRA instead of SAG. For the first time in 30 years, AFTRA split from SAG and negotiated its primetime contract without SAG. By doing so, the networks scored a twofer by fostering discord between and within each union and averting any threat to TV production during a strike.

Effective negotiating requires unity between and amongst the rep and the represented. This is all the more so when the represented are a large number of people (in this case, 120,000), each with different goals, motives and fears.

Group dynamics assumes that there’s always going to be dissent amongst a large number of people seeking a common goal. The WGA had similar difficulties during their negotiations with the AMPTP. However, a large group still requires a broad coalition of support before it embarks on any negotiation. In this case, SAG’s current board came to power in the middle of these negotiations and only holds a slim majority.

Given that, infighting between guild factions doomed these negotiations from the start; drawing off much needed focus and consensus away from the negotiations and towards addressing dissenters objections to the point of distraction. The AMPTP likely concluded that the best tactic for them was to stay largely mum lest they provide guild factions with any common ground on which to unify.

And now that SAG’s national board has approved the deal terms, it’s still far from over.

In the weeks to follow, SAG president Alan Rosenberg and his MembershipFirst faction have vowed to continue their opposition to the current proposal in an effort to get as many no votes from SAG members as they can. Although the consensus is that passage of the current proposal is all but assured, Rosenberg and company are reportedly setting the stage for next fall’s election of SAG’s leadership. This tactic has already proven to be self-destructive and will accomplish nothing other than to further weaken the union and any chance it may have at unification.

As it is, SAG should have postponed negotiations until it developed consensus within its membership and its leadership. Common ground is the cure here. This isn’t Monday morning quarterbacking; it’s common sense.

Expiration of SAG’s new agreement concurrent with the WGA, AFTRA and the DGA’s agreements was one of the most important concessions the guild was able to obtain from the studios. With all the creative unions’ deals expiring at the same time, they’ll be strength in numbers and an opportunity for a unified front based on a set of common goals. Although many SAG members believe they may have lost this battle, with that kind of formidable alliance, SAG may ultimately be in a position to win the war.

Cracks In The Veneer


The three month old writers strike dramatically reduced the number of produced programs for the 2007-08 television season and pilot season is now in jeopardy. Movie deals are on hold; term deals have been terminated for force majeure and thousands are either out of work or about to be let go (including several agents I know who are hard pressed to find any other form of meaningful work – go figure!).

Studios and guild reps are under a news blackout while they engage in back channel and informal discussions regarding the strike impasse with the goal of more formal talks in the next few days; the first since negotiations broke down on December 7th.

Guild leaders recently withdrew their animation and reality TV proposals. They also agreed not to picket the Grammys. The Guild’s actions could be viewed as good faith concessions to help restart negotiations. On the other hand, they could simply be signs of strike fatigue and capitulation. Whatever the motivation, the AMPTP’s perception (and that of the WGA membership) stand to profoundly affect the psychology of pending negotiations and ultimately, the outcome of any deal.

While the Guild’s alternatives are limited, their current tactics may weaken the leverage that only a complete shut-down could support. The Guild continues to enter into piecemeal agreements with independent production and distribution companies – most recently, Lions Gate, RKO, Marvel and The Weinstein Company – based on the WGA’s initial proposals in an attempt to gain additional leverage. The WGA is betting that these deals will put pressure on the studios and networks to settle. However, the AMPTP dismissed these pacts as meaningless “one-off” agreements since the terms will be superseded by any deal ultimately negotiated by the parties. The Guild also runs the risk that these deals will split the rank in file between those working and getting paid on waiver-projects and those that remain unpaid and on picket lines. The Guild is already contending with an erosion of support in some quarters.

Certain Guild members are already grumbling about the prospect of “going financial core.” Rumor has it that a number of writers continue to develop projects during the strike “without paper” (i.e., without a written agreement in place) to pay the bills. It’s obvious to anyone watching “The Daily Show” or “The Cobert Report” that staff writers continue to work for these shows despite strike rule prohibitions. Hey, but I could be wrong.

With those reservations, there are several good things going for this latest round of talks for all concerned.

The principals are now talking instead of their reps. To be sure, representatives for both sides are still involved with these discussions but direct communication by the principals can diffuse the current hostility between the parties and allow them to refocus their energies on material deal points instead of petulance and platitudes.

The Directors Guild pact can be used as precedent. Since the AMPTP closed their deal with the DGA, the parties can now use the material terms of that agreement as a template for their own negotiations and adjust their respective expectations to those deal points in which there is a real prospect for consensus.

Weakening resolve on both sides. The studios and networks are quickly running out of content; writers need to work. Both sides realize that given the strike’s enormous financial toll on individuals, the local economy and corporate profits, it is in everyone’s best interests to work a deal as soon as possible; ideally before the Oscar telecast on February 24th.

Lastly, both parties should offer the other an ego nickel; a deal point or two of minimal value to the giving party that validates the receiving party’s demands enough for them to save face with their constituencies. Sooner or later, the parties will be working together again and a few ego-nickels might expedite closure of a deal both parties can live with if not embrace.

“Drinking From The Trough Of Distrust”


That’s what I said as I cautioned the rep on the other side of recent negotiations unrelated to the WGA strike talks. I was sharing my very real concern that our negotiations were polarizing our respective clients and actually making it harder, if not impossible for us to close a deal.

Strike negotiators for both sides are well advised to conduct themselves accordingly. Dave McNary wrote in Variety that talks tanked late on Friday “after two weeks of bitter and unproductive negotiations” with no real sign of when or whether they will continue any time soon. Sounds pretty grim but maybe a holiday hiatus from hostilities (and several good nights’ of sleep, I suspect) will make for more productive negotiations. For a thorough breakdown of the issues, check here and here.

Prior to Friday’s “cratering,” Robert King, a member of the WGA Negotiating Committee, blogged prosaic on the state of negotiations and the current mindset of the parties this way:

Part of the problem of negotiations—and especially this negotiation—is that both sides tend to interpret the contractual proposals and counter-proposals in one way: as an attempt to fuck them. This is complicated by the fact that sometimes management’s proposals are designed to do exactly that; and sometimes they aren’t designed to do that, but might be used later by less enlightened souls to do that.

So dialogue, in a smaller room, with fewer people, and less of the theatrics of negotiations, allows everyone to discover what wasn’t designed to fuck; or was designed to protect against being fucked by someone else and has only the appearance of a personal fuck; what was inelegantly put; what has unintended consequences, etc. It’s also a place where language can be designed that satisfies everyone’s fears of being fucked.

In other words, sometimes there is the illusion of being farther apart than we actually are; and smaller side bar dialogue helps us discover if that’s indeed the case.

And then again there is just plain old being far apart.

Hopefully, this breather will allow cooler heads to prevail at the negotiating table. The studios and networks will start feeling the pinch from dwindling project reserves and the first stirrings of pilot season. By mid January, mounting financial pressures from holiday purchases and the lack of work will compel writers to return to the bargaining table. Maybe then, the parties will find creative ways to resolve the issues amicably and resourcefully.

And then again there is just plain old being too far apart.

A Rock And A Hard Place


Craig Mazin waxes philosophical on tomorrow’s likely strike in his blog, The Artful Writer. Mazin wrote “I love the idea of [a] strong strike threat that leads to a deal. That’s my greatest hope (and it’s not dead yet). I hate the idea of a strike itself, which I think will hurt us. That’s my greatest fear.” Craig must be reading my blog posts. More likely, we both understand the foreseeable consequences. Like Craig, I still hold out the possibility for more talk of a deal and less of a strike. My bet against a strike is still good – for now.

An informal poll of my colleagues and clients supports the conclusion that a strike is a lose-lose outcome for everyone in the business; the writers in particular, regardless of any gains for the Guild at the negotiating table. Mazin writes:

The WGA will always suffer more than the companies in a strike. And, I think given the realties of the industry today, I think the WGA will always lose a strike.


. . . If we strike, it’s about proving to the companies that we’re still a union that can do something.

And for many writers here, that may be reason enough.