For someone in the midst of negotiations that will decide the financial future of 12,000 people, David N. Weiss is surprisingly upbeat.
A break in those negotiations might have come last night as the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers presented a sweetened contract offer to striking film and TV writers. The offer would deliver more than $130 million in additional compensation to the writers, the producers said in a statement.
The $130 million sum appeared to be an annual figure, but it wasn't clear from the brief statement whether it was per year or over the life of a proposed new three-year agreement.
Negotiators requested a four-day recess to consider it, meaning the talks will resume Tuesday, the statement said.
There was no immediate comment from the Writers Guild of America.
On Wednesday, Weiss, the vice president of the Writers Guild of America West, was in Baltimore to speak to the Jewish community at the Etz Chaim Center before heading back to Hollywood for further talks.
Weiss, 48, was co-writer of Shrek 2 and the Oscar-nominated Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius and received an Emmy nomination as one of the head writers of the Rugrats series. He was elected vice president of the WGA West in 2005 and has been a member of the negotiating committee since the strike began. He talked about the strike and bargaining issues such as DVD and Internet residuals in an interview before his Etz Chaim appearance.
What is being focused on at the negotiating table right now?
The item that remains is the Internet and streaming [videos]. We're debating what the formula will be. Studios are acknowledging that they have to pay us something. ... The bigger issue that has galvanized people is the claim that writers shouldn't be paid any more than what we negotiate for individually. So executives could create something for the Internet, migrate it to television and then claim that [the writer] doesn't get anything for it. It's pretty nefarious.
Has this strike illuminated anything apart from Hollywood?
This strike and the [Broadway stagehands'] strike in New York are waking up America to a reality that most of middle America has been feeling already: the reality that it's hard to get health care and a pension and to find job security. While there are some superstar writers, most of the rank-and-file are just getting by.
What's the range in screenwriter salaries?
The ridiculously high average salary of $200,000 has been quoted by studios. They make it out as if writers make it when they start their career up until the time they retire. The reality is that our members don't start earning much money until the age of 35. That's the power-earning time, from age 35 to 55. But when writers turn 55, that's when you start having class action lawsuits because [writers] can't find work anymore. The assumption is that these writers are somehow out of touch.
Carson Daly has gone back to filming episodes of his late-night talk show to prevent the layoffs of non-Guild employees. How do you feel about it?
The Guild has issued a statement that was kinder than I feel about it. Anyone that knows about labor won't dispute that if the WGA is able to crack a deal that sets up future payments for streaming Internet [videos], that deal will be a template for all the other unions. If we lose this strike, and Carson Daly even begins to dream that he's somehow going to help his members when that happens, they're screwed. I have a problem with Carson Daly apparently asking for nonunion writers to help him write jokes - that's strikebreaking.
It has been predicted that the 2008-2009 TV season will be flooded with reality shows. How do you feel about that?
I feel sad for the American public. I don't think they are looking forward to it, and I don't think the studios are either. A couple reality companies are probably giddy about it in the same way at the end of a battle in the Middle Ages, the peasants left to run across the field and grab up gold teeth and anything else they could find.
It was reported last week that the projected losses in production spending on some shows reached more than $20 million a day. Do you think ending the strike will help spare Hollywood from a huge financial blow?
I've heard that if the strike went as long as it did in 1988, that in today's numbers, [it] could cost upwards of $1 [billion] to $3 billion in losses. It's sad that there is a trickle-down effect, but the public has been overwhelmingly supportive of the WGA. It doesn't surprise anyone that huge corporations would allow communities to suffer. The notion that writers set out and somehow caused devastation to the economy? It's absurd.