Rushfield Day 3: Netflix Bears the Brunt at the Shrine
When a teamster says 'it's time to take the motherf***s down', is a coalition born?
The Writers Guild troops rallied at the Shrine Auditorium last night, and by all accounts, even from some skeptics in attendance, it was a very effective gathering.
One can make too much of a pep rally of course. The prize here doesn't go to whoever can cheer the loudest. But if you're going on strike, the ability to rally, to create and sustain enthusiasm from your troops is a basic entry requirement. So that box was checked amply last night.
The news out of the rally was of course the appearance by the other entertainment unions on stage, most notably the DGA, which in general refrains from public arm-linking with the writers.
When people who weren't around back then ask me how this feels in comparison to 2007, the biggest difference I tell them is last time around, it felt very much like this was a writers’ problem, and theirs alone. Some felt sympathy with their issues (others didn’t), but there wasn't a general feeling that "their fight is our fight", like that strike was one front in a larger war.
This time, I sense there is a much larger consciousness that the forces the writers are confronting are the same forces that have sent the entire industry careening out of control down the raging rapids over the past few years. And that this is the first stand anyone has made against those centrifical forces.
Over the past months, I've really been struck by the broad agreement I've encountered privately from people who have no direct stake in this, even people who are technically on the other side — producers, executives, etc. — that what's happened to the writing profession needs to be dealt with.
Last night at the Shrine you saw a piece of that. And as far as Day 3 goes, gathering that sense of community support is extremely helpful.
The question is what comes of those pledges of help. Great seeing the directors and the actors on stage there, waving fists in solidarity, but the directors start their negotiations in a week, and I didn't hear any pledge that they are going to call those off. If the directors end up making a deal a few weeks from now, those clasped arms at the rally are going to look pretty grim in retrospect.
If you want to get really Machiavellian about it, if the directors are trying to get the best deal for themselves that they can, having the writers out on strike gives them huge leverage in their talks.
But who would think that way?
The newly on-the-march Teamsters showed up with their pledges of support. Local 399 chief told the crowd, Lindsay Dougherty, “If you put up a line, the trucks will fucking stop... The only way we’re gonna beat these mother f—kers is if we do it together."
Which could be extremely meaningful if delivered and there are reports that it's happening:
Here's one group of writers who set up a picket at 5 AM:
A lot of questions to be answered. Are the Teamsters going to refuse to cross everywhere? And for how long does that last, for instance. But good signs for the writers on these early days.
(Something for the writers to think about in the back of your minds with the chants of "LA is a union town": are you all going to return the favor and stay off the lot if someday the Teamsters or say, IA walk out? Solidarity being a two way street and all.)
You don't win strikes with pep rallies, but you can start to build coalitions with them. And if coalitions lead to more than just slaps on the back and empty words, that can move the pain meter here.
The one caveat I'd put on the night's success is, without throwing cold water on it, I'd love to hear a little more in the way of reminders that in all likelihood this is going to be a long struggle, if anything significant is to come of it. There's way too much of this:
Easy to get triumphalist but for those who are staking their livelihoods on this, false hopes of a quick easy total victory are going to go sour as the weeks stretch on. It doesn't help to create the sense that the studios are going to say, "Oh my God, look at all those people they got on stage! Let's give them everything quick!"
A few other notes:
• An interesting moment: in the Q and A portion, Ellen Stutzman was asked who of the AMPTP is the worst to negotiate against, who treats the writers the worst? She apparently didn't even take a breath before answering: Netflix. Huge laughter and applause followed.
This matches every bit of scuttlebutt one hears about the different companyies’ attitudes towards this and for all their bravado, The Service needs to be a little bit worried how this could hurt their relationship with talent in this industry.
I'm sure in their mind, they think: we've heard that all before. Everyone said, "Don't do business with them" once, and in the end, they all came around for the checks.
But they aren't the only people writing those kinds of checks anymore. And back then the damage this disruption could do to the industry was theoretical. Now it's very real and there's not a lot of folks who love the results.
• Data, which at the beginning seemed like it would be the focus of this fight, now seems to be all but off the table. It's barely mentioned and seems not a rallying point in the least at this point.
• Paramount stock fell 25 percent today. If you're keeping your, "Who's feeling the pain" meter, that's a notch towards "ouch" in one direction. Remember — every bit of pain on either side counts towards the resolution here.
• As one who is always braced for the worst impulses to come out in the social media era, I'm impressed by the extent to which the writers’ tone has stayed focused on the issues. At past moments, including in 2007, the constructive tone can be overwhelmed by the witch hunters searching for traitors in their midst to shame and punish.
The problem with that approach — one problem — is that while you're spending time shaming traitors in your midst you look like a possessed lunatic to everyone who is not already supporting your cause and waste time that should be spent making your substantive case.
Three days in, I'm happy to say I've seen and heard fairly little of the witch-hunting motif. Keep it going, writers.