Mike's Great Life Adventures

Monday, November 12, 2007

Writer's Strike Thoughts

(Watch this vid for a great strike overview if you aren't familiar: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oJ55Ir2jCxk)

Hey folks,

We’re about a week into the writer’s strike and I know that I’m feeling the effects every time that I sit down to watch the Colbert Report and a re-run is thrown at me. It’s damned aggravating—what about my God-given right to entertainment? I feel sick when I think about how the strike has shut down production on Battlestar Galactica season four. This is no joke--I’m planning my life in 2008 around that series.

But even though the prospect of living without the Colbert and Battlestar is harrowing, I support these writers. I’m not in the writer’s guild, but I have experienced first hand the type of greed and bullying that the writers are standing up against, and I want to share my own experiences to personalize it all a bit.

At the core of this conflict between the Writer’s Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is the fair internet compensation. The AMPTP is arguing that the internet isn’t like television—rather, it’s just a big billboard that it uses for “promotional” enterprises. So when you watch a rerun of the Office on NBC’s site, or an episode of Lost through iTunes, you are just watching a “promo” for the show. Now, if you were "actually" watching the show on TV, the writers of the show would receive payment in the form of a residual. Since you’re just watching an internet “promo,” the writers receive absolutely nothing for their work.

The problem is, more and more people are watching television shows exclusively on the internet. Most of these internet broadcasts have advertising attached, which means that the studios are creating a revenue stream. This isn’t just promotion anymore, it’s truly a medium as legitimate as television. The writers of the Office won daytime Emmy’s for their work on Office web episodes. And yet, they weren’t paid for those episodes, because it was only “promotional work.”

The studios want something for nothing. They see the transition to the internet as a place to erase all of the gains that the creative unions have achieved in the last fifty years—gains that have meant health care and the ability to raise families. The studios see it as an opportunity to return to a time where actors, writers, and the production crews didn’t receive the type of compensation that each worker deserves, the type of compensation that allows actors and writers to continue to work in an industry where employment can be rare and one doesn’t know when the next gig is going to come.

This studio attitude of something for nothing permeates the industry. Over the last year, different studios and entities have approached A Week of Kindness with offers for licensing video sketches. While all of the offers have been different, the common refrain has been “give us your stuff for cheap, because you should be honored that we are even talking to you.” A Sony website wanted to license our stuff and for a pathetic amount of compensation they would have the rights to our material in perpetuity on any medium (even beyond the website) that Sony saw fit. Down the line we could have seen one of our videos on a Playstation 3 channel, and be entitled to absolutely zero compensation.

Not that I wouldn’t want to be associated with the wrought iron waffle maker that is the PS3, but I take pride in my work. My fellow comedy producers and I want to produce high-quality comedy shit in a sustainable way. This cannot be done with the studio attitude that material found on the internet is not worth a cent. While this is a different issue than what is being faced by the writer’s guild, it’s part of the same attitude that that the studios are entitled to free internet content without payment.

It’s demoralizing to be told you don’t deserve compensation for your hard work—and it’s a self-defeating attitude on the part of the studios. It’s as though the message that the studios took from their experience with illegal music, television and movie downloads wasn’t, “Let’s see how we can turn the internet into a viable and profitable market,” but instead, “Let’s out-pirate the pirates and pillage as much as we can!” They are endangering their own position as the main providers of quality content by not embracing the internet and making sure that they have the artists who make the best work on their side.

We all need to have patience with this strike, because it is going to set a precedent for how the next generation of writers and actors are compensated on the internet. These writers are the first folks in a creative field to really take a stand for fair internet compensation. The writers aren’t asking for anything lavish, just to be paid for their work. We may see the same thing with the Screen Actor’s Guild next year. And there’s going to be a lot more stories about how writers, actor and production crews are losing their jobs over this strike—it really sucks. But by allowing the studios to take advantage of some of their workers, it lowers the standard by which everyone in the industry is treated. The studios need to treat their workers fairly and we all need to stand together on this.

I love being involved in a creative industry. I want to continue to be able to do this, and do it in a way where I can support myself in a dignified way, have some possessions other than my box fan, and one day be able to raise a family. If that means sacrificing Battlestar to protect that future, so be it.

Thanks for listening!


PS--I'm doing jury selection, so I may be on jury duty this week, but if I'm not I'm going to head down to the picket line with a bunch of UCBTers on Wednesday. It's at the World of Disney Store 711 5th Avenue (5th Avenue and 55th Street) from 10am-2pm.
PPS--In the studio spirit that internet is pure promotion--Come to Harold night this tuesday, Nov 13 at 10pm and next Tues Nov 20 at 8pm for $12K
PPPS-- Strike Links:
Op-Ed from the writer of Lost and his support of the strike: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/11/opinion/11lindelof.html?_r=2&ref=opinion&oref=slogin&oref=slogin
Funny Mr. Burns strike scene by former Simpsons writer: http://kenlevine.blogspot.com/2007/11/no-one-earns-as-much-as-burns.html
Battlestar Galactica Producer talks strike: http://tv.ign.com/articles/833/833633p1.html

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Monday, October 08, 2007

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Friday, October 05, 2007

Tuesday, October 02, 2007