Guest Colunm


E. Barry Haldeman

Is it over?

The writer’s strike? Yes it’s over, but …

Let’s recap: The strike started Nov. 5 and had a dramatic effect on the town. The writers were rightfully concerned about having a share of the new media, which the producers were not so willing to give. It was bitter between the writers and the producers. Negotiations broke down, then restarted, and in December broke down again. Losing patience, the directors (whose agreement with producers was set to expire June 30) began formal negotiations in January. Within a week they had a deal, covering many of the sticking points of the writers’ negotiations.

There is no question that the writers’ hard-line positions aided in the directors’ quick deal. The producers wanted a director’s deal, if for no other reason than to show they were reasonable. But the writers had softened up the ground. Also, the directors were prepared. They had commissioned a new media study that took two years and cost $2 million, so they met the producers head on with numbers. They had also been informally discussing issues with producers for months before the formal negotiations.

But the writers continued to press, and their allies, the actors, refused to cross picket lines, causing a collective “gasp” in Hollywood when the Golden Globes were all but canceled. Would the Oscars be next?

Finally, sanity prevailed. The writers hired a good entertainment lawyer, tempers cooled and 10 days ago a deal was reached. The writers even improved things a bit over the directors and now claim this is the best deal the guild has ever done.

So why isn’t everyone dancing?

First of all, the strike did a great deal of damage. Many writers are out of work, the pilot season (when networks produce one show to see if they want to order a season) will be limited and not every television show can gear up fast enough to have new episodes this season.

And let’s not forget the actors. Their TV and film agreement is up June 30 and they have yet to begin meeting with the producers. Actors have their own problems. There are actually two unions that represent film and television actors in Hollywood, the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA). They have been fighting among themselves.

Back in 1956, AFTRA obtained jurisdiction over videotaped network shows. Since then, SAG has represented movie and TV shows shot on film, and AFTRA has covered productions shot on tape. However, with more and more productions shot on digital, especially cable series, the lines are blurring. Each union claims jurisdiction over digital. On top of that, SAG claims that AFTRA is not tough enough on producers and negotiates cheaper deals. SAG has about 120,000 members, AFTRA 70,000, and 40,000 actors hold both cards. So despite their differences, in the past they have shown a unified front to producers and negotiated their film and TV agreements together. But that almost ended recently. SAG, claiming that their members earn more than AFTRA members, said they would go it alone. AFTRA promptly told SAG to take a hike and announced they would meet with the networks before SAG and negotiate a deal. SAG immediately backed off and now it appears they are back to joint negotiations.

There is also dissension within the ranks. SAG does not want to start negotiations until March 31, two months before their agreement expires. That puts Hollywood in limbo. No one will start a picture that runs past June 30 and no one wants to be in mid-production on a series when the actors could go on strike. Everyone is weary of strike threats, so on Valentine’s Day, four major actors-George Clooney, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep-took out an unprecedented ad in Variety urging their union to start talking “Not later, but now.”

Others in SAG are complaining about the entire membership voting on a strike because most of the members don’t make a living as an actor. One statistic stated that only 20 percent of the guild earns more than $7,500 annually. The thinking is that those who don’t work would lose nothing voting for a strike and, in addition, could then claim that they were “on strike,” not out of work. SAG has yet to comment on that position.

So what’s it all about Alfie? Well, it’s clear it ain’t over until it’s over.

Stay tuned.

E. Barry Haldeman is an experienced entertainment lawyer with the full service firm of Jeffer Mangels, Butler and Marmaro LLP in Century City. He represents writers, producers, actors, authors and companies in the entertainment business. He previously served as executive vice president of Business and Legal Affairs for Paramount Pictures.