These are dangerous times we’re living in, especially with the clock ticking down to what could end up being a form of oblivion, if we’re not careful. I’m speaking, of course, of this potential writers strike that could take hold at 12:01 Tuesday morning, thus sending the industry into utter chaos.
No one asked me, but I’m going to offer my take on this whole thing, anyway, because when someone gives you a platform like this one, you sort of have to take advantage of the bully pulpit. With that in mind, here’s how I believe it’s going to shake out.
For one thing, the writers voted by a margin of 96-4 to support a strike, should the clock expire without a deal. This is key, simply because I think it’s pretty clear that the producers were sure that the writers would fracture among themselves and never step up to the plate. It’s why they walked away from the table last week, suspending the talks until after the votes were counted. They figured, “Hey, why keep pushing something along if we don’t even know for sure if these ink-stained wretches are even worth negotiating with?”
It’s not a ridiculous notion, either. If the turnout had been low and a Yes vote had won by, say, 60-40, then the producers could sit back, put their feet up, smoke their cigars and offer a pittance, and do it with a smile. With the totality of the Yes victory, however, that’s not really an option. They have to take the results here seriously, even if those pushing the Yes vote reportedly told voters, “Vote for us if you don’t want a strike.”
Counterintuitive, I know, but think about it. If you make it clear you’re ready to walk, then you force the other side to call your bluff, and when there is so much money being made, on the one hand, and so many issues and uncertainties with the industry, on the other, that’s a really, really, really hard bluff to call.
And that leads to the other major factor at play here, which is the studios’ state of preparedness for such a potentially cataclysmic event. Some history: there was almost a strike in 2000, but a deal was signed, and so the crisis was averted, but the studios had stockpiled projects and, with the ensuing glut, a lot of cinematic garbage was unleashed on unsuspecting audiences over the next couple years.
Come 2007, of course, there was a strike, and a major one, but again, the studios saw it coming and bought a ton of material to make sure they wouldn’t be caught empty handed. The deal the writers ended up signing wasn’t considered to be a great one, at least partially because the studios were pretty much okay with sitting around and taking stuff from the freshly replenished vault, and the writers were out of leverage.
Now, however, no such preparations were made, which tells me a lot, especially when combined with the writers’ willingness to take to the streets and wear grooves in the sidewalks, waving their placards about unfair treatment and how much everyone, including you the viewer, is getting screwed.
Those two factors on their own would be one thing, but combined? They’re a pretty big indicator. I’m not saying that, because of this, there definitely won’t be a strike, because I can’t predict the future and generally don’t have a whole lot of faith in the intelligence or common sense of others, even those in positions of power (especially them, in fact), but it does make me believe that cooler heads are going to prevail.
But what if they don’t? What if someone on the producers’ side decides to be a proverbial turd in the punchbowl and vetoes any kind of deal that might make the writers happy or, at the very least, be able to declare victory? The writers are, essentially, asking for an additional $60 million from each of the studios, but would probably be fine taking half that. Reason would lead one to believe that no studio is going to forsake much larger profits for what is, for them, a relatively small expenditure, but again, see above doubts regarding the common sense of others.
If that should happen, the writers have to walk. It’s that simple. The studios are in the process — intentionally or not — of killing off the very business they’re in, and there are more and more workers in said business who are not getting what they’re worth because of it. Just as the American Middle Class is disappearing before our very eyes, so is the Hollywood version. I’ve talked about this before, ad nauseum, but it’s just as relevant here.
It would be one thing if what the writers were asking was outlandish or absurd, but it’s hard to argue that’s the case. Take a look at those numbers again. Taking into account the billions of dollars involved in the industry, how is what they’re asking unreasonable? Honestly, I don’t see how it is, and I’m not sure there’s a way to convince me otherwise.
So where does that leave us? I think that a deal is going to be reached, if not by the deadline, then pretty soon afterward, simply because no one, not even the studios, are in a position to withstand a long, costly shutdown. A prolonged strike will hurt an industry that already has enough problems, and might end up being something from which it can’t, ultimately, recover. All the studios have to do is make a proper deal, though, and all that can be avoided.
I’ve mentioned Richard Rushfield in this space before. He has a great daily newsletter called The Ankler, and he consistently posts strike odds. Yesterday, they were at 76-24 that the strike wouldn’t happen. He also mentioned that others in the know had said it was closer to 50-50, but I’ve talked to a couple folks, as well, and I’ll go as high as two-to-one against, but no higher.
Not as good as 100-0, of course, but I’ll take those odds. Let’s all hope I’m right, and that everyone’s still working on Monday.