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.