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It was a long, cold, and boring winter. November 5, 2007 marked the beginning of the 100 day Writers Guild of America Strike that crippled television and movie production for most of 2007 and 2008. No new episodes of beloved television shows aired for months – if at all – and the 2008 Golden Globes “press conference” will most likely go down as the most boring in history.
The bad news? The strike could have been just the beginning. The labor agreements between the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers (AMPTP), the Screen Actors Guild (SAG), and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA) are set to expire on June 30. Like the previously striking writers, both AMPTP and SAG are looking to make some changes in the way they are compensated for use of their work in digital media, including renegotiating DVD residuals and the distribution of their work on the internet.
Luckily, AFTRA may have paved the way for a smooth summer in Hollywood by coming to a tentative agreement on a three-year contract on May 28. Industry analysts hope that AFTRA’s acceptance of the contract will encourage SAG members to do the same and avoid another strike.
AFTRA’s agreement includes higher fees for downloaded content and residual payments for ad-supported streams and clips on the internet. Interestingly, it includes neither an increase in DVD residuals nor does it call for the industry and unions to develop a “mechanism” through which actors can give their consent to the use of their clips online, two positions SAG has declared imperative.
AFTRA, however, is happy with the agreement and hopes SAG will follow its lead and come to a similar agreement before sending the industry into another costly strike.
Roberta Reardon, president of AFTRA, declared the contract a victory. “It’s a terrific deal. It’s a victory for actors,” she said. “I hope SAG can use this as a template. Actors want to work. This town wants to work.”
Regardless, the writers’ strike and potential actors’ strike demonstrate the conflict between new media and the old ways of doing business. Clearly, actors and writers should be paid for the use of their works in traditional and new media. However, a little flexibility, as demonstrated by AFTRA in its decision to compromise on the issue of DVD residuals and consent for clips, may help save the industry from another devastating strike – at least for now.
Hopefully, SAG can reach a similar result, thereby saving television and movies in addition to preserving jobs and money. Estimates put the cost of the 11-week writers’ strike anywhere from $380 million to $1.5 billion dollars.
- Emily Creditt
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