WGA's Bowman: Producers walked out "in a bit of a huff." | EW.com

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WGA's Bowman: Producers walked out "in a bit of a huff."

Bowman_l

Bowman_l After talks between the Writers Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers broke off Friday evening, Hollywood Insider got an update from WGA negotiating committee chair John Bowman (pictured). (Insider also requested an interview with the AMPTP and hopes to receive a reply soon.)

HOLLYWOOD INSIDER: We’ve been following this of course, but can you describe in your own words how talks have been going since Thanksgiving?

BOWMAN: Well, they broke off talks with us tonight [Friday]. We were preparing a counter proposal to what they had proposed to us earlier in the day, and they got up and left the hotel before we could deliver it to them… they left in a bit of a huff.

So what are you going to do now? Complete the counter-proposal and try to get it to them?

Yeah. What they’re doing is they have this sort of bargaining history with us. They always give ultimatums. They say if you won’t do this we won’t talk to you anymore. Like the night before we went on strike [Nov. 4] they said, “Before you take DVDs off the table, we won’t give you an Internet proposal.” And we took DVDs off the table and they didn’t give us one. Now they say unless you take six things off the table – like reality jurisdiction, animation, and then something we have in [place] to make sure they actually aren’t hiding money in these vertically integrated companies – so once again they said if you don’t do this we won’t talk to you anymore, and you can only do that to us once. These people manipulate and they try to trick you. They do everything but negotiate. And we actually had a very good week before [Friday] where we were actually talking to each other about the issues.

Did you feel like you were closer to hashing out new media?

Yeah, I honestly did. I thought we were actually talking to each other about things that mattered to us, and I thought we were sort of circling areas we could actually figure out a deal. And then they just got up and left the table, so it was actually quite a shock to me.

Do you think this will lead to a return to back-channel negotiating?

Yeah, I guess that’s all we have left, isn’t it. There’s going to have to be some back channeling now. The AMPTP is a difficult group to negotiate with because it’s seven big conglomerates who actually don’t agree on a lot of things and there’s a lot of internal dissension. It’s hard for them to come to an agreement and actually discuss things with us.

I understand they hired a PR team.

Yeah, Chris Lehane from the [Al] Gore campaign. Well, the whole week seemed like a drum roll towards Chris Lehane’s first PR announcement on behalf of the AMPTP, because honestly, five seconds after they told us they were leaving, Chris Lehane had a press release up on their website. So, unfortunately for them, it’s become more about public relations and less about actually sitting down and negotiating with us.

When new media finally does get settled, what issues are going to be the next sticking points? Reality TV?

We both have a lot of items on the table and some of them are very important to us, some of them aren’t. No negotiator would say if you do this, I’ll do that – publicly. I’ll say it privately to them. I’d like them to sit down and talk with us privately. I think we might be able to get things moving forward…. Both sides have a lot of things on the table. Saying that if unless you move this, we won’t talk to you anymore, it sort of belies the actual point of negotiations. The point of negotiation is you do have things on the table that the other side doesn’t like and you trade them. They want to take all of our bargaining chips and they’ll leave all of theirs on the table and then they’ll try to grind us down. They’re not being very reasonable right now.

On Friday, the WGA sent a letter out to members, which addressed some of the rumors out there, one of which was that one or more of the companies is prepared to throw away the spring and fall TV season and prolong the strike.

The odd thing about this negotiation is that the AMPTP follows an almost predictable strategy and we had a strong sense this week that they were going to break off negotiations no matter what we did. Their whole game, since I’ve started this negotiation with them, is that they bully you, they try to scare you, they try to intimidate you, they do everything but try to negotiate. They plant rumors. You know, I have 20 showrunners a day and 20 A-listers a day calling me with rumors they’ve heard from their agents or managers that have been planted by the AMPTP. So I have to manage all of these people. They will do everything but negotiate. They try to divide and conquer; that’s sort of the negotiating strategy.

Did you see their response to the letter shortly after? It was an email pointing out factual mistakes in the WGA letter.

I looked at it briefly; it didn’t really get into much detail about what they thought the mistakes were.

From what you’re hearing, is the strike actually crippling the TV industry?

It’s not helping it. Writers are a necessary part of the process, and we haven’t been treated with much respect, I would have to say, during this negotiation. If they’re going to attempt to put a season on without scripted content, well, let’s see what happens. I don’t think it’s going to end up well for them.

Does the WGA think any parts of the producers’ counter-offer on Friday were reasonable?

I think they might publish it on their website; you can sort of look at it. I mean, it certainly was less movement than I would have liked, but nevertheless, it was enough for us – we wanted to stay there and counter and keep talking.

What are the people who are calling you saying?

Honestly, everybody wants this to get resolved as quickly as possible, and we do too. But everybody else says, If you don’t get a good deal here, I will kill you.

They don’t want it to be for nothing at this point.

Right. Everybody’s been out for a while and they’ve fought and they’ve struggled and they know this is a negotiation of a generation. I mean, every 20 years a new media form comes up, which you have to fight for. And the Writer’s Guild has been the guild that usually fights the hardest for what they want.

I also understand there’s a strike fund.

Yes, we have a strike fund where members who are suffering can come to us and partition us for help.

Is there any sense of when the DGA is going to begin negotiations with the AMPTP? There’s been a lot of speculation about that.

Yeah, it’s hard to say. The DGA can’t deliver us and they can’t deliver SAG. And we and SAG are pretty united on this. There’s no point in them entering into negotiations early if their plan is to undercut us, and I don’t think they would.

If they did, do you think that would undermine the WGA negotiations?

No. It would create a horribly tense situation with the DGA and us and SAG. I know that they don’t want to do that, and I don’t know why they would – they don’t have to. They care about the Internet as much as we do. They want jurisdiction on the Internet. Their TV directors want to make sure their streaming proposal is strong, and their film directors want to make sure their electronic sell through is strong. So all three guilds are fairly united here.

Is there somebody on the AMPTP’s negotiating committee who you think will be the white knight in the end?

It’s hard for me to say; I’m not privy to their internal discussion. I mean, I would hope somebody would step up at some point.

I guess that’s part of the back channeling.

Yes, I guess now that they’ve formally broken off negotiations, they’ll probably send some people to talk to us internally.

Has the mediator been of any help?

Oh sure, I think it does help to have a mediator there. But it’s difficult. The AMPTP has never negotiated with a guild quite as united as we are, and the guild that’s willing to strike and the guild that is willing to sit it out for as long as possible to get a good deal, so it’s a different ballgame, I would say.

Do you foresee this going into the New Year?

It’s hard for me to say; it’s up to them. We could’ve gotten this done in two days if they’d come in wheeling and dealing, and they’re not.

Do you think this will lead to a return to back-channel negotiating?

Yeah, I guess that’s all we have left, isn’t it. There’s going to have to be some back channeling now. The AMPTP is a difficult group to negotiate with because it’s seven big conglomerates who actually don’t agree on a lot of things and there’s a lot of internal dissension. It’s hard for them to come to an agreement and actually discuss things with us.

I understand they hired a PR team.

Yeah, Chris Lehane from the [Al] Gore campaign. Well, the whole week seemed like a drum roll towards Chris Lehane’s first PR announcement on behalf of the AMPTP, because honestly, five seconds after they told us they were leaving, Chris Lehane had a press release up on their website. So, unfortunately for them, it’s become more about public relations and less about actually sitting down and negotiating with us.

When new media finally does get settled, what issues are going to be the next sticking points? Reality TV?

We both have a lot of items on the table and some of them are very important to us, some of them aren’t. No negotiator would say if you do this, I’ll do that – publicly. I’ll say it privately to them. I’d like them to sit down and talk with us privately. I think we might be able to get things moving forward…. Both sides have a lot of things on the table. Saying that if unless you move this, we won’t talk to you anymore, it sort of belies the actual point of negotiations. The point of negotiation is you do have things on the table that the other side doesn’t like and you trade them. They want to take all of our bargaining chips and they’ll leave all of theirs on the table and then they’ll try to grind us down. They’re not being very reasonable right now.

On Friday, the WGA sent a letter out to members, which addressed some of the rumors out there, one of which was that one or more of the companies is prepared to throw away the spring and fall TV season and prolong the strike.

The odd thing about this negotiation is that the AMPTP follows an almost predictable strategy and we had a strong sense this week that they were going to break off negotiations no matter what we did. Their whole game, since I’ve started this negotiation with them, is that they bully you, they try to scare you, they try to intimidate you, they do everything but try to negotiate. They plant rumors. You know, I have 20 showrunners a day and 20 A-listers a day calling me with rumors they’ve heard from their agents or managers that have been planted by the AMPTP. So I have to manage all of these people. They will do everything but negotiate. They try to divide and conquer; that’s sort of the negotiating strategy.

Did you see their response to the letter shortly after? It was an email pointing out factual mistakes in the WGA letter.

I looked at it briefly; it didn’t really get into much detail about what they thought the mistakes were.

From what you’re hearing, is the strike actually crippling the TV industry?

It’s not helping it. Writers are a necessary part of the process, and we haven’t been treated with much respect, I would have to say, during this negotiation. If they’re going to attempt to put a season on without scripted content, well, let’s see what happens. I don’t think it’s going to end up well for them.

Does the WGA think any parts of the producers’ counter-offer on Friday were reasonable?

I think they might publish it on their website; you can sort of look at it. I mean, it certainly was less movement than I would have liked, but nevertheless, it was enough for us – we wanted to stay there and counter and keep talking.

What are the people who are calling you saying?

Honestly, everybody wants this to get resolved as quickly as possible, and we do too. But everybody else says, If you don’t get a good deal here, I will kill you.

They don’t want it to be for nothing at this point.

Right. Everybody’s been out for a while and they’ve fought and they’ve struggled and they know this is a negotiation of a generation. I mean, every 20 years a new media form comes up, which you have to fight for. And the Writer’s Guild has been the guild that usually fights the hardest for what they want.

I also understand there’s a strike fund.

Yes, we have a strike fund where members who are suffering can come to us and partition us for help.

Is there any sense of when the DGA is going to begin negotiations with the AMPTP? There’s been a lot of speculation about that.

Yeah, it’s hard to say. The DGA can’t deliver us and they can’t deliver SAG. And we and SAG are pretty united on this. There’s no point in them entering into negotiations early if their plan is to undercut us, and I don’t think they would.

If they did, do you think that would undermine the WGA negotiations?

No. It would create a horribly tense situation with the DGA and us and SAG. I know that they don’t want to do that, and I don’t know why they would – they don’t have to. They care about the Internet as much as we do. They want jurisdiction on the Internet. Their TV directors want to make sure their streaming proposal is strong, and their film directors want to make sure their electronic sell through is strong. So all three guilds are fairly united here.

Is there somebody on the AMPTP’s negotiating committee who you think will be the white knight in the end?

It’s hard for me to say; I’m not privy to their internal discussion. I mean, I would hope somebody would step up at some point.

I guess that’s part of the back channeling.

Yes, I guess now that they’ve formally broken off negotiations, they’ll probably send some people to talk to us internally.

Has the mediator been of any help?

Oh sure, I think it does help to have a mediator there. But it’s difficult. The AMPTP has never negotiated with a guild quite as united as we are, and the guild that’s willing to strike and the guild that is willing to sit it out for as long as possible to get a good deal, so it’s a different ballgame, I would say.

Do you foresee this going into the New Year?

It’s hard for me to say; it’s up to them. We could’ve gotten this done in two days if they’d come in wheeling and dealing, and they’re not.