UPDATED WRITETHRU: I’ve just been told that the 14 WGA writers and writer/producers on Sony’s newly ordered TV animated series Sit Down, Shut Up! have walked off the show scheduled to air in primetime on Fox. It’s a dispute over who has jurisdiction over the writing staff: the WGA or IATSE. The problem is that all the Fox TV animated shows now being broadcast on that network are covered under the WGA contract, so the writers assumed their new show would be as well. (Plus, Fox co-owns the show, one of the writers just told me.) But also Sony kept assuring the writers that the series would be WGA-covered — even though the show’s maker is Sony Adelaide which is steadfastly IATSE. (“This was always an IA show,” a Sony exec just told me.) Then, only recently, Sony finally revealed to the writers that the TV toon was to be covered by IATSE. So the studio was lying to everyone – even Sit Down, Shut Up!‘s showrunner Mitch Hurwitz (of Arrested Development fame), as well as The Simpsons writers-producers Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein — all of whom, I’m told, are “upset and sick about this”. Now Sony Pictures Entertainment co-chairman Michael Lynton has involved himself since he oversees the TV division.
On Friday AM, SPE gave this statement to me: “The producer, Adelaide Productions, has been a signatory to the IATSE bargaining agreement for at least ten years, and has been producing animated programming under that agreement. All of the deals made with the writers were specifically negotiated with their agents specifying that this program would be covered by the IATSE bargaining agreement.”
But insiders inform me that all the scribes on Sit Down, Shut Up!, a reworking of an Australian series, are pissed that they struck for four months and now Sony is taking away their right to be repped by the WGA’s new contract. This is exactly what WGA leadership was afraid would happen to toon writers as more Big Media companies turn animation over to IATSE’s jurisdiction because of the weaker terms of that union’s contract. I can’t wait to see what Sony’s next move will be. But its mendacity is shameful in this matter.
By all accounts, the studio played fast and loose with the facts from the start. “Bill, Josh and Hurwitz all took Sony’s statements in good faith that the show would be guild-covered,” one of the writers told me tonight. “Because Sony was saying up and down the line that they were waiting for the pickup before signing with the WGA.” Nor did the writers/producers have any reason to disbelieve the studio since a previous Sony animated TV show, Dilbert, had been under the WGA’s jurisdiction.
And then IATSE’s Local 839 — the so-called Animation Guild Local (formerly Motion Picture Screen Cartoonists) — arrived to everyone’s shock and dismay. “We naively thought it would be resolved, and we were all taken advantage of. We’re saddened we’ve been played like this,” one of the scribes explained to me. “Because for two whole months through last week, Sony was still saying ‘Don’t worry about it. Don’t worry about it. The show will be guild-covered.’ And then this week Sony said, ‘Sorry, the guild is off the table. You guys are going to be IATSE.’ ”
None of the writers have signed contracts so none of them have been paid so far. So today, they walked out. “We can’t afford to keep going in to work on good faith.”
The WGA writers/producers went into the WGA to formally ask for the guild’s help in their fight. “We said, ‘We don’t want to be IATSE members. We want you to be our collective bargaining agent,’ ” one of them told me. “Sony has offered to pay the IATSE dues and initiation for us and even said ‘we have internal mechanisms that will give you guys residuals’. But IATSE is not going to kick in our pension and health so we’re not going to vest as soon.”
The scribes stressed to me about their feelings of responsibility as WGA members, especially after going through a strike that was long and bitter and hard-fought. “All the writers are unanimous on this: none of us want to be the writers who roll back WGA coverage of animation. And Mitch was very firm that his show isn’t going to be the one that rolls back guild coverage of animation. It’s really come down to a battle over jurisdiction. It’s not about the money. It’s about the right to be represented by the Writers Guild.”