Local writers picket for fair share of ‘new media’ profits

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As the Writers Guild of America’s nationwide strike entered its second month, a dozen Twin Cities-based members of the union picketed in solidarity outside the busy Uptown Theatre in Minneapolis last Saturday night.

The writers’ demands? Just “a sliver” of the money TV and movie producers are making off sales of so-called residuals, like DVDs, video downloads or online streaming.

That sliver, according to the union, amounts to 2.5 percent of revenue the studios, represented by the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, earn from delivery of writers’ work via the Internet, and 8 cents per DVD the studios sell.

“A portion of revenues from the Internet and new media is crucial to our mutual survival as writers,” said Michael Winship, president of the eastern half of the WGA, representing TV and film writers around New York. Winship called the strike, joined by writers on the West Coast, a “fight of our creative lives.”

Outside the Uptown Theatre, which supported the informational picketing last Saturday, local writers cast their union’s struggle in the simplest of terms.

When the film screened inside the theater comes out on DVD, they told moviegoers, just 4 to 6 cents of every sale will go to the people responsible for its writing. And when the movie is streamed for online viewers or made available for downloading, the writers are not guaranteed a cent of the profits.

Writers have made it clear they are willing to make sacrifices in the short term to avoid losing out on new revenue sources in the long term – a mistake they admit making in 1985, when they agreed to accept an insignificant percentage of VHS and, accordingly, DVD revenues from the production companies. That arrangement is why writers get just 4 cents per DVD sold today.

Still, the sacrifices required by the strike are real, union member David Grant said, and they touch the lives of both writers who were employed before the strike and writers who weren’t.

“The only way you can make a living out of this is to have a number of balls in the air at one time,” Grant said. “The strike slows all of those projects down.”

The longer the strike lasts, union member John Olive added, the more “difficult or impossible” it will be for writers to regain traction on their projects.

For that reason, the Writers Guild asks supporters to call or write media executives and tell them to give union writers a fair share of the billions they make syndicating TV shows and selling films on the Internet and on DVDs. Executives’ contact information and a list of other ways to show support for the writers are available online at www.fans4writers.com.

For more details on the writers’ strike and on negotiations between the WGA and the production companies, go to www.unitedhollywood.blogspot.com or www.strikenotes.blogspot.com.

Michael Moore edits The Union Advocate, the official publication of the St. Paul Trades & Labor Assembly. Press Associates, Inc., news service contributed to this report.

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