Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Variety Hot Topic: WGA Strike

Just a quick note on this day before the WGA contract expires.

Variety.com, which I recently suggested as a good source of current news on the WGA situation, has created a convenient "Hot Topic" page to track all news about the possible strike.

So see Variety's WGA Strike Hot Topic page for quick updates in the coming days.

THURSDAY NOV 1 UPDATE: Strike starting next Monday possible (Variety) In short, Carlton Cuse and the rest of the union's negotiating committee recommended a strike to the leadership of the union. Most guesses are that it will start Monday. The general membership of the WGA has been advised by the WGA strike captains to take any of their personal belongings home from the workplace.

FRIDAY NOV 2 UPDATE1: The WGA leadership has scheduled an announcement regarding a possible strike today at 1:30pm at WGA West headquarters in Los Angeles. Click the Variety Hot Topic link above for updates as they come.

FRIDAY NOV 2 UPDATE 2: The WGA leadership has confirmed that it is calling for a strike beginning Monday November 5, as expected. Further negotiations are not scheduled this weekend prior to the commencement of the strike.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Lost Season 4 Unlikely for Wednesday Nights

DocArzt from Thetailseciton.com dropped me a line about finding an article in Mediaweek that quoted Stephen McPherson, who is of course the president of the ABC Entertainment Division. He's the one who that back in July of this year had an assistant call Damon Lindelof in the middle of an ABC TV Critics press conference back a day before Comic Con 2007, so that he had the okay to leak information on a now well-known casting spoiler for Season 4.

Well the current news is that he was chatting about ABC's lineup for Season 4, and the female viewer demographic, and the point is that Wednesday nights seem full with other shows. He also specifically mentioned ''Lost'' as a "wildcard asset", meaning we may see Lost broadcast almost any night, maybe (or maybe not) the Monday 8pm slot that has been rumored lately.

The Mediaweek article is mostly a long snore on demographics, so instead hop on over to DocArzt's summary at Thetailsection here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

WGA Weekend Update

I've been trying to keep up with the prospects for a writer's strike by the WGA, and one of the best sources for me has been Variety.com. If you don't know what we're talking about here, see my recent blog post for a summary of how this might affect Lost.

Last Thursday, the WGA's negotiations with the suits of the AMPTP (Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers) did not seem to be going well, with predictable acrimony in the week leading up to the expiration of the current contract (link). The WGA cannot budge from its marquee demand of DVD residuals, but the producer are not signaling any inclination to budge. A few days earlier, there was an interesting article about one point that WGA may be willing to back off on, which is jurisdiction over reality shows, which have been one mainstay of non-WGA television fare. (link)

Also something interesting is that Variety had an article about the strike, but dedicated to Lost. (link) Of course they note that ABC is planning to broadcast the entirety of Season 4 consecutively, and that Carlton Cuse is one of the 17 members of the WGA negotiating committee. What I didn't know is that Lost apparently has a highlighted central position in the industry with respect to these issues. Variety writes:

"Interestingly, "Lost" exec producer Carlton Cuse is one of the 17 members of the Writers Guild's contract negotiating committee, though no one is conspiratorial enough to suggest he could have plotted it this way all along. But it's probably not a coincidence that at a time when compensating writers for their work in the digital realm is one of the points of major contention between WGA and the AMPTP, "Lost" is the only TV production show to come to terms with the WGA, DGA and SAG on production of the "Lost Video Diaries" designed for mobile phones and Web plays."

And the most recent news? Friday was the first day that actual negotiating was attempted, rather than each side simply pushing their proposals (WGA has 26 proposals). However progress was small to none, to the extent that both sides decided to take a holiday: They won't come back to the bargaining table at WGA West headquarters until Tuesday, only one day before the expiration of the current contract. And things look dark enough that a federal labor mediator (from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service) will be present. (link)

There's also an interesting article where the DGA (directors guild) aren't happy about the WGA stepping on their toes. In other words, if the WGA strikes, the directors are still on DGA contract and are required to continue working-- on work not covered by the WGA. However this is a gray area for dual citizens: dual union cardholders such as show runners, who are hyphenate writer-directors. The article notes that four show runners are on the WGA negotiating committee, including Lost's own Carlton Cuse. The work in question includes minor script adjustments during filming, such as re-assigning lines to different cast members, or even changes in stage direction. According to Gregg Nations in my previous blog entry, crossing the picket line as a director won't be an issue for Carlton since Lost would simply shut down immediately. The article also mentions a possible spat with the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE). Yow. Anyways read more here.

The lesson? Don't rely on Lost bloggers for WGA news... Read it from their source-- read Variety.com over the next few days to keep up with detailed developments in this news as we approach next Wednesday and beyond.

If you know of any other good industry news sources, please post them below.

Sunset on the Beach Season 4 World Premiere Confirmed

According to DocArzt of Thetailsection.com blog in his post here, he has been authorized to reveal that the "Sunset on the Beach" event for Lost's Season 4 world premiere has been confirmed.

DocArzt has always had some good (and mysterious) contacts at Lost, so this latest news seems to be very credible indeed. The event is a series sponsored by the City and County of Honolulu, and typically shows movies for residents and tourists on a large screen erected directly on the sands of Waikiki Beach in Honolulu, HI, where Lost is filmed. However the Lost premiere events have generally been announced and confirmed by the City and County usually only a scant week before the event, generally held on the Wednesday or Saturday before the broadcast premiere of the season on ABC.

DocArzt revealed that the event for the world premiere of of Season 4 will be held on the "first Saturday of February", which makes it February 2, 2008. With such advance notice, diehard Lost fans can now plan (or dream on planning) their travel arrangements to Hawaii around a confirmed date to be on hand for the teeming crowds of thousands that have historically thronged the premiere and the appearance of the cast of Lost in Waikiki.

So circle February 2nd on your calendar and stock up on your sunscreen. Thanks, Doc! Read more at Thetailsection.com

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Lost's Writing on the Wall?


Last Friday, there was news from Hollywood that should have Lost fans concerned. The membership of the Writers Guild of America (WGA) authorized a strike. The mandate to authorize was strong, with 90.3% of votes, and over 5,500 of 12,000 members (of this normally low-turnout union) voting.

So why is this happening now, and what does it have to do with Lost?

It turns out that all the folks who make the TV and film you watch possible, including writers, directors, and actors, are represented by unions, who have contracts with the producers, specifically the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP). The WGA contract expires on Halloween-- hence the current possibility of a strike as a new contract is negotiated. If you were around during the last WGA strike in 1988, you know how bad TV and film can get during these strikes.

But strike authorization is sort of a bargaining tool in itself: it gives union leadership a trigger to pull, and the negotiators for the other side (AMPTP) know it. However it does not mean a strike is inevitable.

Gregg Nations, Lost's script coordinator had this to say about what this strike authorization means in his post at the official Fuselage forums:

"What the 90% strike authorization does is hopefully scared the producers into realizing that the writers mean business. There is no fooling around. There's going to be harsh, pointed criticism from each side, bad feelings are going to come out of it like crazy, and then maybe there doesn't have to be a strike. It's not set in stone that writers walk out on Nov. 1 -- but if things don't look good to the negotiating committee, then they can call for a strike any time after that.

"With such a high voter turnout and a high percentage voting yes, maybe this means nothing will happen. If the vote had only been say 50% yes, then the producers would've walked all over the writers. As it is now, that ain't gonna happen. But it is all about money, and the big companies don't like parting with it, so it's still going to be a battle."

It gets hairier though. The Directors Guild of America (DGA) and Screen Actors Guild (SAG) contracts also expire soon, in April-June 2008. The WGA may decide to continue working until then, when potentially all three unions could strike simultaneously for combined leverage, essentially bringing the Hollywood machine to a standstill: no writers, directors, or actors.

But besides June is so far away that Lost Season 4 is safe right?

We don't know. Potentially the writers could strike as soon as their contract expires, the day after Halloween.

Given that Lost has been filming Season 4 since late August, that means that by November 1, the film crew would have finished about six or seven episodes, and the writers might be done with about three more. (According to Jorge Garcia's post here, they are currently filming 4.06). That makes a ballpark figure of ten episodes of the scheduled sixteen before Lost must halt filming, if filming continues without WGA workers, and 6 or 7 if not. Lost's stellar stable of writers includes stalwarts such as Adam Horowitz, Edward Kitsis, and Elizabeth Sarnoff, and prominent newcomers such as Brian K. Vaughan. You have to remember that quite a few of the writing assistants on Lost, and script editors (such as Gregg Nations or Patti Dalzell) are also part of the WGA, and much of this work is performed during actual filming. And Lost's showrunners Damon & Carlton-- they are WGA members and would be required to strike too. For those of you hoping the Lost writing team was being forced into this, think again. That's not how the film industry works.

Again, Gregg Nations explains in another post at the Fuselage:

"If there is a strike, we will shut down immediately. Carlton is on the negotiating committee for the WGA, and there is no way that any of the writers would cross a picket line. We will not bank episodes or scripts. Depending on how many episodes are completed before a strike were to happen, it would be up to ABC to decide how to air them.

"Personally, I think the WGA is in a very good bargaining position, and if there is a strike, it's the producers and studios who are being the uncompromising ones. This could be a contentious round of discussions and you never know how things will work out. Hopefully it'll all go smoothly and it won't be an issue."

Scripts are simply "not in the can" through to the end of the season, even if the overall storyline is already mapped out. There are WGA-related jobs that are required even during filming. Filming of Season 4 simply cannot continue without the writers, and if you believe otherwise, you are gravely misinformed.

Also, notice that Gregg Nations mentioned that Carlton is actually on the negotiating committee for the WGA. What does that mean for the average Lost fan? Two things. First, Carlton is in fact central to the leadership machinery of the union that could initiate a strike. Second, Carlton may be required to stay in Los Angeles to deal with negotiations, tethering him from making his frequent trips to Hawaii as the "on-the-ground" showrunner for Lost. This work may dilute any hopes that while Carlton and Damon would have to halt all work covered by the WGA, they could in theory continue as executive producers of the show.

Assuming the worst case, Lost might halt production at about ten episodes, or even less if production halts immediately. Then ABC is presented with an unenviable choice: Do they broadcast those ten? This would mean reneging on their promise to eliminate a mid-season hiatus, and in their minds would risk the entire Lost franchise because of low ratings after the hiatus, as had occurred in Season 3. But the network will be desperate to show anything to keep the company running. This also means a random cliffhanger, because the mid-season storyline arc won't account for a strike-based hiatus. Or instead, they can find enough "replacement fare" to cover themselves until the strike is resolved, then broadcast Season 4 all sixteen episodes in a row. Replacement fare? I'm talking R&R: Reruns and Reality shows, because the latter doesn't require writers, or even actors for that matter. For the record, in that case I'm hoping ABC takes the pre-canned Daybreak off the archive shelf, a series that improved greatly after the clumsy and draining pilot episode, and could deserve another chance.

As mentioned above, SAG (Screen Actors Guild) and DGA (Directors Guild of America) are also set to strike. Their contracts expire in summer 2008 they have the potential to be a killer to the TV industry, especially if WGA waits until then to strike for a devastating triple-strike. In that case, Season 4 will be safe, finished broadcasting, and re-run fodder for us fans. But what a triple strike would likely be aiming at is the networks' jugular of the Fall 2008 sweeps period, meaning Lost Season 5 won't start filming until perhaps 2009, pushing Lost's end date back one year to 2011.

Gregg Nation comments:

"I'm really not sure how ABC would handle episodes completed and 'in the can.' They may wait to see how long a strike would last. Or they could decide to burn them off and then have another mini-hiatus until after the strike is over and production is back in the swing of things. ABC will be facing that issue with all their shows if a strike happens."

Now these are the gloom and doom cases of the effects of various strikes on Lost. There are reasons to think the worst case isn't coming.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, the DGA usually negotiates its contracts many months before the previous one expires. Their contract expires in June 2008, but they may even begin negotiations this November, and may even work something out. Then the WGA may hesitate to force a strike when the DGA is sitting happy with a new contract.

Some more background. First off, what are the unions striking for? Money of course, a type called "residuals", which means payment (in addition to the salary for the original work) for each rebroadcast of the material, including cable, foreign, DVDs, as well as digital streaming and downloads.

The studios don't want to pay residuals to writers until they have recouped their overhead costs, and additionally don't want to pay the apparently large jump in figures requested for DVD sale residuals. If the producers don't budge, then the best bet for the unions is the crippling leverage of a triple strike in June 2008, which would mean, at least, Season 4 would be safe. Now you may be thinking this is a selfish act by the writers, they just want more money, right? Wrong. An example that is easy to think about and understand is that when you walk into a store and buy a book, the author gets 15% or something around that. When you buy a DVD, the writers only get about $0.04 off each DVD sale. Seem fair to you? They aren't stealing money from you the viewer. New technology is changing the way the media industry makes money. The writers are asking for their fair share from the uber-rich media conglomerates; in the case of Lost, this means Disney, and we all know how unfathomly rich they already are. I'm on Carlton's side here.

Confusion often arises when we mention that producers are fighting the writers in this labor dispute. "But wait", you say "Carlton and Damon are both producers and writers." Yes, but no. I'll give you another quote by Gregg Nations that helps clarify this:

"As far as Carlton and Damon being writers and producers and caught in the middle, it doesn't really happen like that. This is where the term "producer" becomes problematic because of the way it's defined. Creatively, Damon and Carlton call the shots; therefore they are the (creative) executive producers. However, it is Touchstone (now called ABC Studios) who pays for the show and is therefore the producing entity. (And ABC Studios is in turn owned by Walt Disney Corporation, which in the end is really the paying/producing entity.) So the big corporations, like Disney, Warner Bros., Paramount, CBS, Fox, NBC Universal, etc., are the 'producers' the writers guild is negotiating with. It kind of comes down to the suits versus the creative people.

"There is a producer's guild, and I'm not sure what the membership requirements are to join. Maybe someone like J. J. Abrams could join since technically he owns his own company and produces various shows. I don't know if it's a requirement to join the producer's guild and be a signatory to the various other guilds in order to employ WGA, DGA and SAG members. I know as a member of the WGA, you are not allowed to work for companies that are not signatories to the minimum basic agreement. And that's the agreement the WGA and the producer's guild is trying to hammer out now.

"So we'll see. SAG's contract is up at the end of April, which is why film production is starting to be affected. If a film can't start and finish by the end of April, companies are passing on it. Everything is being moved up because of that. So if the writers strike, I would imagine that the actors would strike, too. And that would be bad, too..."

Well, let's all cross our fingers and see what happens. Give me a beard and call me Jacko, and flash me forward to a future with no strikes and plenty of Lost on tap.



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