WGA West 2011 Elections
WGA Candidate Questionnaire 2011
Specify WGA East or WGA West:
Position that you’re running for:
Current officer or Board/Council position, if any:
Your website(s), if any:
Website(s) for your slate, group, party or alliance, if any:
• Please describe yourself in a sentence or two.
I’m a screenwriter, mostly of independent films; a lapsed or recovering novelist; and a professor of screenwriting at USC. I’ve served for six years on the WGA board and am an artistic director of the Sundance Screenwriting Labs.
• What's your background as a writer: how did you come to writing, what do you like about it, what are some key credits, and can you share any interesting experiences or an anecdote or two?
I came to writing out of terminal failure of imagination. My father was a screen and television writer, my mother wrote, my uncle wrote-- If they’d been in the garment business perhaps we’d be talking today about the art of sewing pockets. My father used to lie on the couch reading Popular Mechanics. I’d go up to him and he’d say, “go away, I’m working.” I wanted that job.
My credits include Joe Gould’s Secret; August; and Savage Grace.
• What guilds or unions (including the WGA, of course) are you a member of, and when did you join?
Joined in 1989. Am not currently a member of any other guild or union, although I worked my way through college as a ‘permit person’ with Local 52 of the I.A.T.S.E.
• What other entertainment industry organizations, if any, are you a member of? (Motion Picture Academy, TV Academy, BAFTA, professional associations, etc.)
Writers branch, AMPAS; fellow, Los Angeles Institute of the Humanities; trustee, Writers Guild Foundation; advisory board, Huston College of Digital Media, National University of Ireland; board, Franco-American Cultural Fund.
• Please list your WGA service experience (boards, committees, etc.), if any. Also, list any awards or honors you’ve received from the WGA that relate to service to the Guild. Feel free to also list service experience and service awards or honors relating to other unions, guilds or entertainment industry organizations. Please omit awards for writing work, such as WGA Awards, Oscars, Emmys, etc. (see below for these).
I’m particularly proud of my work as founder and co-chair of the Guild’s Indie Writers Committee, which was instrumental in getting the WGA to recognize the independent field, and still works to improve the status of writers in the independent world. We devised and promulgated the WGA’s Low-Budget Agreement, which has now covered almost 200 films that otherwise would have been outside Guild jurisdiction and protection. I’m also proud of being the co-chair of the Screen Laurel Award committee, where I work with Robert Towne, Frank Pierson, Alvin Sargent, Nick Kazan, Robin Swicord, and Billy Ray to nominate writers for the Guild’s highest lifetime achievement awards. (We also nominate for the Jean Renoir Award.) Over the past year, as co-vice-chair of the CPSW, I’ve met with studio CEOs and with the creative execs of each studio to discuss writers’ issues outside of the formal confines of labor/management negotiations. I’m also on the National Council, where WGAW and WGAE meet regularly to exchange views and coordinate efforts. Full list of Guild service below.
BACKGROUND: Member since 1989. BOARD OF DIRECTORS: 2005-11. Writers Guild Foundation Board: 2010-11. COMMITTEES: Board Nominating 1996, 1999, 2001; CAP 2005-09; Editorial Advisory 1995-97; Independent Writers 2002-11 (Founder and Co-Chair); MBA Negotiations Steering 2003; MBA Negotiating 2004; National Council 2009-11; Organizing 2002-05; Pension and Health Trustee Review 2005-09; Screenwriters Council/CPSW – Theatrical 2002-05, 2009-11 (Vice Chair); Screen Laurel 2006-11; Working Rule 8 2009-11.
• What WGA contracts and in what media do you frequently work: theatrical, network TV, pay TV, basic cable, daytime dramas (soap operas), new media, animation, nonfiction/documentary/reality, other?
Mostly theatrical, although I’ve written a one-hour drama pilot for HBO and have contributed episodes to Showtime anthologies.
• What kind(s) of work do you frequently do – original screenplays/teleplays, adapted screenplays/teleplays, assignments, rewrites, staff writer, other?
Original screenplays like August; book adaptations like Joe Gould’s Secret and Savage Grace. Of late I’ve often been adapting foreign films as American versions. I’ve done production rewrites on three films and plain vanilla rewrites on many more.
• Do you frequently (or ever) act, direct, produce or play other roles in theatrical, television, new media or other projects?
I play a character called “Howard Rodman” in films from time to time – André S. Labarthe’s The Man Who Saw The Man Who Saw the Bear; John August’s The Nines.
• Are there other aspects of your life you’d like to share with voters – political involvement, community or charitable service, teaching, other creative endeavors, other employment experience, educational background, hobbies, etc.?
I served on the seed fund board of Liberty Hill, working to fund small community groups working on issues of economic justice. I came of age during the civil rights and antiwar movements, which has most certainly influenced my worldview. I worked as a labor organizer in NY for the Committee of Interns and Residents, representing salaried physicians working for the city. In addition to my work as a professor (and former chair) of the writing division at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts, I am an artistic director of and creative advisor to the Sundance Labs. This year I delivered papers on the hundred-year-old French fictional arch-villain Fantômas at Yale, the New School, and City Lights Books, as well as hosting an evening at The Hammer Museum here in L.A. I’m an accomplished home barista. I worked with the architect John Lautner on the restoration of his Zahn House when we purchased it in 1992. (It’s still our home.)
• Please list any awards or honors for writing work, such as WGA Awards, Oscars, Emmys, etc. Please specify the project and type (TV, theatrical, etc.) and indicate the type of award, such as original screenplay, adapted screenplay, etc. Please list any other awards or honors, such as for community or charitable service.
Nominated for a Cable Ace Award for best drama; nominated for a Spirit Award for Best Screenplay.
• Why are you running?
To improve the lot of screen and television writers; to make sure that we meet the challenges of a rapidly changing work environment.
• Are you running as part of a slate, group, party or alliance? Why or why not? If so, which one(s)?
Not part of a slate.
• Have you previously run as part of any slates, groups, parties or alliance? Which ones, and when?
I was part of the ‘Writers United’ movement which worked, with some real success, to make the WGAW a more writer-driven union, one whose strength comes from an informed and engaged membership.
• (a) If you’ve previously run as part of any slates, groups, parties or alliance at any time from 2005 onward, and are now running as part of a different slate, group, party or alliance or as an independent, why the change? (b) If you’ve previously run as an independent at any time from 2005 onward and are now running as part of any slates, groups, parties or alliance, why the change? (c) Otherwise, just write “Not applicable.”
• Has your candidacy been endorsed by anyone (other than your slate, group, party or alliance, if any)?
Not endorsed by a ‘slate.’ But fortunate to have been endorsed by both presidential candidates (Verrone, Keyser), the outgoing president (Wells) and vice-president (Schulman).
• Who, if anyone, is financing your candidacy? How much money do you anticipate raising or spending on your campaign?
Self-financed. Minimal expenditures other than Noncandidates’ Statement and emails.
• If you’re running as part of a slate, group, party or alliance, who, if anyone, is financing its activities? How much money does it anticipate raising or spending on its activities in 2011?
• How can voters learn more about you (in addition to the website(s) you listed on p. 1)? Feel free to provide an email address if you’d like, but remember that this document will be publicly available and will be posted on the Internet.
also Twitter feed, @HR4VP
Wages, Working Conditions and Contracts
• What forms, if any, of downward pressure on writers’ wages are prevalent, if any? If any, why did this happen, and what can or should the Guild do about it?
One-draft deals; the non-acknowledgement of quotes; free pre-writes; free re-writes. All of these need to be addressed in discussions and in negotiations.
• Are there fewer jobs now (compared to the past) in various areas? Which areas? If so, why did this happen, and what can or should the Guild do about it?
In fat marker version: where we used to have some 2,000 writers a year in screen, there are now closer to 1,500. This is devastating. The Guild needs to make sure that our coverage expands to those areas where the work is going…
• Are theatrical writing deals more likely today to be single-step rather than multi-step deals? If so, why did this happen, and what can or should the Guild do about it?
Yes. We address this consistently in the CPSW discussions with the CEOs and are working to change the culture.
• Are there fewer TV writer-producer deals (overall/housekeeping/development deals) than in years past? If so, why did this happen, and what can or should the Guild do about it?
• Are residuals checks paid and processed quickly enough? If not, who is responsible for the delay, and what can or should the Guild do about it?
• How can or should the Guild help members better understand how their particular TV, theatrical or other residuals were calculated, so that members will have more ability to determine whether they’ve been paid properly and on time? Should the Guild create a web page, accessible only to members (and perhaps their agents and lawyers) that will allow members to see the calculation in a step by step, explanatory fashion?
• Is it appropriate that the Guild is collecting and disbursing foreign royalties? Why or why not? (DGA, SAG and WGA are doing this. On behalf of members and non-members. Foreign royalties are different from residuals, and are not mentioned in the collective bargaining agreements.) Is the Guild doing a good job at this? Why or why not? What if any improvement is needed?
Appropriate. The backlog of undistributed royalties has been greatly diminished.
• Apart from wage and residuals issues, what are the key problems that members face on the job and how can or should the Guild reduce the frequency of these issues?
See above – free pre-writes, one-draft deals, quote erosion, etc.
• What are some key concerns of specific categories of members – theatrical, network TV, pay TV, basic cable, daytime dramas (soap operas), animation, nonfiction/documentary/reality, other? How well is the Guild addressing those issues and what changes, if any, are needed?
• How well is the Guild addressing issues of non-discrimination, equal opportunity and diversity for women, people of color, LGBT people, people with disabilities, older writers, and others? What changes, if any, are needed?
• What is your opinion of the current WGA Basic Agreement – strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement, etc.? (Omit new media provisions; these are addressed in the next section.)
• Should WGA make it a priority to obtain a larger residual in physical home video (DVD / Blu-ray)? Why or why not?
That market still exists, despite industry poormouthing. So yes, we should make this a priority, but not to the exclusion of more advanced (bits, not atoms) technologies.
• Theatrical and television residuals are complex. Do you think any kind of large-scale changes to the residuals formulas/structure are necessary or desirable? (Please omit (or just briefly summarize) new media residuals, because this is addressed in the next section.)
Cable residuals should be brought up to network standards.
• What is your opinion about other WGA contracts that you’ve worked or are particularly familiar with – strengths, weaknesses, areas for improvement, etc.?
• Do you have any new media credits? If so, what kinds of projects were they, and what was the experience of working in new media like?
• How significant a revenue source for studios and producers today are (a) original made for new media productions and (b) move-over new media (i.e., reuse of traditional product on new media platforms)? How significant do you think they’ll be in 3 years? Do you think that new media as a studio/producer revenue source will eclipse television or physical home video in the next 5 or 10 years?
I think that the distinction between various old media is eroding, and that the viewership is increasingly platform-agnostic. We need to be cognizant of, and ahead of the curve on, this convergence.
• The studios say that they currently don't make much money from new media, whether original, derivative (i.e., based on an existing move or TV show), or move over. Do you believe them?
The studios didn’t break even on Batman or Men In Black or The Simpsons – of course they’re not making money from new media.
• The salaries being offered to writers in original new media are generally low. Should writers accept these jobs even if they're low paying, or decline them – i.e., withhold their services in order to try to increase new media salaries?
This is why we have a Guild – to amplify the power of any individual member in an employment situation.
• Are the existing new media provisions (including but not limited to the residuals provisions) in the WGA Basic Agreement acceptable, or do they need modification? In what way?
Organizing, Collective Bargaining and Strikes
• What types of organizing efforts does or should WGA do with respect to (a) existing members, (b) new media, (c) other types of work that is already covered under the existing agreements and (d) new types of work (please specify) that are not covered under any of the existing contracts?
We need to move where the industry moves. This includes (but is not limited to) video games, transmedia, etc.
• What can WGA do to increase its leverage at the bargaining table?
An informed and engaged membership. Strategic alliances with other Guilds and unions. The power of our imaginative members to get our views across.
• The threat of a strike may be a union's ultimate leverage, yet a strike is costly (at least in the short term) for members as well as management. That makes a strike a painful tool for a union to use. But, if a union never strikes, that may blunt the effectiveness of the strike threat. How should WGA balance these two competing factors? Do you think the Guild has been achieving the right balance in the last few years? Why or why not?
Your question answers itself – always a difficult balance, to be sure.
• Should WGA seek a strike authorization vote from members as a standard procedure at the beginning of (or at another point during) each TV/theatrical contract negotiation? Why or why not?
A strike vote is always context-dependent.
• Was the 2007-2008 strike a success? Why or why not? In what ways was it a success or not a success?
Won jurisdiction in new media, which was of the essence. Was costly to our members.
• Did the Guild agree to inappropriate or unnecessary concessions in the 2011 negotiations? What were they?
• Were the 2011 negotiations handled well? Why or why not? In what ways were they handled well or not handled well? How can this be improved, if improvement is needed?
• Every negotiation involves compromise, since both sides have to agree to a deal. However, did the Guild agree to any inappropriate or unnecessary compromises in the 2010 TV/theatrical negotiations? If so, what were they, and why do you believe the compromises were inappropriate or unnecessary?
• Should the WGA strike in the next round of negotiations if the studios are not willing to make significant improvements in various areas or make significant rollbacks? Why or why not? Which areas or rollbacks, if any, are important enough to trigger a strike under those circumstances?
These are hypotheticals. In broad strokes, significant rollbacks must be responded to by the threat of withholding labor.
Relations with/between Members, Producers, Unions and Agents
• How well is the current elected leadership and top staff representing the members and handling the Guild’s affairs? Please explain, and indicate what sorts of improvements or changes are needed, if any.
Increasingly responsive. There’s been a sea change that I’ve seen in the past decade. Still more work to be done – always.
• Have you had any experiences where you needed to call on the WGA for help? Please describe. Feel free to omit company or project names if desired, but if possible please give at least the approximate year or time period and some indication of the type of project.
• In what areas does the WGA currently do a good job in helping members and addressing their concerns? In what areas does the WGA need to improve, and how should it do so?
We need to improve our IT.
• Various matters and decisions are handled jointly by the WGA West and WGA East. Do either of the two unions have too much or too little influence in joint matters and decisions, or is the balance about right? Please explain.
We are two Guilds and one union. Anything we can do to make the structures reflect the common needs of east and west members is salutary.
• What is the state of relations between the WGA West and WGA East? Is improvement necessary and, if so, how can it be achieved?
Better than it’s been in a long time. Always can be improved.
• In what ways, if at all, do the concerns of WGA West members and WGA East members differ?
There’s far more we have in common than not.
• Should the WGA West and WGA East merge? Why or why not?
In the long run, one big union gives us strength. Issues of structure, joint membership standards, cultural distinctions, of course would need to be worked through amicably and equitably.
• A small number of WGA members are fairly wealthy. Does this make WGA politics more contentious or create other difficulties?
• Does the Guild provide any real benefit to the small segment of writers who make a few million dollars per year or more? Why should they care about the Guild? Do they?
The Guild MBA protects all writers, from the entry-level to the successful showrunner. Most of us fully understand this.
• What is the state of relations between TV showrunners and the Guild? What is the state of relations between TV showrunners and other TV writers? TV showrunners hire, fire and manage other TV writers. Does this create tensions within the Guild?
• How can WGA be more responsive to studios and production companies where appropriate, or is no change needed or appropriate here? Why?
We need to listen to their concerns, which are often addressable. The CPSW does a good job of that.
• Should WGA take a confrontational approach to studios and producers or a collaborative one, or some in-between approach? Why?
• How can the Guild improve the professional status of writers, particularly including but not limited to screenwriters?
See CPSW responses, above.
• In theatrical films, should the Guild allow or perhaps require end credits such as “Additional Writing By” for participating writers who did not receive main title credit? Why or why not? If so, should such writers receive residuals? Why or why not?
I think we should move toward a world where screen credits more accurately reflect the reality of who the writers were.
• In what ways, if any, does the Guild need to improve its relationship with agents or help writers in their relationships with agents?
• Does the Guild need to improve relations with the DGA? If so, how can it do so?
Relations wit the DGA can always be improved. We have many common interests and over a thousand common members.
• In what ways, if any, does WGA need to improve its relationship with any of the other entertainment unions and guilds in addition to the DGA?
• WGA (and other entertainment union) participation in voting (elections, strike authorization vote, contract approval) is usually quite low. How can it be increased?
• Should writers who own production entities be allowed to vote on WGA contracts, strike authorization votes or in elections, or serve on the WGA boards?
We shouldn’t exile our writer/producers.
• What major issues not already covered above, if any, face the Guild today? How should these issues be addressed or resolved?
• Is there anything else you'd like voters to know?
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