As the WGA prepares for its upcoming negotiations for a new film and TV contract, a possible writers’ strike is on a lot of people’s minds. Given the guild’s ongoing dispute with Hollywood’s talent agencies, which is now in its eighth month, many industry observers feel that a strike is all but certain. On their latest Scriptnotes podcast, however, writers John August, a member of the guild’s contract negotiating committee, and Craig Mazin took issue with those who say a strike is inevitable.
“Over the last month, I’ve been hearing this slowly banging gong that ‘Oh, there’s going to be a strike happening,’” August said. “I just want to put a bucket of cold water on a little bit of that talk right now.”
After reviewing each of the questions the guild is posing in a survey of its members about what issues they’d most like to see addressed in the upcoming talks, August said that that “None of what I’ve just laid out here, to me, indicates that reality (that a strike is inevitable).”
“But to be fair,” Mazin said, “regardless of what is true or real, everyone, apparently, that employs us, is convinced there’s going to be a strike, and they are acting accordingly. So if we want them to stop acting like that, I suppose we could do something.”
Mazin proceeded to describe what the studios would likely do if they believe there will be a strike. “They are going to hire a lot of people – rush, rush, rush – and set dates for delivery before the termination of the agreements. And then,” he said. “if there is a strike, there is; and if there isn’t, then they’ll deal with that backlog, like they did when we almost struck in 2014.”
Mazin later linked the WGA’s recent agency campaign with the studios’ anticipation of a work stoppage. The Chernobyl creator ran for vice president of the WGA West as part of Phyllis Nagy’s opposition slate – before dropping out because of family medical problems
“Clearly, as a result of the rhetoric surrounding the agency campaign and the general tenor of membership meetings, the companies have decided, reasonably or not, that we’re hell-bent for leather, and that this is all part of a larger plan – that all this is wrapped up in one big total war against everyone, and that’s how they’re going about it… And one of the great dangers of them being convinced that we’re going on strike is that they will precipitate the strike.”
Continued Mazin, “That they’ll say, ‘Look, they’re going to strike no matter what. What we can’t do is come in there (to the bargaining room), offer them something reasonable and have them spit on it and go on strike, because then they’ll never take that and we’ll have to come up with something better. Therefore, let’s just go in there, offer them a bucket of crap, so that they’ll do the strike that they’re going to do anyway, and then we’ll negotiate a real deal.’ Which is kind of what happened in 2007.”
The WGA last struck in 2007-08 – a strike that lasted 100 days.
August then joked that if he were summarizing or transcribing the podcast for Deadline – which occasionally reports on their discussions – the takeaway should be: “Craig’s advice to studios: Don’t offer a bucket of crap.”
In truth, a writers strike is not an inevitability, said Mazin, who highlighted one area he wants addressed in the studio negotiations.
“I actually don’t think we are hell-bent for leather on going on strike, and I think we would much rather prefer, as per usual, to get a deal that follows the pattern of the DGA, but addresses certain writer-specific things that we need to have addressed – most primarily, I will add, in the area of features, which have been neglected completely for well over a decade.”
“I would say that that’s probably a priority in this negotiation,” August said.
Turning to the agency campaign, they noted that the guild recently signed a deal with the Rothman Brecher Erlich Livingston Agency that now allows agencies who sign the latest version of its franchise agreement to continue packaging until Jan. 22, 2021 – and beyond if the guild can’t persuade two of the Big Four agencies to sign up by then. That modified deal also allows agencies who sign to hold 5% stakes in production companies – something the guild did not allow when it launched its Code of Conduct on April 13 – following a 95.3% vote of its members – and ordered them to fire their agents who refused to sign up.
Mazin, who has long been a critic of the guild’s tactic of trying to “divide and conquer” the Big Four agencies, implied that WGA members may not have had the current outcome in mind when they voted overwhelmingly to support the leadership’s implementation of the new Code of Conduct.
“If it takes us seven months to sign Rothman Brecher, then by my calculations, to sign UTA, CAA, William Morris and ICM will take us 14,980 months.” he said. “I just think in general, whatever our strategy was, if we had said to the membership in the beginning, FYI, if we all do this, then we think, in seven months, we will have the Abrams agency and Rothman Brecher, it would not have gotten a 95% vote. This has not gone the way we would have hoped…I think the large agencies have essentially said, ‘We’ve moved on. We’re going to figure out a way to live without you. And they are.’ And our unilateral disarmament, as I call it, is going to have grave costs for us.”
Because he sits on the agency negotiating committee, August said that he could not comment much about the agency campaign, but suggested that Mazin might feel differently if he knew “four facts” about what’s going on behind the scenes that only members of the agency negotiating committee are privy to, but cannot be made public at this time.
You can hear the podcast here. Their discussion about the upcoming negotiations starts at the 30-minute mark.