Writers brave rain at Sony protest



NEW YORK -- "What to Give, What to Get?" asked a sign in the Sony storefront window at the conglomerate's Madison Avenue headquarters. Some 150 WGA picketers who braved the rain with their own signs outside the building Tuesday had a quick answer: a share of Internet revenues for their work.

The windows bathed a giant inflatable protest pig in red and green holiday lights, along with such protesters as "Crash" writer/director Paul Haggis, who said he's now developing a stealth viral internet campaign for the strike but declined to give details. "The CEO of Netflix told me 'Crash' is the No. 1 rental on their site," he said. "I checked with the WGA and found I got only $88,000 from all video sources. I might have made more, but it would cost $200,000 to audit to find out. I haven't made money from any other projects on DVD or online."

Sony headquarters were just the latest stop for strikers, prompted in part by a comment distributed on their flyers, stating that "in 10 years, half of Sony's revenue could come from digital." Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton's talk at a Milken Institute Global Conference in April was cited as the source. "Sony is one of the giants making billions and billions," WGA East president Michael Winship. "All we're asking for is $200 million or less over three years, and that includes raises." A Sony rep declined comment.

"Sony has a lot of terrific executives like Amy (Pascal) and Michael (Lynton)," added Haggis, "but I think the producers and distributors are going to split up sides on this. They don't have the same long-term interests."

Haggis, like others, expressed some hope for planned negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture & Television Producers scheduled for Monday, but said "it's difficult negotiating with someone who says you can have zero."

The picket line was filled with top Hollywood screenwriters, several of them clustered together and trading jokes. "Did you hear Tom Fontana's proposal?" asked writer/director Richard LaGravenese ("P.S., I Love You"). "If they stop giving us notes, they can have Internet." His audience was his "Beloved" screenwriting partner Adam Brooks, writer/director Peter Hedges ("Dan in Real Life") and scribe Rafael Yglesias ("Fearless"), who added, "It's a very dangerous thing when writers stop writing. It's hard to get them to start again."

Amidst chants of "We're wet, we're cold, but we ain't gonna fold," others took a more serious tone. "The press coverage has been good, but one thing that hasn't been reported is that 1,500 WGA writers didn't make the $30,000 they need to keep their health coverage," said "August Rush" co-screenwriter James Hart. "This is what we're fighting for."

Several actors joined the writers, including Robert Klein, Chris Elliott and "Saturday Night Live" star Seth Meyers, who a spokesperson said hasn't missed a day on the picket lines. "Between this and the stagehands strike, you can just feel a deadness in this town," said Dean Winters, who joined his brother (and former "Oz" colleague) Brad Winters in the line.

Julianna Margulies, on hiatus from her Fox series "Canterbury's Law" due to the strike, said the outcome of negotiations will have a big impact on the potential Screen Actors Guild strike next summer. "One reason I'm here is that I'm hoping they'll come out for us when we're on strike," she said.