Contract 2007 Viewpoint: The Same Page

 This year, you can forget every previous experience you've had with MBA negotiations. Seriously. Forget it. No matter what you remember, no matter what you fear, we will not have that negotiation. Because this year is that different. I don't want to add to the hyperbole or feed the hysteria. You get it, it's big. What I hope will not get lost in all the concern is this: Even though this negotiation brings the most fundamental challenge we've had as a union in 50 years, we also find ourselves in the presence of a minor miracle-genuine unity. Because for the first time in decades, we all face the same primary issue. New media.

The opportunities and challenges of new media cut across every conceivable difference among us.

There's a lot of data and information about how new delivery systems are expanding our business (and our employers' bottom lines). You'll see it elsewhere in this bulletin, online at our Guilds' websites, and every day in the trades as new deals are made. It's easy to get overwhelmed by the breadth of the change these new outlets bring. Like the other members of your negotiating committee, I've been absorbing as much of the detail as I can, while striving to keep the aerial view. From that vantage point, here's a snapshot: Two of the first WGA webisode deals were done for a primetime hit (Lost) and two daytime serials (As the World Turns/Young & the Restless). Entire feature-length films are being streamed online and sold as downloads. Clips from many late night comedy/variety shows go viral the minute they finish airing on broadcast. No matter what you write, who you write it for, or where it's shown first… it's going online. And the Internet will soon become a first-run outlet for our work. Getting union jurisdiction for original material and negotiating a fair rate for reuse of our work in this arena is critical for everyone's future.

As writers we might start at the same point, with that same blank page, but we quickly fan out from there. Our issues and needs often vary wildly depending on the form we write, the genre, the distribution outlet, the budget, the level of creative control, the residual formula-plus dozens of other variables you never imagine until you sit down with a writer who works in a different field and listen.

The most intense of these conversations usually happen around negotiations. In the past, we'd come together and hope that our needs could be heard among all the competing interests. We'd pray we didn't get overlooked because some other faction in the union needed more or made more or just made more noise. And no matter what deal was struck in the end, there were writers in every form who would tell you they got screwed-not only by management intransigence, but because their fellow Guild members could not understand and get behind the issue that mattered most to them.

Not this time. For once, we can all go into a negotiation knowing that our major interests are truly the same.