Archive for the ‘Editors Guild’ category

Let Them Eat Reruns

November 20, 2007

With the WGA and AMPTP now slated to resume negotiations after the Thanksgiving holiday there may be a ray of hope for the resumption of production.

The producers had said they’d never sit down again while a strike was proceeding, and now it seems that this was just negotiating bluster. Needless to say, both sides try to sound as tough as they can during this process — that’s what negotiations are all about.

In this vein, the producers have floated the idea that the strike will turn out to be a net positive for them. They’ll just air reruns or new reality shows and, after the strike hits its sixth week, they’ll be able to use “force majeure” clauses to break various development and production deals that they’ve wanted out of.

But here’s the rub — are audiences really that stupid? Do they really not notice the difference between reruns and original programming? Do new reality shows have a guaranteed audience? Frankly, I doubt it.

To see it otherwise is to assume that it doesn’t matter what’s on the air — the suckers in the audience are going to watch anyway. That breaks the oldest rule in the book: “Never underestimate your audience.” TV may be addictive, but there are plenty of other screens available now and when the public gets bored, they’re going to go elsewhere.

Hopefully, cooler heads are going to prevail, and the parties will find a way to share the wealth. Unlike most of the news coverage so far, an article in today’s NY Times offers some specifics about the deal points in question using webisodes of “Lost” as an example.

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Short and Verrone Clash

November 15, 2007

With the IA striking theaters in New York and the WGA striking the studios, IA president Tom Short wrote to WGAw president Patric Verrone Tuesday, saying, “I have warned you and predicted the devastation that would come from your action. Those predictions have now come true. … It’s time to put egos aside and recognize how crucial it is to get everyone back to work before there is irreversible damage from which this industry can never recover.” (NY Times. Variety.)

Verrone responded, saying, “for every four cents writers receive in theaterical residuals, directors receive four cents, actors receive 12 cents and the members of your union receive 20 cents in contributions to their health fund. … To put it simply, our fight should be your fight.”

Meanwhile, Variety reported on a pair of polls showing wide public support for the writers: a Pepperdine poll showed support at 69% vs 4% for the producers and a SurveyUSA poll came up with 63% vs 8%.

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Putting Residuals in Perspective

November 12, 2007

In an article in today’s NY Times, Michael Cieply covers a recent study that looks at the overall profitability of the major studios. The report estimates that the majors distributed about three billion dollars last year in gross participation deals to stars and big above-the-line talent — deals that typically pay out regardless of whether a picture makes or loses money.

Meanwhile, the WGA estimates that total residual payments last year were just $121 million. So, as usual, the little guys fight over a tiny slice of the pie, while the big guys take home a huge hall.

The report also says that, over all, the majors lost about $2 billion last year, so $3 billion looks very significant to the town’s bottom line.

The networks aren’t going to present this strike objectively — they’re hardly disinterested observers. But many liberal voices have come down firmly on the side of the writers. The New York Times ran an interesting and supportive op-ed piece yesterday, by Damon Lindelof, co-creator and head writer of “Lost,” covering many of the key issues in the context of a newly Tivo-ed and digitized TV environment.

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AMPAS and Intellectual Property

November 9, 2007

Warren Olney’s “Which Way, LA?” offered some interesting coverage of the WGA strike Wednesday (listen here). In particular, it included some enlightening remarks from show runner Shawn Ryan (“The Shield” and “The Unit”). Shawn is leading the push by show runners to support the strike, and he’s on the WGA negotiating committee.

The big bugaboo, of course, is residuals for shows that are distributed via the internet. The WGA made a lousy deal for VHS and DVD distribution in the ’80s and never was able to change it. They don’t want to make that same mistake again with the net, where more and more of us are going to be watching TV in the future. (Variety went over some of the deal points in yesterday’s edition, here.)

The whole thing strikes me as mighty strange. Remember that these are the same studios that are obsessed with protecting their intellectual property and preventing piracy — also on the internet. It seems awfully inconsistent that they’re now falling on a sword to keep writers from benefiting in the same way.

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Unintended Consequences

April 2, 2007

The law of unintended consequences has been the one constant in the whole digital revolution. We thought digital tools would give us our lives back and make the job easier. They made it harder. We thought it would take away the drudgery. It made assistant’s lives much more tedious. We thought it would make post production cheaper. It made it better, but more expensive. We thought new tools wouldn’t change the artistic qualities of our work. They did.

We weren’t so bad at predicting the technical future — it isn’t that hard to see what the effects of faster processors and bigger hard drives will be. But we really haven’t had much luck at predicting the social effects of this transition.

Today, the $64,000 question is how the democratization of our tools is going to affect us.

The argument goes like this: Now that you can edit on a laptop, it’s easier to gain access to the tools, easier to learn the job, and more people are going to do it. Editing is now widely understood to be critical to the filmmaking process, and partly because of Apple’s fantastic marketing, editing has become cool. That too is bringing people into the field. All of this means more competition.

The counter-argument is that quality always wins. Yes, anybody can learn to be a button pusher, but that doesn’t make him or her an editor. If you’ve looked at even a few student films you know this very well. And even if the size of the workforce is growing, the number of jobs is expanding, too — there’s more content out there everyday, and all of it needs to be edited.

Another concern is that editing work will move to foreign countries where wages are lower. You ship or or ftp the dailies overseas, you get cut material back. The counter-argument is that editing is a private, collaborative task and can only be done when director, producer and editor are near each other. Furthermore, piracy is a big issue. No serious filmmaker is going to trust a long distance editing arrangement.

So are our jobs safe these days? And if they’re not, what can we do about it? Most important, how do we improve the accuracy of our predictions? If we can’t see the future, we can’t prepare for it.

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The Fear

March 23, 2007

I’ve been working as an editor for a long time now and I’ve always felt that the film business was more or less recession-proof. When the economy got bad people generally watched more movies and television. No matter what was happening to other businesses, Hollywood always did okay.

But today things don’t look so great. Below-the-line wages are down. In post production, this is partly because so many new people are entering the field. Editing has come out of the closet and has become, dare I say it, glamorous, to many people. This is a wonderful thing, but it brings with it increased competition, which inevitably puts downward pressure on wages. Even worse, there seems to be an across the board attempt on the part of many producers to lower below-the-line wages. And that’s hurting everybody.

But the real issue, the real monster in the closet, is the growth of the Internet as a video distribution medium. Nobody knows how this is going to shake out. The result is a pervasive sense of unease on the part of everybody in established media, from the lowliest messenger to the most powerful mogul, from newspapers to radio to television to film. What’s coming? What part of my business model is about to crumble? How do I prepare for it? And will I have a job when the dust settles? Nobody is immune.

This week we saw the release of the Apple TV, (reviewed in the NY Times by David Pogue), and yesterday NBC & News Corp. announced a big advertising-sponsored deal to distribute their content on the web.

We’re heading toward a world where you’ll be able to watch just about any video that was ever made and do so literally anywhere and any time you like. And that’s rocking our world in a way that’s never been felt before. It’s empowering a whole new group of filmmakers and entrepreneurs, and it’s scaring the bejesus out of everybody else.

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