WGA officials fend off the hoard

Says stockpiling doesn't work, isn't occurring anyway

Stockpiling schmockpiling.

That's the effective sentiment of a communique from WGA leadership circulated to guild membership Monday.

In a "Message From the President" e-mail signed by WGA West president Patric Verrone and WGA East president Chris Albers, the guild leaders argue that historical evidence shows that studio stockpiling of film and TV materials does little to forestall the prospect of a labor strike. And besides, there's no real stockpiling going on yet, they added.

"Our research department has carefully analyzed employment and production data from 2001," the letter said, referring to the last time studios claimed to stockpile material to undermine the WGA in the run-up to contract negotiations. "It shows that production was ramped up in the months before the contract expiration date and that there was a slight slowdown in the months after the contract was settled," the presidents added. "However, in spite of the different timing of production, the overall economic impact was negligible. In fact, 2001 showed an increase in writer earnings from the year before."

This time, talks are expected to commence in July about a new film and TV contract for movie and primetime scribes, whose pact contract expires in October. Although there has been scant evidence of a dramatic stockpiling of movie scripts, there has been talk of producers lining up talent for shooting extra episodes of hit TV shows to put into the can in case a writers strike erupts during the new fall season (HR 2/15).

A WGA rep also pooh-poohed the effect of such activity when a regional economic group said last month that evidence of stockpiling and other "de facto strike" conditions likely were to hurt the local economy during the next year (HR 2/15).

"What we've seen in the past is that in the two quarters prior to contract expiration, there has been a jump in employment followed by a small decrease in employment in the following two quarters," WGA spokesman Gabriel Scott said at the time of the report by the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. "But what we end up seeing is that it's still a net gain as the increase in the two quarters prior to the expiration date is larger than the subsequent decrease" (HR 2/21).

In the latest membership missive, Verrone and Albers also contend that costs associated with stockpiling tends to limit its being implemented.

"The fact is that it is rarely effective to bank unproduced TV scripts because the staff of writers will be needed to rewrite them during production (and) there is a high cost to speeding up production of the episodes themselves," the presidents wrote.

"Accordingly, TV stockpiling is rarely cost-effective and often physically impossible," they added. "This may be why we are hearing from our members that stockpiling is not occurring."

The guild leaders also noted that they remain hopeful about the upcoming contract talks with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. "If our employers are as serious as we are about making a reasonable deal that protects our legitimate interests and provides fair compensation for the talent community, they will have no need to stockpile, for there will be no need for a strike," they wrote.

Still, many industryites suggest that the next round of talks with the WGA and, in 2008, the DGA and SAG are likely to prove difficult. One of the more nettlesome issues likely is to be the question of how to compensate talent for material repurposed over the Internet, they said.

WGA execs declined comment on the presidents' message. A representative of the AMPTP also declined comment.