Before my notes get too stale, I thought I’d share some interesting opinions gathered at South by Southwest in Austin. At the film festival and conference, I attended a panel – or “mini-meeting,” in SXSW parlance – about the impact of the now-resolved writers’ strike. It addressed the question, “What did we learn?”
The speakers were Tim McCanlies (“The Iron Giant” screenwriter), Kay Schaber Wolf (WGA West rep) and Michael Jones (“EvenHand” screenwriter, “Variety” festival editor). About 25 – screenwriters and reporters, presumably – gathered to hear their answers and speculation.
The discussion was informal and informative because of it.
Why the strike? Members of the Writers Guild of America were mainly, and continue to be, concerned about the residuals and revenue of Internet-based programming/rebroadcasting.
Wherever content is broadcast, writers want to be paid for their work.
“We wanted jurisdiction over the Internet, because the guild believes, and I think quite rightly, that it’s going to be the future,” Jones said. “We ended up giving up some quite significant deal points in order to get there, including animation, including reality.”
If you want the details of the agreement, click here for a summary in pdf form. They made some gains that are likely to be revisited in 2011 when the new contract’s up.
“Now that we have built some kinds of jurisdiction and protections on the Internet, we can go ahead and move forward,” said Wolf.
Jones also spoke about some of the prevailing misperceptions about writers and how the studio producers represented them in the strike. Writers, especially feature film writers, ain’t all rich people. (I personally questioned how widespread that misperception was. Was it just an industry insider thing, or did y'all think that too?)
“Nothing was further from the truth,” Jones said. “If you make a six-figure salary from one script and you don’t work for two years, that figure becomes a five-figure salary.”
Jones also responded to a question about below-the-line crew – electricians, grips, drivers, hair & makeup, etc. – being upset about being out of work because of the WGA strike. This especially affected workers on episodic television. (The early death of the FOX series, “K-Ville,” which was shot in New Olreans, is arguably a prime example. Either that or the show just stank.)
“When you are out of work and you don’t have a job, it’s even more difficult to understand why we’re on strike," Jones said. “I completely sympathize with those below the line crew.”
He might get a chance to do just that if the Screen Actors Guild decides to strike June 30, when their contract expires. It’s too early to tell if SAG will or will not. Regardless, McCanlies said everyone should expect a slowdown because the studio has been rushing projects into production just in case there is a work stoppage.
“There’s going to be a slowdown June 30 whether there is a strike or not,” McCanlies said.
If the SAG strike doesn’t happen, there will likely be a glut of material so studios could choose to slow their production pace. I’ve heard this opinion a couple times before, so it has gravity.
Does anyone else have anything strike-related to add?
PHOTO (left to right): Kay Schaber Wolf, Michael Jones and Chris McCanlies speak about the writers' strike at SXSW. (Alexandyr Kent/The Times)