And I barely know who she is now

At the Grammy Awards last night, my friend Jen pointed to presenter Miley Ray Cyrus and said, “You know she was in Big Fish, right?”

I insisted that was impossible, and immediately tried to pull up IMDb on my iPhone in order to prove her wrong. But the network inside Staples Center was massively overwhelmed, likely with other iPhone users trying to distract themselves from Aretha Franklin’s dress. Well, not so much her dress as her shoulders, which weren’t adequately contained within said dress. The fact that the two acts I was most eager to see — Foo Fighters and Amy Winehouse — were performing from other locations added an extra level of frustration. I got to see Amy Winehouse! On a TV! With a few thousand other folks! I would have live-blogged it, except there was no connection.

Checking later, it turns out my friend was absolutely right: Miley played Ruthie in Big Fish, one of the kids who spies on the witch. Only her credited name was Destiny, which seems an appropriate beginning to her later career as Hannah Montana, #1 movie star in America.

You know who else made her American debut in Big Fish? Marion Cotillard, who’s nominated for an Oscar this year for Ma La Vie En Rose.

So, my advice to a young actress? Be in Big Fish.


The vote

The vote to lift the restraining order, thus ending the strike, occurs tomorrow from 2-6 p.m. at the WGA Theatre in Beverly Hills, and in New York at the Crown Plaza Hotel, 4-7 p.m.

Obviously, you have to be a voting WGA member in order to cast a ballot. I’m looking forward to it as a small act of closure.

If you don’t feel like trekking over, you can vote by proxy with this form, which can be faxed in. I’m doing a proxy vote for one friend, but please don’t list me. If you’re voting yes, Patric Verrone is a much better choice. If you’re voting no, well, Jake Hollywood will be happy to have company.


The meeting

Last night’s meeting at the Shrine was packed. It started late, because of parking challenges. Most of my picket line crew was out sick. And as I took a seat next to a fellow USC’er, I had a brief moment of panic: I spotted a woman with an LED pin which kept scrolling, “IT’S NOT OVER YET!!!”

While the woman’s pin was technically correct — the vote to end the strike will be counted Tuesday night — I hope she reprogrammed the message during the 2.5 hour meeting. “WE WON!!!” might be a choice. “WE ACHIEVED MEANINGFUL PROGRESS IN KEY AREAS RELATED TO NEW MEDIA” would be more honest. But that probably wouldn’t scroll as well.

The focus of the meeting was to read through and explain the four-page deal summary. To their credit, the guys on stage did a good job explaining the victories and the concessions, and the logic in ending up where we did. They called it the best contract in 30 years, while pointing out its obvious gaps. Was it kind of dull? Yeah. But I was happy to be bored.

One of the most important areas the new contract defends is separated rights, which I suspect will not be well explained in mainstream news reports about the deal. So here’s my very brief recap.

Remember a couple of months ago, when I explained Why writers get residuals? In it, I described the weird legal judo writers and studios do to assign copyright and authorship to the corporation rather than the creator. Well, there are certain rights that the writer has traditionally been able to keep in this arrangement. For example, turning a TV series into a feature film. Or using a character created in one show (Frasier Crane, in Cheers) as the basis of a new show (Frasier).

The new contract needed to establish that even if work is created for the internet (rather than TV or features), the same principles of separated rights apply. If a webisode becomes the basis of a new TV show, that’s separated rights. It’s a unique, writer-only issue that doesn’t have a parallel in the DGA or SAG deals. There are loopholes and potential issues, but the framework is now in place.

I went to the meeting dreading the open mic format, but the first few questions from the floor proved to be explanatory rather than inflammatory. For example, in contract terms, “dramatic programs” isn’t a genre, but rather a means of distinguishing scripted programs from other formats. (Thus, a sitcom is a dramatic program.)

There are some writers who don’t like the deal, and intend to vote against it. But the vast majority of people in the room, and online, have already reprogrammed their internal LED displays in preparation for the post-strike period.


The deal

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?

YES   NO

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?

Yes.

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.


Strike, days 94 and 95; Production, day 3

Our final day of shooting consisted mostly of chasing actors with cameras, my brief homage to Point Break. We also had our first and only company move — just two blocks, to a tiny medical clinic in Eagle Rock. One by one, we wrapped our actors, until we were left with just one regular and one guest star.1

At lunch, I gave my sincere thanks to a crew I really enjoyed working with. I’d long taken it as a given that production is stressful, but this honestly wasn’t. Yes, we had a bit of padding in the schedule, but we weren’t dawdling. It felt most like shooting Part Two of The Nines: a small, nimble crew and the freedom of constrained expectations.

Now we move on to editing. We’re cutting on Avid, but I’ve been using Final Cut Pro to check out footage as well. So far, I’m a fan of the P2. If we were shooting multiple episodes, we would need to find a slicker workflow, but our dumping-to-MacBook worked fine for this.

I’d hoped to make it to the picketing at NBC yesterday, but the cold I’d been medicating for the past few days took over. In the age of the internet, being sick doesn’t keep you from working, but it makes it hard to muster enthusiasm for much. I’m alternating DayQuil and Diet Coke in hopes of attending the WGA meeting tomorrow night, but that’s on the bubble.

Talking with writers last night, there was widespread belief that the end of the strike is approaching. And yet it doesn’t feel like the end — or more specifically, it doesn’t feel like what an end is supposed to feel like. There’s a profound lack of closure. Bob Fisher will shave his strike beard. I’ll have beer with my Van Ness crew. But you can’t throw a parade when there’s so much work to be done.

It’s going to be brutal trying to get the town started up, figuring out which movies are still happening, which TV shows are going to try to finish their seasons. You know when there’s a big evacuation — fire, hurricane — and the residents are finally allowed back to their houses? It will be like that. The first few days will be just about finding out what’s still standing.

I have six features in various stages of production and development, all of which will need tending in the first few days after we get back to work. Three months is a long break. I haven’t read a word in these scripts, or jotted a single note. I’ve forgotten half the phone numbers I used to be able to blind-dial. So going from stand-still to sprint is likely be rough.

  1. I realize how weird it sounds to call an actor in a short a “guest star.” The point is that if this were a series, he wouldn’t likely be in future episodes.

The Nines drinking game

Saw a link to this in the comments section at IMDb.

1 drink every time someone drinks
1 drink every time someone says “Nine”
1 drink every time you see the number nine or can make the number nine from something on screen
1 drink every time you see a pug dog or a picture of one
1 drink every time you see the main character’s green friendship bracelet

Note: I don’t actually recommend this, because you’ll probably get alcohol poisoning.