Early this morning, the WGA published the terms of the tentative deal reached with the AMPTP, in anticipation of the membership meetings happening later today in New York and Los Angeles. By breakfast, there was already considerable discussion online, with writers and interested parties dissecting the merits and deficiencies in the deal and how it was reached. Several colleagues emailed me to ask my opinion.
So here it is.
There is only one question to be answered: Is the deal good enough to accept?
Pick one. Everything else is irrelevant, and emotion should play no part in the decision. Unlike screenwriting, in which the journey is the story, a deal is strictly about where you ended up. The path is irrelevant. The past is irrelevant — and the future has to be reasonably discounted for its vast uncertainty.
So is this deal, today, good enough to accept?
It’s a yes for me. And I suspect it’s a yes for most writers. Some would shout yes emphatically, with a victory dance around a giant picket bonfire. Others would mutter yes with a forlorn shrug of their shoulders, deeply dissatisfied yet not able to rationalize a no vote. I’m somewhere in-between. I don’t think it’s great — hell, it’s not even “good” — but it’s honestly better than I thought we’d get.
Let’s take a few minutes to list a few of the most natural (if sometimes unspoken) objections to the proposed deal in anticipation of the meeting tonight.
But the DGA got a deal that was almost as good, and they didn’t have to strike!
Irrelevant. They had leverage because we were out on strike, and used it to get a better deal than they would have otherwise. There’s an emotional component here as well: it doesn’t feel fair they get as much as we do. But as a thought experiment, take the DGA away and pretend that we’d reached the same deal without them. Would it change your perception? Remember: the deal is where you ended up, not how you got there.
But the AMPTP have been such dicks!
Emotional and irrelevant. (I agree, by the way. They have been dicks.)
But what about SAG? They could still strike!
Irrelevant. They’ve been very supportive, but ultimately have their own decisions to make. I’ll happily carry a picket sign for them. But I’ll be even happier to send a nice note if they reach a deal without going on strike.
But they’re holding a gun to our head!
While I haven’t seen official confirmation, the tentative deal is apparently contingent on suspending the strike. That’s dickish, but it’s ultimately irrelevant. If we accept the deal, the strike is over. If not, the strike goes on.
But we need more time to decide!
Take all the time you want. The elected WGA board has the power to suspend the strike at any time. They’re seeking member opinions because it’s the right thing to do.
But we didn’t go on strike for just these small gains!
We went on strike to prevent major rollbacks, which we did. Do you remember “profit-based residuals?” Sure, it was probably just an inflammatory, ill-conceived ruse on the AMPTP’s part. But it’s easy to forget just how heinous the original terms were.
But these will be the terms of the contract for the next 20 years!
I will fully cop to helping perpetuate the notion that strike gains and losses last 20 years. They don’t. The contract runs three years. If the terms are unacceptable in 2011, we do whatever it takes to improve them.
But we didn’t get an increase on the DVD formula! What if SAG gets a bump?
DVDs were taken off the table before the strike began. You may disagree with that decision, but the fact is they were never the focus of the strike: new media was. If SAG gets more than we do for DVDs, then good job SAG. They’re buying the next round. Still doesn’t change the deal on the table.
But we could strike longer! We could shut down the Oscars! We could tank the next TV season!
Yes. There’s no limit to how long we could strike. Each week we’re out hurts the studios — and industry workers, including striking writers. At some point, the net damage exceeds the net gain. If you think that point is still months off, and believe the AMPTP would agree to a significantly better deal at that moment, vote no.
But I’d ask you to test your powers of prediction: did the strike go exactly the way you thought it would? Probably not. So why do you think the next few months would go according to plan?
But the guild is strong!
Yes. And there’s considerable value to ending strong.
I want to stress that in addition to what I have listed above, there are valid reasons for rejecting the deal. You may believe that the terms aren’t good enough, and that the consequences of rejecting this deal are absolutely worth it. If so, speak up at the meeting tonight. But defend your points through logic, not emotion. Explain what you’re willing to lose in order to win.
I’m turning off comments, but I’ll be back with an update tomorrow, after the WGA meeting.