Friday, 26 February 2010

Hollywood Babble On & On #462: Will the Unions Unite

Welcome to the show folks...

The lovely and fragrant folks at The Wrap made an interesting point today. It seems that the four major union contracts between the AMPTP which reps the studios and the actors/on air talent (SAG/AFTRA), Directors (DGA), and the Writers (WGA) will all be coming due at around the same time in the Summer of 2011. The WGA's contract will be coming up first, but the others will be wrapping up within a month, on the same day.

The time to prepare is now.

Actually, the time to start preparing was exactly 5 minutes after signing the last contract, but folks in Hollywood tend to only freak out about deadlines when time's almost up.

So I guess it's more accurate to say that the time to freak out is now.

But at least something can be done in time to get ready.

And what should be done?

One word: UNITY.

For decades the studios were able to have their way for the most part with the unions because the unions almost never form a united front. There were almost always divisions both between and within the major unions. This meant that the studios could always sacrifice a little by making nice with one, while putting the screws to another.

Now I know that most folks in Hollywood are of the high strung variety, and they love their melodrama, but letting the studios play divide and conquer is taking money out of their pockets. If they are going to have a chance of getting remotely ahead, they have to stand as a united front. The studios can't make movies and TV shows without them, and maybe, just maybe they can bring about some serious change in how Hollywood is run, which is poorly.

Which brings me back to my old standby when discussing union strategy, my good buddy Sun Tzu, and his
Art of War, the definitive tome about getting things done.

His first piece of advice is to:


I can't tell the union leaderships much about themselves, but watching the moguls in action, I think I've come to understand them. The most common comparison is with the shark, but that is not the case. Yes sharks consume everything they can, but unlike executives they rely on constant forward motion, or in human terms actual achievement, to survive.

Studio CEOs are very different creatures. Once they reach the corner office with the private luxury bathroom, and the mistress on standby, the average Studio CEO enters a state of cozy lethargy, preferring to have things brought to them, but raise hell if someone dares to interfere with their comforts.

Does that sound familiar?

The CEOs want people to think of Jaws when they're discussed, when they are actually more like Garfield. Sure they'll pounce on the occasional mouse, because it justifies their existence to their masters (parent companies) and also gives them something to play with and eventually snack on.

This is actually an opportunity for the unions.


Because the methods of these fat-cats are starting to affect the bottom line of their masters, the parent companies, and investors. They let them run free when the economy was good and they could use their financial shenanigans for some clever tax avoidance. However times have changed, the economy is a lot tougher, and these same investors are watching billions coming in at the box office, and from TV and those same billions vanishing into the accounting ether once the CEOs are through with them.

If the unions are smart, they can do an end run around the CEOs, and right to the investors. Tell them: "Look, we wanna make money, you wanna make money. Where is all our money going?"

It might not work, but it could scare the living piss out of the CEOs.

Which brings us to the next lesson from our favourite ancient Chinese military philosopher.


1. THE MORAL LAW The Union leaders, and the Rank & File must ask themselves just how much do they believe in the rightness of their cause. Is it worth the sacrifice, the toil, and maybe even their very careers, and will they stand by each other no matter what happens? If they answer yes, then it's time to fight.

2. HEAVEN This is all about the conditions you will be under during negotiations and any possible labor action. This is in three dimensions:
  • Physical/Ecological- Covers everything from the physical health of members, to the conditions they will be toiling under during a labor dispute. Basically, are they in good enough shape to handle a picket line in the middle of a SoCal summer?
  • Psychological/Emotional- The unionists must be psychologically ready to face stress and relative hardship. Morale must be kept up if victory is to be achieved.
  • Financial- A war chest, and a really big one is essential. The unions don't have big parent conglomerates to look over them, and need to be ready if they are going to win.
3. EARTH This is about logistics, and logistics are all about getting things done. I'm talking about organizing the very real ways to handle the three dimensions of heaven that I just talked about. This could mean everything from paying bills, to organizing potty breaks for picketers. The devil is in the details, and if you don't have him ironed out, he's going to bite you on the backside.

4. THE COMMANDER Who is going to be ultimately in charge of this united union effort? Too many union leaders either turn into doormats for the AMPTP, or think they're the reincarnation of Leon Trotsky ready to man the barricades, raise the red flag, and break wind in the palaces of the mighty. Either way is a recipe for disaster. Well, sometimes you need an Eisenhower. Someone pragmatic, organized, with the ability to diplomatically soothe over stung egos, not get carried away with his own ego, but still be ruthless enough to make hard decisions and fight where they can.

5. METHOD & DISCIPLINE Unions must ask themselves: How will we achieve our objectives? and Are we disciplined enough to see things through? This means knowing what you want, making sure they are within the realms of reality, and then everyone knowing their jobs, and how they can get the job done.

I hope someone finds this advice helpful.

1 comment:

  1. Considering how corrupt the studios are and how politically corrupt the unions are, watching this is like watching one of those "black widow vs giant army ant" videos. You don't really care who wins, just hope it goes on a while and there lots of action.