The WGA West has issued its final list of 18 candidates, including five incumbents, who will be competing for eight seats on the its board of directors in the September election. Incumbents Chip Johannessen, Scott Alexander, Michael Oates Palmer, Katherine Fugate and Marjorie David will square off against challengers Shawn Ryan, Chris Derrick, Cynthia Riddle, Peter Lefcourt, Shernold Edwards, Peter Murrieta, Doug Atchison, Stan Chervin, Jonathan Fernandez, Courtney Ellinger, Mark Amato, Aaron Mendelsohn, and Aaron Fullerton. The guild will host its annual Candidates Night forum, where members can grill the candidates, on September 3 at the guild’s LA headquarters. Ballots will be counted September 16.
WGA West President Chris Keyser sent a “private” email today to select members of the guild in a pitch for money to support the WGA political action committees’ lobbying efforts. Guild leaders, who oppose virtually all media mergers, used Fox’s proposed takeover of Time Warner as the drumbeat to scare up money to support its PAC’s ongoing political activities.
According to the guild’s latest filing with the Department of Labor, its political action committee spent $347,037 last year on “political activities and lobbying,” and it wants to raise even more this year. The PAC was formed in 2009, and the guild says that it is funded solely from voluntary contributions from its members. “WGAW assets will not be used to fund contributions to the WGAW PAC,” the guild told the Department of Labor. “WGAW PAC will solicit and raise voluntary contributions from the WGAW members, which will be used to support political activities on behalf of writers.” The guild’s PAC is administered by an 11-member committee that includes the guild’s elected officers and executive director. Day-to-day operations are delegated to a firm of election law attorneys.
In the supposedly private email, Keyser and negotiating committee co-chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray pointed to a New York Times headline about the proposed Fox takeover of TW (“$80B Offer From Rupert Murdoch Puts Time-Warner In Play”) saying, “If this headline scares you — and it should — then consider this a call to arms.” The email said the pitch letter was “paid for” by the guild’s political action committee.
Warning that Internet video distribution could, like cable television, become “dominated by a few vertically-integrated conglomerates,” the WGA West made its last pitch to the FCC today for proposals to protect Internet neutrality. The FCC is expected to hand down its new policy on the issue within a few weeks, following the close today of a public-comment period on the latest proposal to regulate Internet transmission of video and other data.
In January, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. struck down parts of the FCC’s 2010 rules, leading to a new round of guidelines, including a controversial provision that would say Internet Service Providers “may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet.”
More evidence of an ailing film economy is evidenced in the WGA West’s 2013 earnings report, which shows that employment and earnings for writers of motion pictures declined for the fourth year in a row. Film writers earned $331 million last year, a 7.2% drop from 2012 and down nearly 25% from $437 million in 2009.
The report also shows that only 1,595 writers reported motion picture earnings last year, down 1.9% from 2012. That number also has decreased every year since 2009, when 1,848 guild members found work in the film industry.
It’s election season again at the Writers Guild, and continuing in their secretive ways, WGA West officials are refusing to answer any questions beyond what they put in their press releases. Seventeen candidates – including five incumbents – have been nominated by the guild’s nominating committee to vie for the eight open seats on the 16-member board. Asked if there are any incumbents who are not seeking re-election, guild spokesman Gregg Mitchell said, “We’re not commenting beyond today’s release.”
A review of those elected in 2012, cross-checked against the incumbents seeking re-election this time, shows that John Aboud, David Goodman, and Kathy Kiernan aren’t seeing re-election. So why couldn’t the WGA just say so? That’s unclear. “The open Internet is the greatest technological catalyst to participatory democracy and free speech since the printing press,” the guild said in a press release last month. “That’s why totalitarian states around the world try to control it.” The same could be said about unions.
EXCLUSIVE: It’s one of the little-known realities of reality TV: DGA and WGA members sometimes use fake onscreen names so they can work on nonunion reality shows without getting busted by their unions. Directors and writers have been known to use this ruse to keep from getting in trouble with their unions when working on such nonunion shows as ABC’s The Bachelor and The Bachelorette and Bravo’s The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills. “It happens all the time, I’m afraid,” said a veteran DGA director of reality shows. “It’s been going on for years. Even though the DGA’s bylaws say they can’t work nonunion, people can’t afford not to work, so three things can happen: They can turn down the show; they can change their names and work under the radar in the hope they don’t get caught, or they can go financial core.” Members who opt for Fi-Core status essentially are dropping out of their unions.
Deadline has found several instances – including a popular reality show on Starz – in which DGA members are working on nonunion shows under names that are different than the ones on their union membership cards. Sometimes the name change is as simple as adding or subtracting a middle initial; sometimes they work under their real last names but use nicknames instead of their real first names to avoid detection.
“The DGA tracks all nonunion reality productions, investigates any situation in which a member is suspected of working on a non-guild-covered project and takes disciplinary action as appropriate,” said DGA spokeswoman Sahar Moridani. “In no way do we allow members to work nonunion.”
With one day to go before its current 3-year contract expires, the WGA said today that its members ratified the new agreement by a huge margin — the ones who actually voted, that is. “The WGA membership overwhelmingly voted in favor of ratifying the contract by 98.5 percent,” the union said in a statement. Ballots were to be cast online, by mail or at membership meetings in New York and Los Angeles on April 29. Not that a lot of the union’s members turned out to actually vote on the deal that was struck on April 2 with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers. Of the 8,218 eligible WGA voters, only 1,193 valid votes were actually cast. That’s just 14%. Of those actually voting, there were 1,175 “Yes” votes and 18 “No” votes, according to the union. Last time round in 2011, 1,952 votes were cast with 90.7% voting in favor of the agreement. Having said that, at least the WGA revealed how many members voted. When DGA members ratified their new deal earlier this year, all the union would say was that it was approved by an “overwhelming margin.” The new WGA contract runs from May 2 this year until May 1, 2017.
Prolific TV movie producer Larry Levinson Productions has denied claims from the WGA that it owes millions of dollars in residuals to writers. The production company told Deadline today that the dispute instead is “over what appears to be the WGA’s unfair, improper, over-reaching and arbitrary application of its residual calculation for these pay TV movies.” In the past 20 years, the company has produced nearly 200 family-oriented telefilms, most of which were made for Hallmark Channel or in association with Hallmark Entertainment. The guild is pursuing arbitration claims against Levinson’s various production entities for unpaid residuals and interest owed on 33 of those TV movies and is threatening to bar the company from using guild writers again until it pays up. An arbitration hearing is scheduled for May 14.
LLP said in a statement today, “The companies involved and drawn into this dispute are determining their respective legal rights and remedies against these WGA practices and will vigorously defend and pursue their rights as smaller independents to be treated equally.” Hallmark parent company Crown Media Holdings also is named as a respondent in the arbitration notice. It said Tuesday that it is up to date on its residuals payments.
The WGA is preparing to bar prolific TV movie producer Larry Levinson from ever using guild writers again unless he pays up on millions he allegedly owes in unpaid residuals. In the past 20 years, Larry Levinson Productions has produced nearly 200 family-oriented TV movies, most of which were made for the Hallmark Channel or in association with Hallmark Entertainment. The guild is currently pursuing arbitration claims against Levinson’s various production entities for unpaid residuals and interest owed on 38 of those TV movies. In a recent letter to a group of writers who Levinson allegedly stiffed, the guild stated that “Levinson continues to demonstrate an egregious, ongoing failure to pay residuals.” An arbitration hearing is set for August 14.
In its notice of arbitration (read it here), the WGA claimed that two of Levinson’s companies, Hardstone Entertainment and Branwen Productions, violated the guild’s contract by failing to pay residuals on dozens of TV movies; by failing to report the gross receipts of the movies and how often they were rerun on television; and by failing to make pension and health contributions on those unpaid residuals.
EXCLUSIVE: Thousands of emails sent to Writers Guild members from former WGA President Patric Verrone soliciting donations for his run for a seat in the California state senate are raising questions about how he got those email addresses and about the ethics of using his years of service to the guild to acquire them. Verrone, who led the guild in a contentious 14-week strike six years ago, is in a tight primary race to represent California’s 26th senatorial district. Numerous guild members report that they have received emails from Verrone soliciting donations and giving updates on his campaign. The WGA says it didn’t supply Verrone with a mailing list.
“We have had some members ask about this and we have made it clear that we have not provided him with a mailing list,” said WGA spokesman Neal Sacharow. “Outside of official guild business, we allow use of our list in two instances. As required by federal law, guild members may use the list in connection with internal union election campaigns. We also make the list available during awards season to studios, networks and certain publications for the purpose of mailing screeners or other awards-related communications. In both of those situations, we do not provide the list itself but rather, arrange for the mailing through a guild-approved mail house.”
Verrone told Deadline that he sent his campaign emails to “a couple of thousand” WGA members. Asked if a “couple of thousand” is two or three thousand, he said, “between two and three thousand.” He also acknowledged that he came by those email addresses in the course of his service to the guild. “I was president and secretary-treasurer and a board member for all those years,” he said. “I communicated with hundreds of members and they communicated with me. I have their email addresses. I didn’t get anything from the Writers Guild.”
The WGA West 2014 Hollywood Writers Report has uncovered modest gains for minority and women TV writers but on the film side employment in these circles is continuing its slide, offsetting overall gains. The full study, titled “Turning Missed Opportunities Into Realized Ones” – the ninth in a series of semi-annual reports commissioned by the guild — will be published in June. But some details were unveiled today in the Executive Summary (read it here) that analyzes employment patterns for writers working on broadcast and cable TV shows and theatrical features during the 2011-2012 season, highlighting women, minority, and older writers. Among them:
· Women remained underrepresented by a factor of nearly 2-to-1 among TV writers in 2012, claiming 27% of sector employment, and they earned about 92 cents for every dollar earned by white males in 2012 — up slightly from 91 cents in 2009. Women screenwriters accounted for 15% of sector employment (down from 17% in 2009) , and they earned 77 cents for every dollar earned by white male film writers in 2012, down from 82 cents in 2009.
· Minority TV writers posted an increase in employment share (from 10% in 2009 to 11% in 2012), also closing the earnings gap “a bit.” Data also show that minorities watch a disproportionate share of television and theatrical films, while increases in their consumer spending outpace the rest of the nation. On the film side, the minority share of film employment was steady at 5% compared by 2009.
· Older writers — especially ages 41-50 — claimed the largest share of employment in TV and film, as well as the highest earnings in each sector. The relative status of older writers tends to decline “rather rapidly” beyond 60.
SAG-AFTRA said today that they’ll sit down with the studios and networks on May 5 to start negotiations on a new 3-year contract. This is the first truly big contract to be worked out by the union since SAG and AFTRA merged two years ago. The announcement comes less than two weeks after the WGA finally reached a deal on a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers. Today, in meetings in L.A., the SAG-AFTRA National Board unanimously rubber stamped proposals for the upcoming talks based on their mandated wages and working conditions meetings with members. Typical of SAG-AFTRA, the proposals themselves are being kept under lock and key. However, there is little doubt that they include measures about a rise in contributions to the now merged unions still separated Health and Pension plans as well as increases in minimums and residuals based on the pattern bargaining approach utilized by the DGA and the WGA. The first union to sit down with the studios and networks, the DGA sealed their deal late last year. With their current deal set to expire on June 30, SAG-AFTRA will be led by union prez Ken Howard in the contract talks. Potential NBA Players Union chief and SAG-AFTRA National Executive Director David White will serve as chief negotiator when the union meets with AMPTP at their Sherman Oaks HQ next month.
Less than a week after reaching an agreement on a new three-year contract with the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers, the WGA today announced it’s bringing the contract to a membership vote (see the email to members below). “This year, ballots may be cast online, by mail (for those requesting a paper ballot) or at membership meetings in New York and Los Angeles on April 29, 2014,” said WGA West President Chris Keyser and Michael Winship, President, WGA East in an email to members. The union’s current contract expires on May 1. The duo also revealed that both the WGA West Board and the WGA East Council have unsurprisingly approved the new contract.
New WGA Deal Contains Changes In Options & Exclusivity Rules, Increases In Compensation Rates & Cable Script Minimums, 0.5% Pension Increase, No Rollbacks
With the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers reaching an agreement on a new three-year contract late last night, the union this afternoon filled in its members on what actually is in the deal via an email (see below) from Negotiating Committee Co-Chairs Chip Johannessen and Billy Ray out of the “complicated and protracted” negotiations ”The three-year deal features increases to our minimum compensation rates, increased contributions to our Pension Plan, minimums for subscription video-on-demand programs, increased residuals for ad-supported streaming, outsized increases in script minimums for one-hour basic cable writers, and a doubling of the theatrical script publication fee,” said the message to members.
Perhaps the biggest step forward in the new agreement is in the issue of options and exclusivity, a stickler for the WGA during these contract talks. Starting New Year’s Day 2015, writers who earn less than $200,000 per contract year will no longer have to be exclusive to a network or company except “during periods when the writer is being paid for his or her writing services” and ”the Company may not hold a writer for more than 90 days under a negotiated option agreement without paying a holding fee of at least 1/3 of the MBA minimum for the writer’s services.” Additionally, Johannessen and Billy Ray say that the producers’ pre-talks request for $60 million in rollbacks from the health and pension plans, residuals and targeted screenplay minimums were “taken off the table.”
Related: WGA …
After two final days back at the negotiating table this week, the WGA and the Alliance of Motion Picture and TV Producers late last night reached a deal on a new three-year contract. No details of the agreement have been revealed as both parties want to reach out to respective members later today before going public, I’m told. The current contract expires May 1, which means the longer-than-expected talks leave the union having to pull together a ratification vote lickety-split.
Already agreeing on everything but the chestnut issues of options and exclusivity, the two sides took an 18-day break before returning to talks at AMPTP headquarters in Sherman Oaks on Monday. As I reported on March 6, even with the scribes taking a stronger line than during the last negotiations and the studios/networks more divided than last time, the sides were “very close” to a deal even before they took their first temporary recess from February 15-March 4. That break came after an initial two weeks of talks that started February 3. Though no one was thumping the table and calling for a strike, talks started with a lot of tension after the studios and networks requested $60 million in rollbacks from the health and pension plans, residuals and targeted screenplay minimums on just before the talks got underway. Still, as widely anticipated under Hollywood’s pattern bargaining system, the final deal worked out is expected to be similar to the agreement the DGA made with the studios and networks.
Now only SAG-AFTRA among the major Hollywood guilds is left to work out a new contract. The actors union, which will be entering their first such negotiations since merging in 2012, are still going through final stages of mandated wages and working conditions meetings with members.
‘The Good Wife’ Bombshell: Story Behind The Shocking Exit, Showrunners Speak
By Nellie Andreeva
The Good Wife creators/showrunners Michelle and Robert King, discuss a major character’s exit, its impact on the show and what lies ahead.
CNN’s Piers Morgan Signs Off With Final Blast At U.S. Gun Laws (Video)
By Lisa de Moraes
Piers Morgan wrapped his three-year CNN run on Friday night with (gasp!) a full hour of discussion about the missing plane. But in his four-minute final remarks, he couldn’t resist taking a parting shot at the NRA.
As talks are about to resume Monday on the final elements that many hope will lead to a new deal for the Writers Guild Of America, we wanted to lend some perspective and give voice to the TV and feature writers whose fortunes will be tied directly to the deal their union makes. This is the fifth in a quick succession of five questions we asked a panel of 10 writers. Here are their responses, and hopefully other writers will be moved to comment about the issues that worry them most as their work is monetized in this fast-changing digital age. (Note: Writer #10 didn’t reply to this question.)
DEADLINE: What tangible gains or losses did you realize through that strike, financial or other?
WRITER #1: I support my guild 100% and I always will. I think of the WGA like a relative — I can say something strong about them but if you do we’re going to have a problem. There could have been significant gains, but the strike was mis-managed in my opinion by [Patric] Verrone. When things were turning for the writers in a positive way, that’s right when they rushed to settle. If you’re going to hold out for that many months, go all the way and make real gains. If you’re not prepared to do that, don’t go on strike at all because the studios will find a way to engineer a strategic retaliation and that came in the form of one-step deals. Honestly, we went halfway with the strike, stopped and then complained about it for years. A lot of really sneaky stuff happened in the closing weeks of the strike. I was invited to several “behind closed doors” secret meetings and I declined. The TV showrunners were put in a tough position by the studios and they didn’t all behave in the best interest of their fellow writers. Some did. A strike is like a gun — don’t take it out unless you’re really prepared to use it. And using it doesn’t mean calling a strike — it means staying on strike until you achieve what is right and what is fair. Essentially we only loaded the gun. We never really fired it. The strike isn’t the bullet. Holding out long enough to meaningfully change things for writers, that’s the real bullet and that would have taken another three months in my opinion. Three more months, and more would have been achieved. I am well aware that others will disagree with that statement but it happens to be true.
As talks are about to resume Monday on the final elements that many hope will lead to a new deal for the Writers Guild Of America, we wanted to lend some perspective and give voice to the TV and feature writers whose fortunes will be tied directly to the deal their union makes. This is the fourth in a quick succession of five questions we asked a panel of 10 writers. Here are their responses, and hopefully other writers will be moved to comment about the issues that worry them most as their work is monetized in this fast-changing digital age.
DEADLINE: Patric Verrone is running for California State Senate and in establishing his cred to writers said, “We won the writers strike.” Would you vote for him?
WRITER #1: Honestly, I wouldn’t vote for Patric Verrone as the President of the Tupperware Club of Paramus, New Jersey. I also find it hilarious that he used the entire (supposedly confidential) WGA mailing list to seek contributions from writers he was largely responsible for harming. Why does he get to use the WGA mailing list for his political campaign? He should be investigated for that. I felt then and I feel now that Verrone was totally out for himself. I supported the WGA and the strike but I never supported Verrone. I think Billy Ray — the guy in there negotiating now — is a smart man who cares for writers. He’s also a damn good writer.
WRITER #2: The strike was “lost” before we hit the picket lines. Verrone and [Executive Director David] Young seem to have wanted the strike whether or not it was winnable or smart, to ﬂex guild muscles, and to establish a sense of leadership that, in the end, revealed itself to be divorced from the daily realities of our industry. Meanwhile, the studios, wanting to cut overhead, saw the strike as a way to accelerate the ways the business was already contracting. For them the strike couldn’t come fast enough. No working writer I know thought the strike was any kind of success. We limped to its conclusion, beaten, humiliated and humbled, a lot poorer. Verrone, who pulled salary while we went eight months or more without income, was only too happy to wave the banner while leading us into machine gun ﬁre. In the end, Verrone seemed about Verrone. Can’t see a circumstance in which I’d support his candidacy for state senate.
WRITER #3: I think Patric put in a good effort to try to get something from the strike and had some smaller victories. But as I said in Question 3, he was hamstrung by the fact that the high-end writers didn’t want to strike. Also I think Patric was very ambitious to try to unionize feature animation. But when the AAA-list screenwriters say “sure we’ll strike” and immediately book millions in high-end feature animation jobs, that goal proves impossible. Sure it’s mildly disingenuous for him to make the claim that he won the strike, but in the world of politics, I believe that statement is probably more honest than what his opponents will claim. I’d consider voting for him, however I haven’t seen what the rest of his platform is besides labor.