The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is a special mini episode about the upcoming WGA Board Elections. If you’re a WGA West member, you’ll probably find this fascinating and incredibly relevant. If you’re not, then this probably won’t be either of those things. But Craig is going to rant about something at the very end of this episode so you might want to stick around for that.

Craig: It’s always worth it.

John: It’s always worth it. Craig, talk us through why we’re talking through the Board Elections.

Craig: Well, every two years half of the board, that is to say eight of the 16 board members, are up for reelection, or if they’re vacating their seat then that seat is open for general election. And so we have a number of candidates. This is the voting period right now. And these votes are important.

I mean, this is kind of our equivalent of midterm elections, because of the way we divide up our elections. Half of the board runs for election at the same time as the officers do, half of the board does not. This is one of those not years. So there will probably be lower turnout which is stupid, because, frankly, arbitrarily the membership is just apparently less interested in half of the randomly selected members as opposed to the other half. They’re all making big important decisions like you do on the board and like I did when I was on the board.

And so this is a very important vote. These people will be a huge part of how we approach our next negotiations and how we administer the union and how we spend money and how we collect money. All the things that happen as professional writer members of this union will be determined one way or another by the board.

John: Yep. And we should say that we’re talking about the WGA West. There are of course two Writers Guilds, the Writers Guild East is also having their elections right now.

Craig: Whatever.

John: So we’ll put a link in the show notes to all the people who are running for that. It’s important, but I also didn’t know any of those writers. And they have some different things happening in the East. They have folks who are not film or TV writers who are covered by the East. So it’s all fascinating, but we’re only going to focus today on the folks running here in the West.

Craig: Yes.

John: As Craig mentioned, I’m currently on the board. Craig was on the board years ago. And I’ve learned so much in my year on the board. And I think I have some priorities that are different now than in previous years when we talked about who is running for office.

So, some of my priorities as I’m looking for things are people who are smart and focused, obviously. People who aren’t crazy, which is always a good sign. But what I’ve really come to appreciate this past year is how important it is to have people on the board who represent different perspectives. And especially perspectives that aren’t going to be represented by anybody else on the board. And so we’re losing Courtney Ellinger who is a news writer. So she was our only news writer on the board. And so without her on the board anymore we don’t get that perspective.

I can tell you right now we’re not going to have anybody who writes for late night variety shows, or a game show. We’re not going to have anybody who writes for daytime soap operas. So if there’s a common them in the people that I’m endorsing and the people who I think you should vote for it’s that I’m trying to get a broad range of experiences on that board so we just don’t miss out on crucial things happening to our members.

Craig: Which is an incredibly admirable way to approach this. Now, as a voter my interest is selfish. I’m one of the selfish voters.

John: Tell me.

Craig: My interest is in correcting what I see as a longstanding historical neglect of feature writers in our union and issues that concern feature writers. So, of course, I’m going to be far more interested in sort of pushing that agenda, but I get my one vote, right? The nice thing about you being on the board is that you get to vote on the important things over and over and over.

John: Yeah. Absolutely. So as we talk through these candidates you’re going to find a mix of feature writers, TV writers, folks who do other things, and so hopefully you’ll find candidates that are going to be representing your views, but also views of the greater membership.

So, let’s just get into it. There are three incumbents who are running for reelection. Jonathan Fernandez, Patti Carr, and Patric Verrone. Jonathan Fernandez is a person who gets my vote because he was actually a guy I met first time picketing in front of Paramount. He was part of my little picketing group during the 2008 strike. I met him during that time. He decided to run for the board. This will be his third time on the board. He’s great. Writes features and TV. He sort of talked me through some stuff about getting set up on the board. But he’s been really focused on the screenwriters’ issues. And so he’s a member of the screenwriters subcommittee that Michele Morrone and I had up. And he’s been great. And even the times where I’ve disagreed with him I like how clearly he can articulate his point of view.

If you look through his member statement he talks about the 25% problem which is I think a really good way of framing this weird way in which we give away 25% of our salaries just sort of off the top to managers and agents and lawyers. And as a guild we need to look at sort of whether writers are getting the value for that 25%.

Craig: No question. I like Jonathan a lot. I’ve supported him a number of times. I don’t have any reason to not vote for him again.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I’m also aware of the incumbency thing, which is to say incumbents get this weird benefit of the doubt. Like, OK, well I know you’re not nuts, so I guess I can vote for you again. That said, things haven’t changed in a way that I find appreciably better for my constituency in the time that Jonathan has been on the board. So, if I do vote for him again I’m going to put a lot of pressure on him to actually step up and try and make a difference. Because I don’t see a huge difference yet.

John: All right. Let’s talk about some of the other people who are running. So these people who are new to me, so one of the things I did this year was as people would recommend these candidates I said like well I should actually sit down with them. So I sat down with a lot of the folks who are running this time. And everybody who I’m endorsing it’s because I sat down with them and talked over sort of what their priorities were.

The first of these people was Betsy Thomas. She was just recommended by folks who knew her and had met with her on the nominating committee. And she’s fantastic. I can’t believe I had not met her before this. She writes multicam. She’s consulting producer level on that. If elected she’d be the only person on the board who is doing multicam, which is a crucial perspective that she has. But I just loved her and I think she’s going to be a great addition to the board so I heartily endorsed her.

Craig: OK.

John: Second person I sat down and talked with was Travis Donnelly. Travis Donnelly is a TV writer. I think he’s on Bull right now, but if you look through his campaign statement he’s very much about the experience of being a middle class TV writer and sort of the struggles that we’re having, because even this era of peak TV, TV writer salaries are not going up. And so you feel like in a situation where there is so much demand for TV writers we should be able to increase salaries. We should be able to better the working conditions for these writers. That’s not happening.

So he had a lot of smart thoughts about that. I think he would be a champion for the sort of middle class TV writers, especially drama writers, the same way that I wanted to focus on screenwriter issues. I think Travis has a really good handle on how to focus on those issues for TV writers.

Craig: I think he’s a very nice person. He’s normal. He’s not crazy. I think that’s important. People underestimate how important actually that is. I mean, you’re on the board. I was on the board. There were at least three or four crazy people on the board while I was on the board. And it was distressing because they would talk nonsense and everybody else was forced by the rules of Robert and collegiality to listen to their nonsense. It just soaks up energy and time. And it’s brutal. You need people who have a strong administrative mind and who can think legally and who can speak concisely.

John: Yep. And I would say I’ve been very lucky this year on the board. I think we kind of got that for a change. People noted that it’s a much better functioning board than we’ve seen in a long time. I want to keep that tradition going.

Dante Harper is another person I endorsed. I think he would continue that tradition. He’s a feature writer. He’s a weird case – well actually not that weird – in that he has worked on a ton of movies that his name is not on. That’s a thing that just happens as feature writers. But in talking with him that was a thing he wanted to look at, because he’s on the screen credits review committee with you right now Craig. But in a general sense I like that he’s very pro-union and in his statement he talks a lot about the existential threat to unions overall. We’ve seen it happening in the public union sector, but I think it’s going increasingly happen on the private sector front. And I think he’d be a good voice for that.

Craig: Yeah. And by and large what used to be my overriding concern which was electing people who seem to have moderate approaches to union governance, at this point now because I’m so concerned about what’s happening to feature writers I’m supporting practically every feature writer I can. So I say yes.

John: Next person on the list is a feature writer, Eric Heisserer. You know Eric.

Craig: Eric is the best. Eric is a good example of a screenwriter who when I met Eric he was very junior. He was just starting out. Very much kind of clawing his way into the business by writing specs. I mean, we’re talking – geez, when I met Eric I think we’re talking like 14 years ago or 15 years ago, something like that. And it’s great to see how he has turned into a proper A-list feature screenwriter and he’s written some wonderful movies including Arrival. And he absolutely belongs on the board. I think that he’s the kind of guy who has the right sort of temperament and also the breadth of experience.

I think he can well remember what it was like to be the middle class writer and the new writer and we need a voice like him. We also need, board members frankly, a good mix of board members who are either new to the business, or middle of the business, but we also need big names like you and like Andrea Berloff and Zak Penn and Eric Heisserer. They mean something to the other side which maybe one can consider unfair but it’s reality.

John: Yeah. When I sat down to talk with Eric about running for the board what I hadn’t realized is that he’s also doing TV stuff and he’s writing for Riot Games. And so he’s writing video game content which is an area you and I continually talk about being important that we try to find coverage for video games. And so he’s a person who actually has that perspective and experience and that is so invaluable to have on the board.

Craig: Got to elect Eric. Yeah, he needs to be on there.

John: The last person I talked with was Deric Hughes. And so Deric Hughes is a writer on The Flash right now. But what I liked about my conversation with him is that he was actually one of those writers who got caught in the sort of weird mini room situation where they are developing a show and they will pay writers at sort of minimum to come up to write eight episodes and then they’ll just put them on hold for a while and not let them shoot the show. Not let them staff on other things. So, as he was talking through that experience I was so angry on his behalf, but I think he would provide a really great window into what’s happening to writers who are writing in these mini rooms or writing on these short season shows for streaming. It’s a whole new world and we need writers who are dealing with that whole new world.

Craig: Let me ask you a question. Can we take a second here and talk about why we shouldn’t elect Patric Verrone again? Can we please stop with the Patric Verrone? Is that OK?

John: Before we get to Patric Verrone, let’s talk about how many people you should vote for.

Craig: OK. That’s a great point.

John: So, we’re electing eight people. So you can choose to vote for eight people. And there’s maybe a good reason because you want these eight people to be elected. Some writers will choose to vote for fewer than that because in some ways spreading your vote across eight makes it less likely that your top picks will get elected. That’s just sort of how math works. I’m picking six people here that I want make sure get elected. But you might choose a slate of eight.

And here’s where I’m going to shock you, Craig. If I were to vote for eight people Patric might be on my list of people I vote for.

Craig: What a ringing endorsement. “If I voted for the maximum he might be on it.”

John: Before you say why people shouldn’t vote for Patric Verrone, what I will say is that in my earlier statement that you want a range of experiences, Patric Verrone has the most experience of being on the board as anyone that’s going to be there. Because he used to be president of the guild. And Craig disagrees with almost everything he’s done.

Craig: That’s right. Yep.

John: But, having served on little subcommittees with Patric, his knowledge of the history of why certain things were done certain ways can be really useful. And so institutional knowledge can be important. So that would be a reason to keep Patric Verrone on the board.

Craig: If only Patric Verrone had the same respect for institutional wisdom that you have. Part of the sins, the many sins of Patric Verrone, was his insistence on purging people who had tremendous institutional wisdom simply because they disagreed with him, in a very Trump-like manner by the way.

Before I explain why no one should vote for Patric Verrone, I want to say that I really like Ashley Gable. I really like David Slack. I don’t know Patti Carr, but I hear good things.

So, anyway, going for my screenwriting peeps who are out there.

John: One thing we haven’t acknowledged is that Ashley Gable, Patti Carr, Dante Harper, and David Slack are running as a slate of four people. I’m not pro-slate, and so I picked one person out of that slate to sort of endorse. But I don’t like slates running together. And Patric Verrone of course was notorious for slate running.

Craig: Yeah. Well, it is and it isn’t. I mean, a proper slate is one in which you’re running eight people to essentially create a majority on the board, assuming that you can have one other person on there or a sympathetic officer. These are just people running together because they agree on things. I don’t think this is a slate. In and of themselves, if the four of them were elected they would not have any kind of ability to impact a majority or anything like that. And I can also tell you as somebody that was involved in guild politics in the heyday of slates, they fall apart almost instantly. I mean, I was on a slate with Dan Wilcox who literally I don’t think I agree with anything on.

So, anyway, I wouldn’t get too hung up on that. I don’t really think it’s a slate. That’s my personal opinion. Here’s what I am hung up on. Do not vote for Patric Verrone. It’s enough already. It’s enough. You know, I mean, first of all, we have a general diversity problem anyway on the board. So, maybe time for some new blood regardless. But Patric Verrone represents a bygone era. He was in my mind a terrible leader. And also not trustworthy. And so I found him unethical in a number of ways. He’s incredibly smart. But I can also say the same thing about Ted Cruz.

So, it’s just enough already. And frankly Patric Verrone is sort of a weird island unto himself. I think he’s just doing this to keep busy. Which is not a reason to have somebody on the board. Enough already with him. Go. Go away. Let’s get some new people in to lead this union. We need fresh blood. It’s really, really important.

John: Yes.

Craig: It’s not about kicking people out because – I mean, the staff, any bit of sort of institutional wisdom that Patric has, somebody on the staff has that plus more. They’re really good about that. That’s where we need to be really careful about getting rid of people who have been around for a long time.

There’s a guy named Chuck Slocum who works for the Writers Guild. I have disagreed with Chuck probably 80% of the time. But Chuck is an enormous repository of conventional wisdom and I wouldn’t dare suggest that we should get rid of Chuck because I disagree with him about a bunch of things. He’s really important to the union.

John: I agree.

Craig: Patric, not alone. Patric Verrone simply not important. And should go.

John: OK. You’ve heard it from Craig.

Craig: Yes.

John: A few names we didn’t mention but they are also running and we will have links to all of their candidate statements in the show notes for this. So VJ Boyd, Spiro Skentzos, and Deborah Amelon also running. And so if you are curious what their statements are you can look in the book, but we also have links to the candidate statements online.

Some of things you’ll find in the candidate statements are – there’s stuff that’s going to be in every one of them because they’re ubiquitous evergreen issues. But I think this coming year if I had to predict these are the sort of marquee things we’re going to be talking about. The negotiations with the agencies about the AMBA. That’s going to be coming up. We’re going to have continuing focus on sexual harassment, sexual harassment that’s happening to writers in the workplace and how we’re going to deal with that as an industry. We’re going to have to be prioritizing what our goals are going into the next MBA negotiation. And I can safely predict there will be one giant iceberg that we don’t see coming that will come and will become a crisis that we’ll have to address head on.

Craig: The unknown unknowns.

John: The unknown unknowns. And that’s why you want a range of people in there with a range of experiences so you can actually deal with it when it happens.

Craig: Yeah. All right. Well that was very useful. I know who I’m voting for now.

John: Cool.

Craig: Should I say who I’m voting for?

John: Yeah. Say who you’re voting for. I think it’s fair.

Craig: OK. Here’s who I’m voting for. I’m voting for Deric Hughes. I’m voting for David Slack. Ashley Gable. Jonathan Fernandez. Travis Donnelly. Dante Harper. Eric Heisserer. That’s seven. And with my eighth vote if I could I would cast negative five votes for Patric Verrone. But I’m not allowed to.

John: All right. I’m going to strongly endorse Betsy Thomas, Travis Donnelly, Dante Harper, Eric Heisserer, Deric Hughes, and Jonathan Fernandez as my six who I think people should vote for.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. Now, Craig, there’s one other bit of WGA business that you can address better than anyone else can. So the revisions to the credits manual, the screen credits manual, are out there so people can look through what the revisions are. And some folks have come up with a problem that they see as being a big issue. Craig, describe what the problem is and tell us what’s actually happening.

Craig: The problem is not a problem. Here’s exactly what’s happened. A lawyer, I won’t say who, but a big time lawyer, has essentially authored an email that he’s been sending around. And so some screenwriters, I think mostly clients of his, have been circulating this with a kind of handwringing “Oh no what does this mean?”

To put a little bit of this in context, the proposal that we have out to the membership right now is simply that we amend our credits manual to make it clear and to put in place certain policy things that have already existed. There are no substantial changes to the way we determine credit. This should be the least controversial credits referendum we have ever had and yet.

So here’s essentially what’s happened. There’s this letter going around and it says, hey, we have been involved in credit arbitrations and it’s a competitive process. And it’s really important that the writer’s statement be properly crafted in order to make sure that a proper verdict is rendered. And it’s really hard to do. It’s really hard to write a statement according to this email.

Oh my god, there’s so much information. A daunting volume of literary material. And if you happen to be in the middle of another writing assignment, my god, you’re overwhelmed. What will you do?

Well, my guess is you would probably reach out to one of the brilliant people out there that exist to help you do this if you pay them money to do it. But, what has happened with this proposal, well, it used to be that you had 24 hours to write this, but you could get extension. Now it’s saying you only have 72 hours and no extensions. This is terrible.

OK. Here’s the situation. The people that are circulating this have a vested interest in taking your money from you. They are not writers. I mean, they are writers who are recirculating, but the people who came up with this are not writers. Who they are are bloodsuckers that charge writers money to write their statements for them. Beyond why that’s stupid, and I’ll get to that, what they’re saying even on its face is violently inaccurate.

So here’s what’s actually going on. We have an existing rule. The existing rule says that the writer statement is due 24 hours after the writer has noticed that there’s a protest. OK, what that means is if one of the writers involved says I don’t like this proposed credits thing from the studio, I want to protest, all the writers have exactly 24 hours to turn in a statement. Or if there’s an automatic arbitration once the writers are notified they have 24 hours. But, OK, the union can give extensions. Why can the union give extensions? Because the notice that there is a protest or there’s going to be an automatic arbitration comes before all of the literary material is even collected.

So what’s happening is technically the writer has 24 hours to write a statement, but they don’t even have all the materials. That rule never made sense. OK. So, what happens is you do have some writers who follow that rule and work hard to write that statement. And then you have other writers who have lawyers call and as a matter of routine demand extensions over and over and over because they can afford those lawyers and they can afford up to the $10,000 that they pay certain professional statement writers. But there is at least a reason there, I get it.

What the rule is now changing to is that writers have 72 hours, that is three times as much time, after the writers are notified by the guild that they have all of the literary and source material. This can happen literally a week or two weeks or three weeks after the notice of arbitration. But time will pass.

So, really what’s happening is we are changing both the amount of time you have to make it more and we’re changing the trigger of when that clock starts, which is way more time. So in effect what we have done is created a rule that makes sense.

Now, this whole thing about then saying well there won’t be extensions. You will have enough time. At this point you have enough time. First of all, you can start writing your statement whenever you want. If it’s you and one other person and you’re the second writer and you have their script, and the first person can get the script from the studio, you guys can work on it now. But then the guild collects their material and they send it to you and then the clock starts.

Two. We have a situation now where rich writers are gaming the system by having lawyers try and jam up the works and then using that extra time to spend money to have other people write their statements for them. And what this is doing effectively is harming the arbitration process itself. Not because those statements are better. They’re worse. I have gone on record a hundred times and said to every writer I can do not hire those people, not because it’s unethical, although it is, or abuse, though it is, or exploitative of writers that maybe can’t afford that, because it is. But don’t do it because as an arbiter I can tell you those statements stink.

Also in general statements don’t matter. I know this freaks the lawyers out because they think that these statements are like lawyers making an argument in court. They’re not. Because in court lawyers introduce evidence. In a credit arbitration the evidence is the scripts. And the scripts are given to us. We don’t need any statements at all. But I get it. We get them. Fine.

Point is that when these people do this, they shrink the amount of time that we have in order to do the actual arbitration. In short, they are expanding the time that is required to write the stuff that doesn’t matter, and shortening the amount of time the arbiters have to read the stuff that does matter.

Now in this letter this lawyer in a very lawyerly way says “Hey look, in the MBA it says if the material, meaning literary material, is voluminous or complex, or if other circumstances beyond the control of the guild necessitate a longer period, because we normally get 21 business days to make this decision, in order to render a fair decision and the guild requests an extension of time for arbitration the company agrees” – get ready for this John – “the company agrees to cooperate as fully as possible.”

Then, the lawyer says, “So even though the studios rarely have a pressing need for an immediate credit determination and are almost always amenable to extensions, dot-dot-dot,” stop. That is a lie.

John: That is not true. I can tell you that.

Craig: It is not true. In fact, it is aggressively not true. It is the opposite of truth. The studios constantly have a pressing need for immediate credit determination and it’s getting worse and worse and worse. Why? Because, A, the amount of time that’s required to post produce a film shrinks just because of technology. B, the amount of times that they engage in repeated post-production work, new filming, new writing, increases. The window of time that we have is not from, OK, the studios made a suggestion of what the credits could be to the movie is coming out. It’s way, way earlier than that because you have to finish the credits and put them into the actual movie.

So, the guild is constantly sweating. Sweating to get this stuff done. And when you have a project where there’s been eight or nine writers and a novel and there’s a lot of work to be done to make a determination they need to find three writers who are willing to do that, two of whom are experienced arbiters, and then give them enough time to make that decision, all in time to get this back to the company within 21 business days.

The companies are not always amenable to extensions or even almost always amenable to extensions. They hate all of that. And the last thing we want to do is rely on the good graces of the studios when it comes to credits.

Now, the most offensive thing, the most offensive thing about this letter which is absurd that’s been going around is the suggestion that somehow this is going to – this rule change will benefit powerful writers. The specious logic goes like this. “The producer writer will have access to all the literary material throughout the process therefore could start writing their statement sooner.” I have so many problems with that. But the biggest one is this: no, that’s not how it works. At all.

At all. No one writes their stupid statement while things are still going on. They can’t write the statement until they know what the studio’s proposal of credits is. And even if you ask the studio what their proposal of credits is they might say one thing but they’ll give you another. Because here’s the fact. The people producer-writers or writer-producers talk to are not the people that make those suggestions. The person that makes that suggestion is usually a lawyer sitting somewhere in a smaller office. It just doesn’t work this way. So what they’re doing is they’re saying please don’t make this change. It will help rich writers. When really what they’re saying is don’t make this change. It will hurt rich writers. This is the most lawyerly bananas obfuscation. It is Trumpian in its fake newsiness where they’re trying to convince essentially lower income writers to resist a change that will help lower income writers because it does essentially level the playing field.

There have been times where writers have followed the rules, done what they’re supposed to do, and then the guild says sorry this arbitration will be slightly delayed because another writer’s lawyer demanded an extension and the first writer is saying but why don’t I – oh, because I didn’t hire a powerful attorney to come and threaten you guys? It’s stupid.

So, we’ve eliminated that. We’ve given writers more time. This is the bottom line. You now have more time both through the triggering of the event and the time you have to write your statement which, A, doesn’t matter that much, and B, should be written by you. And we have taken away in part a little bit of the flexibility that the outrageous charlatan industry of professional statement writing has to deliver their useless goods to writers for the exploitative amount of thousands and thousands of dollars. That’s what’s going on. Vote yes on this thing. Vote yes on this thing.

John: So, you will get a chance to vote on the credits proposals I think in October. I don’t think actually the ballots are out yet for that. It’s an e-ballot thing. But I don’t think you’re voting for that quite yet. But when you get the opportunity to vote for it Craig and I will remind you to vote yes on that.

But voting for the WGA candidates that is happening right now. Ballots are due September 18. You can also vote online so you should just make sure you vote. And that’s it.

Craig: Great.

John: That’s our mini episode. So we’ll be back–

Craig: Oh, that felt good.

John: Yes. We’ll be back on Tuesday with a normal full episode. But just thanks for listening to our ranting about the WGA.

Craig: Thanks guys.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.