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Cut the theatrics, writers

Producers in Hollywood absolutely believe that writers should be compensated for their work in new media. They also believe writers deserve to share in whatever success new technologies bring to studios. Producers have already put their money where their mouths are by paying millions in residuals for permanent and pay-per-view downloads.

Unfortunately, the theatrics and carefully designed photo opportunities of the last two weeks have obscured the fact that the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers clearly supports writers having a fair share in opportunities presented by digital distribution.

The leaders of the Writers Guild of America know that during the last bargaining session on Nov. 4, the producers proposed a residual rate for streaming shows and offered WGA members exclusivity in writing derivative programming made for new media -- two proposals that were of utmost importance to WGA members -- in order to make a deal that was fair to all. Unfortunately, the WGA leadership went on strike while that offer was on the table, ending negotiations.

What the WGA leadership is really asking for strains the test of reasonableness, and the problem is that few people outside the bargaining room know what’s actually at issue.

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In short, the guild is demanding an unjustifiable increase in the residual rate that writers receive for downloads -- money they receive in addition to the salary they were paid in the first place (the WGA’s 4,434 working members make an average of $200,000 per year). They are also demanding a percentage of the ad revenue earned by the networks from advertising-supported streaming.

However, the WGA’s contract is not with networks, it is with producers, who receive no proceeds from these advertisements, just as they receive none of the revenue achieved by networks through commercial television.

And what the guild doesn’t want its membership and the public in general to focus on is that it’s the producers who shoulder all the risk in a business in which most motion pictures lose money, and the vast majority of television shows either never get past the pilot episode or never achieve profitability.

Regardless of whether a show or a movie is a hit or a flop, the writer is paid.

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In addition, members of the Writers Guild and its sister guilds are covered by the country’s finest healthcare and pension plans, and our contribution to those plans has consistently increased while other industries’ contributions have decreased.

Further, the economics of the media business are changing. Producers are faced with soaring production and marketing costs, a DVD business that is making a transition to the Internet, a softening syndication market and an increasingly fragmented advertising and viewing landscape -- all of which are creating real challenges that everyone in this business is facing.

It’s unfortunate that this wholly unnecessary strike is threatening to financially devastate the hundreds of thousands of people in the Southland whose livelihoods depend on a thriving and working industry. It must end, and end soon.

What will it take to end the strike and to get the contract resolved?

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The AMPTP is prepared to negotiate if the Writers Guild sincerely expects that a deal can be made. It’s time to stop the posturing and the mischaracterization of positions and get on with the hard work ahead of us.

The WGA has to start dealing with the 21st century realities of our business so that we can craft a new contract that protects the interests of all entertainment industry employees.

We’ve accomplished this in the past. We can do it again.

Nick Counter is president of the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers and is its chief negotiator.


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