There were rumors all weekend about how the AMPTP wasn’t making its second half of the offer, and how the WGA wasn’t making a New Media counter-offer. Both proved to be false, thankfully. So here’s the reality. The WGA has been informed that the AMPTP is indeed on Tuesday going to make the second-half of its proposal when contract talks resume for Talks Day #5. And the WGA will indeed make a counter-offer tomorrow.
I’m told by a WGA board member tonight that the writers’ negotiating team have agreed they will accept the approach of the networks and studios and use a flat rate “with modifications” (with numbers that will be much much higher) while trying to come to terms with the producers on streaming. The flat rate could wind up being a good change-up in the long-term. As an AMPTP insider explained to me when I asked why they moved off a percentage, “The reason we went with a flat-rate for streaming is because they’re always complaining about our funny accounting, so we thought rather than give them a percentage of a percentage of funny accounting, we’ll give them a flat rate.” (Point here is that even the studios know their accounting is bogus.)
The WGA’s board and negotiating team visited the picket lines today to explain to members how they planned to respond in Tuesday’s resumed talks about the AMPTP’s hilariously titled New Economic Partnership made last Thursday regarding streaming, content made for new media and programming delivered over digital broadcast channels. (Left is David Goodman, WGA negotiator and board member, holding an informational meeting for strikers at Paramount. Photo by Jim Stevenson.)
It wasn’t exactly helpful to the goal of ending the strike last week when the producers attempted to lowball the writers with an insulting offer on New Media and inflame a volatile situation where the studios and networks keep holding back the semi-decent deal they know, and the writers know, could move these negotiations closer to a speedy settlement. Nor was it helpful when the WGA not surprisingly threw a temper tantrum within minutes of receiving the lousy offer. But I received a call from an AMPTP insider suddenly realizing that perhaps his organization had not used the most productive of negotiating tactics this time. He asked quietly, “Have you heard if the WGA is going to make a counter-offer on Tuesday? They understand that this is just a starting point for negotiations, right?”
Well, apparently, the WGA does. Hallelujah. Let the haggling begin.
Back when even the pre-strike talks were going on, the major criticism I’ve heard from both the AMPTP and the WGA is that the other side won’t haggle. One side makes a proposal, the other side simply says no. And vice versa. There’s no back and forth.
Just as the WGA was issuing emails urging all its members to join in union solidarity, the AMPTP took out full-page ads in tomorrow’s trades trying to sound all conciliatory. Since there’s no wall between editorial and advertising at either Variety or The Hollywood Reporter — toldja! — both trades had early access to the ad.
The showbiz papers claim the gist of the AMPTP ad is that this latest proposal isn’t a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer. “It is designed to allow both sides to engage in the kind of substantive give-and-take negotiation that can lead to common ground. The WGA leadership asked for five days to respond. So with the ball in the WGA’s court, we look forward to what they have to say when we meet today.” [However, the WGA claims it was the AMPTP that suggested both sides get back to the talks on Tuesday. So right there is a squabble.] “This is not a zero-sum campaign where there is one winner and one loser,” it said. “We need the writers and the writers need us. And we need to work together if we are to navigate the rapids of this increasingly complex, high-tech economy.”
That’s all well and good. But consider what a Hollywood mogul told me by way of summing up the negotiations so far, “We’re tough, and they’re stupid.” And consider what a WGA board member emailed to members this afternoon about ‘The Playbook Of The AMPTP’. Again, I ask, how is this helpful? I’m constantly reminding both sides that Hollywood is a collaborative business, and that the archetypical union movie screenplay Norma Rae was greenlighted by a studio. Obviously it may be too much to ask that the resumed talks, which started under friendlier circumstances last week, take place this week in a less acrimonious atmosphere. Cuz these guys can’t get along for 5 minutes.
First there was the pre-strike bickering over the chairs. Then the site of the negotiations. Late last week, the AMPTP and WGA found a whole new set of ridiculous issues to argue over that have nothing to do with the substance of the contract negotiations or even the strike. Really, I’m getting fed up here. Starting Thursday and continuing over the weekend, they argued incessantly over whether the news blackout was violated. And they argued just as ferociously over who first suggested the WGA have until Tuesday to counter-offer. I refused to report the ins and outs of this because it’s irrelevent and it makes my head hurt. Such petty squabbling has to stop. This minute. Shut up.
Now both sides can argue all they want about flat rates tomorrow. (That just makes my eyes glaze over.) And remember, the operative word here is, “Haggle”.