Friday, November 30, 2007

Screening Season

What I like best about this time of year in Los Angeles is that it is screening time again--that time leading up to Academy Award and Guild nominations for work in film. It's sometimes the only benefit to Guild membership, if you haven't worked enough for health coverage during the year.

Last night we went over to the TV Academy for a WGA screening of I Am Legend starring Will Smith. Based on Richard Matheson's book of the same name, Smith plays a military researcher isolated in New York City after a cancer cure goes terribly wrong. For much of the film, Smith is the only actor on screen. He is utterly compelling. There are some interesting details in the sets which really tickled my fancy. I realized Smith's wall's held some acquisitions from MOMA when I noticed that Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy was life size and the painting next to it was in the frame I know from that museum. I would no doubt do the same thing under the same circumstances, but my first choice would be Tchelitchew's Hide and Seek.

My sister was an extra in some crowd scenes, but we couldn't pick her out. It looked every bit as cold as she described the experience.

Because it was a WGA screening, there was lots of conversation about the strike in the waiting line. No one indicated they were willing to go back to a bad contract. When we drove over, the radio reported that the producers had made an new offer, but it sounds like they still haven't taken the WGA strike seriously. A flat $250 for downloading an episode of TV forever? Not in this lifetime.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Seditious Libel

The Founding Fathers had the John Peter Zenger case to look to when establishing the First Amendment to protect speech (or writing) which is critical of the government. The case stands for the principal that the truth is an absolute defense to libel and the First Amendment goes further to protect unpopular opinion as well. In England, the truth is not an absolute defense because expression of facts which challenge the the omnipotence of the throne is subject to prosecution. In theory, our Constitution protects us from that kind of threat. At least it did until the Bush Administration started messing with us.

Last night, Keith Olbermann reported that firemen are being trained to go into places and seek out books and other documents that might indicate that the residents are somehow "not happy" with the Bush administration. Apparently such "not happy" people "might" be terrorists and under our new system of draconian laws can be dragged off for prosecution for impure thoughts. Since firemen don't need warrants to go into places police would, this is a big aid for the Bush police state.

Let me make it easy on any of the illegal wiretapping and electronic snooping this service might be subjected to:

1. I am a lawyer. I believe in the rule of law.
2. I think the U.S. Constitution is one of the greatest documents ever crafted and a carry a copy of it and the Declaration of Independence with me at all times.
3. I believe that the administration of George W. Bush and the fascists who surround him are the most dangerous threat that our way of life has faced since we defeated the Germans and Japanese in World War II.
4. I believe the Congress has shirked its duty to balance the excesses of the rule of the pretender and do everything in its power to stop the threat to our people.
5. I know that the oath which every Federal employee takes requires them to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and I believe that the pretender, his own personal Darth Vader, and the sycophants who surround them have violated that oath virtually from their first day in office.
6. I am extremely unhappy with the government and I count down the days until it will be no more on January 20, 2009. It can't happen soon enough.

So now there is absolutely no reason to come and toss my house looking for incriminating evidence against me. The only question I have is how can the Bushies expect to imprison a country where more than 70% of the population is against them? I guess they'll be taking a page from George III's grandfather who collaborated with the fascists and try to round us all up. Anyone who thinks Rudy Giuliani will be better needs a shink--that man got art exhibits closed down because they offended him and tried to stay in office after his term had ended under the pretext of the threat of more terrorist attacks. Yeah, that's democracy in action.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Two Kinds of Jeopardy!

Last night, we went to the Arc-light for a WGA screening of Eastern Promises, the fantastic thriller starring Viggo Mortensen. Writer Steven Knight was present for a Q&A, which was quite enlightening. Several members of the audience expressed a desire for a sequel but I would say please don't. There's really only two possible ways a sequel could end, and neither one of them would be happy. The story, acting, and directing was absolutely perfect and I don't need too much information; ambiguous is better. Despite the three incidents of graphic violence (which I could see coming and ducked for Len's arm-pit), one which included glimpses of Viggo's naughty bits (which I missed because of burying my head in Len's arm-pit), I whole-heartedly recommend this film.

When we got home, we turned to the Tivo-light recordings of Monday's Jeopardy! Len fast-forwarded through the contestant introductions and left the room. I looked up and thought, gee, that first contestant looks like someone at Gillian's party on Sunday. And, oh, she's got the same first name.

Then Len came back into the room and the woman answered a question and he said "gee, that looks like Lisa Klink." I said "that's what I thought." He said "wait just a minute" and backed up the recording to the beginning. Indeed, it was television writer Lisa Klink, who won on both Monday and Tuesday, despite missing the Final Jeopardy! question on Monday and at least one Double Jeopardy! question to which both I spent yelling at the TV the correct answers. Why is it that people never hear the answers when you shout them at the TV?

She shouldn't feel too bad. Len didn't know the answer to Final Jeopardy! was Katherine of Aragon either, which I recognized instantly. I always feel smug when none of the contestants gets Final Jeopardy! and I do.

I am still so annoyed that I didn't get on Jeopardy! after I made the call list two years ago because I had a friend working on Spider-man 3. I was happy that Becky had a job editing visual effects, but her tenuous connection to Sony disqualified me. Unfortunately, her job didn't end until my qualifying period was pretty much up. I'll have to test again when the opportunity arises.a

So I hope that Lisa continues her winning streak, which was probably shot months ago. Jeopardy! is one of the game shows which actually has WGA writers on it, so they probably aren't shooting right now.

Monday, November 26, 2007

In Recovery

We had another successful Thanksgiving feast on Thursday. It was a small crowd of a mere 10 people and everyone pitched in to help. We did all of the traditional stuff, including turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole (using Alton Brown's recipe from scratch, although I did burn the onions and we had to make a run to the grocery store to buy the canned fried onions), corn, butternut squash (with blue cheese and pecans, again from the Food Network website) and pumpkin and apple pie. I had a major panic when I discovered I had thrown out my old pastry cloth and not replaced it, since that's the easiest way to roll out pie crust. I managed with waxed paper, but I did go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond to replace the necessary cloth and rolling pin cover on Saturday.

Len makes the stuffing, but that's really his only contribution in the kitchen. With the exception of some donations from guests (Gillian Horvath made a great oyster pie and I couldn't have gotten dinner on the table without her help in the kitchen), I cook the rest. It's a very long day on my feet and Len did not follow through with my request for kitchen mats to ease the pain in my back.

After Harlan and Susan Ellison left, the remaining guests helped pack up the food and stack dishes and I spent the next three days cleaning up and then cooking a huge pot of turkey posole to take to a party on Sunday (thus messing up the kitchen again.)

The posole recipe was from Rachael Ray's suggestions for left-overs at Thanksgiving, and it was a huge success with the other guests at Gillian Horvath's party. I had eaten posole, a traditional New Mexican stew, at a place called "The Shed" on the square in Santa Fe. What's not to like about something with that much corn (in the form of hominy)? I realized I had never cooked with fresh jalapeno peppers before and I certainly had never had tomitillos in the kitchen before either. Tomitillos look like green tomatoes, once you pull off the papery outer wrap they have and taste a bit like green pepper squirted with lemon or lime when they are raw. I've had them in a mild sauce on the wonderful fresh and green corn tamales made by Corn Maiden here in L.A. (a must-stop-by at any of the bigger farmers' markets around town) and in this dish they were chopped in the food-processor before being added to the soup. The recipe is available on the Food Network website here, and it tastes just wonderful when finished with a squeeze of lime and some tortilla chips. I've got the leftover posole in my fridge and that's going to be lunch this week.

I started to make the house look like Christmas by laying out a red tablecloth and putting flowers in a vase of Lenox's Holiday pattern, flanked by a matching tea pot and candy dish. Then I replaced the every day white Corelle dishes with Holiday pieces on the open shelves in the kitchen. It's a pretty holly pattern and matching pieces are on my Christmas list.

We won't get a tree for a few more weeks because we hold our Christmas party on Twelfth Night and we like the tree to look decent on the first weekend in January. I think we're doing our party on January 5 this year, which is actually the right night to hold it. I've even found a fine way to make King's Cake (the same thing that's served during Mardi Gras), so this will be the first time I've made one for the party (if I get around to it.)

I did not indulge in the shopping frenzy on Friday, where stores opened as early as 4 a.m. There's nothing I want that much and I sure have no love for dealing with traffic at the malls. My son, however, did go to Best Buy at 5 a.m. but came home empty handed. He couldn't bring himself to stand in a line that snaked entirely around the store.

I did do a quick drop by Macy's on Saturday to pick up the afore mentioned Holiday vase, because I got $10 off the price which was already half of list. I think that brought the price down to about 30% of the original price. I do like bargains, but not at the cost of sleep.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Strike, Week 3

I got an e-mail this morning from the president of IATSE Local 600, the camera guild of which I am a dues-paying member. This one irritated me as much as the one from Tom Short did during the first days of the strike (Tom Short heads all of IATSE.)

As I may have written before, the below-the-line unions which are part of IATSE get residuals which are applied to fund the unions' pension and health plans. Many of the members of those unions aren't aware of this and I don't think that the leadership has done a particularly good job of getting that information out to the membership. So now I've gotten two e-mail telling members not to honor the WGA strike and basically telling the WGA to get back to the bargaining table because the strike is bad for all of these other people.

Yes, strikes are bad for people, but the willingness to say "NO" to a bad deal is something that benefits everyone. Being part of a union should be about making it easier to say "NO" to a bad deal. It's really hard to say "NO" when you are an individual who knows that someone will undercut you and say yes to that bad deal, thus harming you and their own long-term prospects. I said "NO" a lot when I worked as a freelance photographer. Most of the time, I was lucky enough to get the better deal when I said it. A few times, I got stabbed in the back by other photographers. Their loss, not mine, because they had to work with the kind of clients you always regret accommodating.

I would have a lot more respect for Tom Short and the President of Local 600 if the letters had pointed out that there is a no-strike clause in the contracts, so if you are working you are required to continue to work but, if you aren't working, it is important to show support to the WGA by assisting them on the picket lines because the WGA issues are IATSE member issues.

Instead, the President of Local 600 suggests that Tom Short's pressure is sending the WGA back to the bargaining table. What crap. The WGA didn't leave the bargaining table, AMPTP did. It seems to me that the show of solidarity among WGA members and the members of SAG and other unions which have joined in the strike activities, along with the amazing support of the public, is what is forcing AMPTP back to the bargaining table after they insisted nothing would be done until after the New Year. The Internet has been great at getting the news out and gives the WGA a way to respond to lies and exaggerations which are reported by the news media under the control of the heads of the Big Six.

When the stage hands (an IATSE union) went on strike in New York, the WGA immediately sent a letter of support. Too bad the heads of IATSE didn't take a clue.

My Thanksgiving wish is for a quick resolution of the strike, but not one that requires agreeing to a bad deal.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving Preparation

Well, it has now been a year since the work started on my kitchen and I still don't have doors on the unit that houses the sink. July was the last time I saw our carpenter, and the old dishwasher sits face-down in what is supposed to be my kitchen garden. I have a new selection of herbs to plant to replace the ones that died from the heat when I couldn't get them into the ground. Here's hoping I can get it done this weekend. I did go out this morning before work to start some of the clean-up. If only it didn't get dark so darned early.

We're waiting to hear whether our friend Jack Dann is showing up to stay at our house this weekend and if we've convinced him to stick around a few extra days for Thanksgiving before heading back to Australia. Jack is always a welcomed guest. At the moment we think we've got a dozen people for Thanksgiving itself, which is a small crowd for us (we've had twice that in the past.) There's still plenty of time for that number to expand, as we've often learned in the past.

This weekend, we'll go out and pick up our turkey and I'll make pie crusts. I took the afternoon before Thanksgiving off last year, but I decided I didn't need to do that again this year. Having two ovens means I really do have the ability to bake my pies during the day on Thursday. I was inspired by Alton Brown last week when he made the green bean casserole entirely from scratch and I pulled down the recipe to try it myself. I hate the version with canned beans although the one with frozen beans is edible.

Our appetizers are being taken care of by a friend who will bring them in. Len's big contribution is his stuffing. Susan Ellison will bring a pumpkin bread. I get to do pretty much everything else, which I don't really mind. I just wish I liked Thanksgiving food more. It's just not Italian.

Calvin Trillin did a wonderful article about why pasta carbonara should be the national dish at Thanksgiving. It had to do with Thanksgiving being about home comfort food and that it was always served at his family's Thanksgiving table. I have vague recollections of similar Italian foods at Thanksgiving when my grandmother was alive, but there was always a turkey as well. The Trillin article was frequently reprinted. I think that article also made reference to Brits putting brussels sprouts on the stove to cook for 400 years, by way of reference to terrible British cooking versus wonderful Italian cooking.

I get to use my good china and silver at Thanksgiving and the table looks very pretty. Len grumps and says that before I came along, he was happy when he had enough superhero glasses to go around. I probably wouldn't get so pissed about his attitude it if he didn't highly complement other people who pull out the good dishes and fuss and decorate at various holidays.

Len has promised me that he will get the wall of comic books out of the living room this weekend instead of waiting until the last minute. We've also got to go to storage to get out the folding tables. Dinner for a crowd means that the couches go out on the patio to make way for tables and chairs in the living room. Last year (or the year before), I bought a dozen incredibly comfortable folding chairs with high backs at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It took me quite a while to save up enough 20% off coupons to pull the purchase off, but I did it.

Len promised me a new dining room table for my birthday, but that hasn't happened yet. I actually found a table I like on-line. It is a 48" round table that can seat a whole lot of people when it opens up with 12" leaves. I think it can take 12 or 14 of them. Right now, I use four 6' folding tables and one 5' folding table to do the same thing. The table comes in oak or cherry and I've always been partial to cherry. It has a pedestal which splits and leaves a center support. I had hoped to find something with dropped leaves that opened, but this is would be just fine. In my perfect world, I would be able to have a round table that seats 12 comfortably but I don't have the room. (I saw a spectacular round table that adjusts from seating 6 to seating 12 with intricate triangular pieces but the $14,000 price tag did scare me away.) So this table will go from round to a very long oval and that will do quite well and be not quite as wide as my current system. That will make it easier to get around things for dinner. Maybe I'll have it by next Thanksgiving.

Here's hoping the refrigerator keeps working this year.

And the Strikes Go On

Len got to see some of our friends yesterday when he joined the picket line outside of Disney/ABC over in Burbank. It was so hot that he claimed he needed to be carried back to the car after about an hour. The man has no stamina whatsoever. He's off to the doctor for several tests today.

I wish I could go over to Universal to see the picket lines today, starting at 10 a.m. It's "fan-appreciation-strike-day," and it should be interesting to see who shows up. The public has been incredibly supportive of the writers' position on this strike, which is great.

I've been enjoying all of the posts and video streaming on United Hollywood. Today's posts include a letter to CalPers stating that the conglomerates are lying either to the writers or to their investors, and, until that is sorted out, CalPers should divest itself of any entertainment company stock. I'm quite impressed by this attack on the studios' position. Since I do have a retirement fund with CalPers (I'm employed by a community college), I may write a similar letter.

As I suspected, but had not heard confirmed until today, the stage hands strike in New York has affected the opening of my niece's play in New York. Previews have been suspended on August: Osage County and the premier was to be November 20, but who knows. At least the parties will be back in talks this weekend. Apparently, no theatre over Thanksgiving weekend was too much for the producers. The AMPTP hasn't gotten that same jolt yet.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Must See TV

A shout out to Chuck Lorre who used his vanity card at the end of both Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men last night to say:

United We Stand

Chuck's show-runner end-cards have been must-see-TV since we became aware of them during the end-credits of Dharma and Greg. We met him at the Writers Guild Craft Conference around 10 years ago and his presentation was hysterical. At the time, he had professionally successful and personally stressful runs on Roseann and Grace under Fire and I can't remember where Sybil fell into the scheme of things. Big Bang Theory is my favorite new show this season, and we have noticed that several of the supporting cast of Roseann have already appeared on the show--not to discount that one of the leads of BBT is also a Roseann alumnus. Chuck Lorre is a major show runner and I admire him for letting the viewing world know where he stands on the WGA strike.

Another shout out to our friends Lynn M. Latham, who was running the soap opera The Young and the Restless, and her husband Bernard Lechowick. They both survived the 1988 strike and are prominent in this one as well. I saw Bernard quoted in the L.A. Times and I hear Lynn's office is now occupied by a Sony exec who's trying to fill her shoes. Not likely. Len came in to tell me that the writers on some soap opera have elected to go "core" and cross the strike line. Shame on them.

For anyone who might not be aware, it isn't just writers, directors, and actors who get residuals. As far as I know, every below the line union also gets residuals. Instead of going to individuals, the residuals cut goes to help fund pension and health programs. As expenses for medical coverage go up, that money is more necessary than ever. Even though I am unlikely to ever see a benefit, I do belong to IATSE Local 600 and I am incredibly angry that I, and every member of my guild, got a letter informing us that our working membership would get no support for honoring picket lines. Thanks a lot.

The WGA isn't holding a grudge about the IATSE response. It has already sent a letter in support of the IATSE stage hands who are striking in New York. That strike hits another member of my family: my niece Kristina Valada-Viars had just started 16 weeks of employment understudying one of the major characters in August: Osage County which was in previews and set to open on November 20. I'm hoping for a quick solution to that strike so my niece will have health insurance next year.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Back in the Kitchen

On Thursday morning, I watched the woman driving the car in front of me blow-dry her hair all the way from where I pull out of our cul-de-sac to the college campus. Multitasking at its finest. At least she wasn't on the freeway, where I've seen even worse.

In my effort to keep my kitchen somewhat tidy before I have to go into a panic the day before Thanksgiving, I've been going through the containers which were in the back yard for most of the past six months and sorting the contents to get rid of the duplicates (if Len can't find something, he never asks; he just goes out and buys another one) and the stuff that doesn't work.

I've got more sets of measuring cups and spoons than I can count. Many are plastic and have developed stains and tackiness that are best dealt with by throwing them in the trash. I just bought a good, heavyweight set of metal measuring cups which have no place for crud to build up and I'd like to find a replacement for my Tupperwear dry-measure cups which have the in-between sizes. Maybe if I go to the Rose Bowl Flea Market on Sunday I can score it. I reconfigured a couple of sets of measuring spoons and have the rest set to go away. I've gotten rid of all of the stained and melted plastic spoons which seem to be replacing good old wooden spoons. When I wasn't looking, Len went out and bought a number of plastic cutting boards and every time I try to get rid of the one shaped like a Scottish Terrier, he retrieves it. I've still got one more paper bag to go through and I just hope that my cleaning lady doesn't think she's doing me a favor by going through it and hiding stuff all over my kitchen for me. I need to have a yard sale or have my son move out to a place I can outfit for him.

Sometime in the last year, I felt the need to replace the Fry Daddy we had. The non-stick had partially peeled away and it seemed like a bad idea to use it any more. So I went off to Bed, Bath, and Beyond with a 20% off coupon (which I collect like crazy) and found a nice little number from Cuisinart. It got taken out of its box for the first time last night and it will now go into a much smaller space.

As part of the pre-Thanksgiving prep, I'm trying to get rid of stuff in the fridge and freezer, so last night's dinner was frozen fish and French fries. I have to say frozen French fries taste a whole lot better when they are fried than when they are cooked in the oven. The new deep-fryer did a great job on them.

Maybe I'll use the fryer for some of the traditional Italian Christmas sweets that I usually don't make like chichi cookies that have a sweet chick-pea filling and look like fried ravioli or the cone-shaped tower of fried dough with honey syrup and sprinkles called struffoli. The Christmas after my father died, I sat in the kitchen and watched my mother make all of the traditional Italian sweets and made notes in the margins of the recipes I had written out so the actual ingredients and amounts matched what she was doing and not what was written down. I've had a lot more success with the family recipes in the years since then than I did before.

The pre-holiday attack on the kitchen was also precipitated by a search for a special cupcake sheet that was given to me last year. It has many of the shapes of the Nordic Bundt cake molds reduced to cupcake or petits fours size. I searched literally high and low and began to panic that somehow it had gone missing when stored outside during the reconstruction (which is still not finished.) After two weeks of looking, I found it when I sat down on the floor to open my cookie sheet storage boxes once again, and there it was tucked high on top of one I could not see except by sitting on the floor. I was greatly relieved to find it.

I saw some really large baking sheets and a 24 hole cupcake sheet at Smart and Final the other night. I would never be able to use them in my wall oven, but the new oven could easily accommodate the big sheets and I could make a whole lot more cookies in less time that way. If I can figure out where to store them, I might just indulge myself. Parchment and heavy-duty shiny pans are much better for baking than dark, non-stick pans are.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

And the Strike Goes On

There's a great new piece on You Tube explaining what the money issue in the WGA strike is all about called "Why We Fight." Check it out here. "Why We Fight" was the title of the Frank Capra series of propaganda films he directed during WWII to raise morale about that war, and I'm sure the irony was not lost on anyone else who saw the video. I'm a big fan of Capra films, but the writer for many of the most famous was Robert Riskin (Fay Wray's husband.) The story is that Riskin became so fed up with the famous "Capra touch" that one day he took a sheaf of blank paper and shoved it in Capra's face saying "put the *%&!ing Capra touch on that!." The WGA has an award named in honor of Robert Riskin. Capra, I think, may be the basis for the possessory credit dispute between the WGA and DGA members. In addition to "Why We Fight" there are more videos about the strike here.

I watched my friend Patric Verrone on TV this morning make an excellent presentation on the KTLA morning show as I got ready for work. I've known Patric since I passed the bar and succeeded him has chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Barristers' Artist and the Law Committee and he invited me to publish my article on comic books and the law in the Los Angeles Lawyer Magazine entertainment law issue. I even wound up on the cover, which stunned me because I was only a few years out of law school then. Here's what the LACBA has on its website:

April 1996 Issue

Cover photo: Tom Keller
Featured Article:
In the Line of Fire

by Edwin F. McPherson

A tortious interference claim may be the answer when a star client is snared away.

Plus Earn MCLE Credit Online: MCLE Test No. 39, sponsored by Lexis®-Nexis®.

Cover Story:
Christine Valada, cochair of the Association Barristers Artists and the Law Committee, represents writers and artists in entertainment and copyright law matters. Her article, "Truth, Justice and the American Way," examines the past and future of the rights to comic-book characters.

Patric and I both have a long-standing commitment to creators' rights. I'm glad he's in a position to do something about it. I think that the producers have made a big mistake underestimating the way writers are connected by the Internet. In the old days of 1988, it might have been more of a divide and conquer world, where people acted out of fear because of a lack of knowledge. Now, everyone has easy access to what is going on and an ability to sort out the facts from the fictions the AMPTP may try to spread. It's pretty funny to listen to the arrogance of Michael Eisner telling calling the strike "stupid." I'd say a number of things Michael Eisner did while CEO of Disney were pretty stupid and the shareholder cost of any one of them would pay for what the WGA is asking for many times over.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Writer's Strike, Day 3

The WGA went on strike on Monday and production is grinding to a halt out here. Len's been too sick to go out on a picket line, but I think he's missing a lot of fun. If I didn't have this day job, I'd go out with my camera. It isn't often that writers are actually in a position to legally protest their working conditions. If novelists talk about what they are being paid or the terms of their contracts with the thought that they should all get together and protest the obscene grab of rights these multinational companies have put into their contracts, the Justice Department could come down on them like a ton of bricks for anti-trust violations.

Many years ago, I sat on the national board of directors of the American Society of Media Photographers. Unlike Local 600, which covers still photographers who work on movies and television, ASMP is a trade association and not a guild or union. Unions can collectively bargain. Trade associations cannot, and trade associations can get into trouble with the afore-mentioned Justice Department if any of the clients their members work with decide to complain about them for, oh, doing surveys about what is actually being paid for the use of photographs in consumer magazines. ASMP used to do a very helpful survey and pricing guide. I haven't seen one in a very long time. Since ASMP members can't collectively bargain, each photographer individually has to make a deal for a job and there are photographers, often new photographers, who see nothing wrong with undercutting a bid which would be fair compensation and payment for all parties involved in order to get the job. In the long run, such behavior destroys the entire business. Just ask any photographer about how they are making a living with the new technologies. Particularly, ask them about payment for stock photographs these days.

In those good old days of the 1980s, before I went off to law school because I could see the writing on the wall, many photographers looked at stock photography sales as retirement income. Stock photos, for those who might wonder, are those pictures which have universal appeal, are properly released, and can be used for many different purposes. I've had a few images which have been licensed over and over and over. If you look hard enough, you too can identify stock images. Those checks from the agencies which licensed my work were like found money when they arrived quarterly or monthly (depending on which agency) and it was a happy arrangement where they got half of the fee and I got the other half. No more.

Two agencies dominate stock photography in the US: Corbis (owned by Bill Gates) and Getty Images. They bought up many existing agencies around the world and sucked up photographers who didn't necessarily want to be with them. They promulgated contracts which gave themselves more than 80% of each license. Photographers are no longer "creators" but are now "suppliers" of images. The digital revolution has shrunk license fees to a fraction of their former values. The agencies make lots of money by licensing images in bulk at discount. The individual photographers are left with pennies--probably a lot less than it cost to make the image in the first place. I know some photographers who made a killing by being the first to sell their entire file to Corbis, which was paying good money in the 1990s to acquire libraries. But I look at those photographers as helping to put the profession in the current sad state it is in. They got theirs and to hell with everyone else who gets told "these are our terms, take them or leave them." I left, even though I would rather not have done so.

As an attorney, I've met a number of photographers whose livelihoods have been damaged because they lost the ability to say no to a bad deal. Which brings us back to the WGA.

I am so very pleased to see the writers say NO! to a bad deal. It's a lot easier to say no when there is some clout to deal with those who might say yes, but each member of the WGA had a secret ballot with which to express an opinion, and 90% of them did say yes and even those who voted against the strike have expressed their solidarity with the actual action.

The writer starts with a blank piece of paper. You know those ideas that producers are always throwing around--they are a dime a dozen. You know how below the line workers are complaining that writers don't know what work is--they've never seen the sweat and panic that comes at 2 a.m. when a scene simply will not come together. Hell, the below-the-lines are somewhat protected from working 24 hour days, which writers are not. There's no craft services set up in our house unless I'm around to cook when Len's on a deadline.

I took a day job so we could have health insurance, which has become more difficult for writers to achieve unless someone has a job on a TV series and the prevailing wisdom is that Len falls into the "too old" category for series jobs. And since much of his TV work has been on animation, where Local 839 doesn't cover everything and doesn't believe that writers have particular value, there's even less likelihood of health coverage. As a still photographer, I did join Local 600, but still photographers are not required as part of a TV crew and enough days shooting on a film are very hard to come by to qualify for health insurance. And, oh yeah, my quarterly dues are a hell of a lot higher than Len's are when he's not doing WGA projects.

Many writers look to residual payments to keep them covered under health insurance during those periods when they aren't working. Many people don't really understand why residuals are important or why writers should get them. When I was a law clerk at the WGA, I had one of their lawyers ask me if I knew what residuals were and if I understood them. I said yes because they are the equivalent of relicensing photographs or collecting royalties on printed work. The lawyer then said "maybe you can explain them to me. As far as I am concerned, writers are no different than lettuce pickers and I don't see why they should get residuals." I was flabbergasted and I've never gotten over the fact that an employee of the WGA could say that. How can you represent people when you don't believe in their issues?

Residuals are royalties for creators who work in the film industry. A whole legal fiction has arisen around who the creative forces entitled to copyright are in television and motion pictures. It's been controlled by a little phrase called "work made for hire" by which the actual creator of a work agrees that the person paying for the work is the "author" for purposes of copyright law, so the copyrighted work can be protected. The phrase arose under the 1909 Copyright Act and was expanded under the 1976 Act and a few years ago the music industry slipped in an expansion which was rescinded after a justifiable outcry from the singers and musicians adversely affected. Copyright legislation is supposed to be accomplished by balancing the rights of the creators and the publishers (in the broadest sense of that word), which is a far cry from the Constitutional instruction (Article I, Section 8, Clause 8, as I recall) to Congress to balance the rights of the creators and the public. The founders of this country thought creative out put was important to the welfare of our nation. (I think John Kennedy was the last president who agreed with that. Hence, the Kennedy Center and the Kennedy Center Honors.)

So, according to the law, motion pictures and television programs may be considered "works made for hire" if the parties agree in a writing to that. What the real creator gives up is the right to the copyright of a work for his or her life-time plus 70 years. (I thought the plus 50 years was more than enough, but the Walt Disney Company saw the end of copyright protection for Mickey Mouse and paid copious amounts of lobbying money to get the term extended.) It very clearly doesn't have to be that way, because copyright rights can be licensed in parts with the balance retained by the copyright owner and it is possible for a writer to license a screenplay without losing their own copyright rights. Don't let the AMPTP find out you know this little secret, but going along with their legal fiction leads to the creation of the WGA. Writers have balanced the loss of control of the copyright by the ability to organize and collectively bargain as "employees" in the motion picture and television industries and that has led to residuals--payment for the relicensing for work during that work's useful life--just as a novelist collects royalties on a book (and, at least until the motion picture industry started foisting its business model on the publishing industry) and retains control of all subsequent and subsidiary licensing of the work for further royalties. And writers in television and motion pictures can strike in order to say NO! to a bad deal.

Writers are not like lettuce-pickers, except in the way they are treated by the forces of greedy businesses who want to exploit their labor without appropriate compensation

Lettuce-pickers do not have a Constitutional provision which entitles them to benefit from their creativity. Congress has the power "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries."

If the AMPTP wants to keep its little legal fiction alive by which writers have given up the authorship of screenplays and teleplays, they damned well better get back to the bargaining table and figure out a fair percentage for residuals in the new media and stop trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the public by crying poverty. Anyone with a computer can have financial facts at their finger-tips.

The AMPTP has looked to the WGA and other Guilds to help them with the fight against piracy. They've gone to Congress to cry about the money they are losing to pirates. They've sued people for pirating films and sued companies for uploading what they consider to be copyrighted work owned by them. If WGA members aren't going to see residuals for the Internet and see a piddling amount for home video sales, what's their incentive to helping with this battle? If the AMPTP was losing money on the Internet, the shows wouldn't be there legally.

Now, for any members of the AMPTP who think that busting the WGA, SAG, and the DGA will make life better for them in the future: Writers are more sophisticated than they were in the past and have access to a whole lot more information. A writer isn't going to sell a spec script without the knowledge that licensing "all rights forever throughout the universe" means that in 35 years he or she gets an inalienable reversion of the rights which were licensed and the companies are left with a problem. If DVDs were produced, they can continue to produce DVDs, but if the next mode of distribution is fiber-optic input silicone, that source of revenue is lost to them. We'll weep all the way to the bank.

This strike is not about being unreasonable. It is about getting a fair share of revenue. If the companies are making money, those individuals who created the work that is making them money are entitled to a percentage. But that percentage better be based in reality and not in Hollywood accounting. We all recognized Fred Amisten's character on Saturday Night Live the other night because we know an item that costs $0.60 to make and sells for $29.95 has a profit of $29.35, not a loss of $13 and change. For the writers and other creators entitled to get a royalty, an increase of $0.03 or $0.04 per unit is not going to send any studio head to the poor house. I understand the total increase that the WGA was looking for in 1988 would have amounted to $6,000,000 in payments--less than 10% of what Michael Eisner was pulling in salary that year and an even smaller percentage of the pay-off his buddy Michael Ovitz got when he was fired after a little more than a year helming Disney.

Even if the WGA got everything and every penny it was asking for and the other Guilds got the same, no studio head would be headed for the poor house and no company would be going under. This is all about greed, plain and simple, but too many studio heads believe in Gordon Gekko.

Oh Where, Oh Where Has My Little Horse Gone?

For the past year or two, I've had a silhouette of an Arabian horse very similar to the one here (without the circle around it) on each side of my car. The pair of magnetic vinyl decals were about 8 x 10 inches overall, and it made it very easy to spot my car.

We went to a wedding reception in Granada Hills on Saturday, and, when I went to pick up Len, he didn't recognize the car because the decals were gone.

I got them at the Calabassas Saddlery Sale on the deep discount table where I think the original price was around $30 (at which I wouldn't have bought them--then) but I probably paid less than a third of that. I've only been able to locate much smaller ones so far on-line, which is incredibly frustrating. So if you see a pair of the large Arabian magnetic decals, let me know.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Halloween and Other Frights

Halloween is over, but I just found this link to a photograph of a pumpkin that comes via Neil Gaiman's website. You can see why. I then went looking for the rest of the geek pumpkins, and there were more at this location on Wired's blog site. We could have used the Yoda to go with or Chewbacca on Sunday.

No trick or treaters showed up at our house on Wednesday. A major disappointment. We've got about 4 pounds of miniature candies to eat now.

I'm always disappointed when my husband doesn't update his website regularly. Actually, I'm disappointed when any of the blogs I read regularly aren't updated. How incredibly silly of me to think that these people should inform or entertain me each day, especially when I can't do a daily update on mine. I believe that Viggo Mortensen is off in New Mexico making a movie, which is why I was actually surprised to see an update at the beginning of the week. Mostly, he posts links to other news stories, but occasionally he puts in a line or paragraph of his own at the Perceval Press website. I know Melinda Snodgrass is off to Saratoga, NY for the World Fantasy Convention, which starts today (hello to all my friends there; wish we could be with you.) But Len's at home and should be able to post something. Mark Evanier manages five or six posts a day.

We are waiting for the official word on when the WGA starts its strike. Len hasn't written much for TV or film for a while, but part of the issue is other media and he was about to start work on a webisode project and the WGA leaders don't want members writing for the web or games or animation until this thing is sorted out. The Teamsters have said they will honor the picket lines, but the head of IATSE has told his members they can be permanently replaced if they do honor the picket lines. Nice. I'm sorry I paid my quarterly dues to IATSE Local 600 (which covers still photographers and publicity people, along with all the other moving camera persons). The Animation Union (Local 839) is part of IATSE, even though every writer I know who belongs hates the fact that they are stuck with people who don't respect writers and who don't believe that writers of animation are entitled to residuals. On the few animated shows which are under WGA jurisdiction (most of the prime-time animated shows like Simpsons, Family Guy, etc.), the writers do get residuals. I do believe that voice actors get residuals for everything they do, but, somehow, the folks responsible for those words don't. (Given enough time and space, I can discuss what happened under the union-busting Reagan-era when the WGA was about to cover animation writing and the Reagan goons stopped it in its tracks. Reading the ruling makes my blood boil.)

The news is making the writers look like bad guys--probably because the companies that own the news also own the studios--or at least some of them. The huge demands of the writers basically boil down to $0.04 per DVD. Admittedly, this would double the amount of money the writers get for DVD sales, but the royalty is based on 20% of the price of a DVD, not 100% of that price. A book writer would have a fit if their 10-15% royalty on cover price was limited to 10-15% of 20% of the cover price because of "breakage" or "production costs." The cost of producing DVDs has dropped dramatically since this royalty was foisted upon writers and the profits from DVDs has replaced box office for films and probably actual watchers of the shows on TV. One report or article said the strike is about greed, laying it on the writers. It's about greed alright, but it is the greed of the corporations which has caused this strike. Few stockholders seem to have a problem with nine-figure golden parachutes for studio heads, but $0.04 a DVD for the writer is a major problem. As far as I'm concerned, the writers should have demanded the residuals for DVDs be based on 100% of suggested retail price. Then it might have been easier to compromise on that additional $0.04 a unit.

Monday is Bonfire Day. I think the writers should be burning effigies of studio logos in the parking lot of Farmers Market (across from the WGAw headquarters) to raise a little team spirit.