Friday, December 14, 2007

Memo to DGA - Please Propose a Tri-Guild New Media Adjustment Committee

Since the WGA negotiations have devolved into nuclear winter, it looks like the next move will be talks between the studios and the DGA. Here's a suggestion/request for the directors: please include, in your proposal to the studios, a tri-guild New Media Adjustment Committee.

What does that mean?

"Tri-guild" - the committee should have members from management and from all three above-the-line guilds (WGA, DGA, SAG), assuming each guild ratifies a similar contract proposal (so that all three guild agreements would contain the same language establishing the committee). The committee might also have members from the IA (IATSE represents many below-the-line workers, i.e. craftspeople), AFTRA (a performers union), and AF of M (musicians union), both of which also have new media issues (since both also receive residuals); however, these latter two unions haven't generally been part of multi-guild committees in the entertainment industry. The committee should also have more-or-less non-aligned members from the legal and agency world, academia, and elsewhere.

"New Media" - the committee's focus would be the issues associated with new media.

"Adjustment Committee" - the committee would have the power to propose and pre-negotiate changes to the WGA, DGA and SAG agreements, so that new media issues aren't dealt with in an almost-indigestible lump on the eve of (or after) contract expiration, which is part of what led to the current, bitter strike.

The committee should meet quarterly or even monthly. It will need research support (sharing of data) from all parties, and a small budget for purchase of research reports and other such expenses. The committee would build relationships with major players and information sources (agencies, attorneys, other guilds, academics, research firms, tech cos., etc.).

The WGA had a Contract Adjustment Committee in the 1990's, with a general focus (it had nothing in particular to do with new media), but I understand that it was not very effective. This time the stakes are higher, because technological change, like the Terminator, will never stop.

This means more of what we've been seeing for the last 10 years: software keeps evolving, business models keep changing, hardware gets smaller, faster and cheaper, data capacities and transmission speeds increase, new web sites spring up overnight with instant audiences, and new technologies are developed on a regular basis.

Where all this leads is unknown, but one thing is clear: Silicon Valley is not going to suddenly take an Ambien and stop innovating. Yet, when it comes to guild agreements, the entertainment industry seems content to snooze between contract renewals.

The guild agreements are multi-hundred page accretions of hard-fought gains, historical accidents, and tough compromises. Unless the entertainment industry establishes a mechanism to modify those contracts on an ongoing basis - rather than attempting to do so under looming deadlines - we may face repeated strikes and near strikes (de facto strikes) at regular, three-year intervals. The 2007 strike is no fun, to put it mildly. Do we really want the same thing in 2010 as well?


  1. Right on, brother!

  2. How is it possible that this didn't get further commenting and circulation??? Though a dated post, this is *essentially* relevant as we near a SAG vote. For anyone on the fence, I think a widely publicized strategy like Mr. Handel proposes here is the spine required to provide integrity to a YES vote.