Dialogue: Patric Verrone & Chris Albers
Working through long-standing differences between their offices, the presidents of the bicoastal Writers Guild of America rally to better serve their members.
WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Chris Albers have formed a surprisingly close relationship since assuming their respective offices in September 2005. Quickly sorting through long-standing and nettlesome disputes related to matters of jurisdiction and dues, the WGA leaders have stressed solidarity as key to future organizing and negotiating efforts. Looking ahead, the WGA's main film and TV contract covering movie writers and most TV scribes expires in October, and though WGA leadership claims to be open to a respectful dialogue with management, there are signs of early tensions in the buildup to those talks. Verrone and Albers spoke recently with The Hollywood Reporter's labor editor Carl DiOrio about various challenges facing the WGA this year.
The Hollywood Reporter: Is there one word that might describe your respective tenures in office to date?
Chris Albers: "Transition." Both of us came to office with plans to transform our guilds, and we've been in the process of doing that the whole time.
Patric Verrone: I think "change" is the word of the last 15 months or so. The industry is changing. Our membership is having to keep up with it. And the industry is having to keep up with us. If you asked me a year ago, I would have said "organizing."
THR: Have you achieved any specific goals you might have set?
Verrone: In the (WGAW), we have the attention of our employers in a way I don't think we did in the past. We, the leadership, have the attention of our membership, and as we prepare for this year, we're integrated with them in ways we hadn't been (previously).
Albers: The main goals we set out were to start focusing on the new technologies that are facing our industry, which we clearly have. As for organizing, I say that organizing (Comedy Central's) "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart" was huge for both of us.
THR: Why has reality television been so hard to organize for the WGA?
Verrone: You've got six conglomerates with very deep pockets and a business model that's designed to make television as quickly and as cheaply as possible. And it's designed to make the writing seem like there isn't any writing. So, we've had to not only activate the individuals doing that writing but also make the companies aware that those people want something that isn't in the business model -- and are entitled to it -- and that the Writers Guild is the entity that should be helping them to get it.
THR: Is the push to organize that area essentially over?
Albers: The push isn't over because it's still a huge portion of the networks' schedules, and the writers working on these shows need to be treated fairly.
THR: You've said in the past that writers, directors and actors desire a voice in decisions involving product integration in film and TV projects. Would you agree there has been little evidence that studios and networks are willing to engage in such a dialogue?
Verrone: They've refused to engage in a dialogue, but there's certainly evidence that we've had success in getting people's attention, including in the European Union and with the advertising industry in this country. We suspect that has had an impact on the industry but not enough so that the companies want to bargain with us on the subject.
THR: What are your chief goals for 2007?
Albers: I think it's more of the same, to be honest. The goals we've mentioned are huge, and we haven't really knocked any of them off the table yet. We've had some good successes, but we have a lot more work to do in all the areas, in keeping track of the new technologies and making sure we are being fairly compensated. And quite honestly, if we were able to pull off both of those tasks, we'd have a full year, and we'd feel pretty good about it looking back. That includes organizing things such as animation, which guild writers are basically responsible for across the board and still aren't sharing in enough of revenue.
Verrone: That remains our chief priority and is perhaps something we can solve in collective bargaining. But above and beyond it, (there also is) making sure all writers in the industry get the benefits that those of us who are lucky enough to work in primetime or on studio features are used to. So, becoming active with some of our sister unions on some of the issues such as media consolidation and media content (also is important).
Albers: Too often, we focus on the entertainment writers, but both of our unions are made up of quite a number of news writers as well. And our members at CBS and ABC have been without a contract for over a year without a raise. News is under attack as it is, and these are the people who are trying to maintain some integrity and report things in a fair way. I would say it's very important to both of us and to all of our entertainment writers that (the news writers) get a contract and are treated fairly as well.
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