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The Curious Case Of The WGA And The Foreign Levies

September 22nd, 2009

Settlement is imminent on a curious, below-the-radar, case against the WGA which has been ongoing for four years and in which it’s alleged the WGA has made little effort to distribute foreign funds it has collected on behalf of member and non-member writers.

The Berne ConventionA class-action suit filed by writer and director William Richert alleged that millions of dollars collected by the WGA from the foreign re-use of writer’s work, hasn’t got to the writers concerned.  The money isn’t the same as residuals and relates to the different status writers have as ‘authors’ in countries other than the US.  In the US, full copyright in the writer’s work was held by the studio or producer, then in 1989, the US became signatories to the Berne Convention, which originated in 1886 and which European and other countries had already agreed to.  This stated that writers remained the author of their work and so in the case of screenwriter’s, were entitled to part of the foreign levies.

Foreign levies are taxes collected from ancillary uses such as, video and DVD sales and rental, cable retransmissions, and indeed on blank VHS tapes and blank DVD’s.  Until 1989, the levies went straight to the studios as owners of the work.

So, the WGA began collecting these monies from the foreign collection agencies, on behalf of writers, but found it difficult to redistribute it to the right members, and virtually impossible to find non-members who were eligible for payment.  As of March this year, they had over $30m held in trust for members.  The lawsuit alleges the WGA didn’t have the right to collect the money on behalf of its members in the first place, let alone non-members.

They’d kept the whole thing pretty much under wraps until in 2006 a staff member who looked after collecting the money and making the payments, went to federal investigators, concerned about irregularities and was subsequently fired in what they believe was for becoming a whistle blower.

wga-logoThe proposed settlement calls for the WGA to use ‘its best efforts’ to make all payments within three years, under scrutiny of independent accountants.  The details of amounts collected are to be posted on the WGA website to remain for five years.

This could be the unexpected windfall writers have been waiting for.

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Posted in: US - Film news, US - TV news

The Campaign Trail

September 2nd, 2009

Tom HanksIn the States, campaigning for president is a big affair whether it be for the Whitehouse or the unions.

All over the Hollywood press at the moment is the campaign for the presidency of the major Hollywood union, SAG, repping actors.  SAG threatened a strike around the same time as last year’s 100 day writer’s strike,  studios prepared for it but it didn’t quite happen.  The writer’s strike caused chaos, lay-offs and no Letterman, so the power of the unions is to be reckoned with.

The SAG campaign is a two horse race, veteran actor Ken Howard v Anne-Marie Johnson.   Howard leads the moderate, Unite For Strength, campaign which wants to unite SAG with the smaller actor’s union AFTRA, both of which have had their problems recently.  Howard has heavyweight backing in the form of videos from top Wooderati like Tom Hanks and William H Macy.

Johnson, the more hard-line candidate,  also favours a merger but only with those actors who are already members of both unions as a quarter of AFTRA members aren’t actors but include recording artists and DJ’s.  Strange as it may seem, two unions for the same trade, both negotiating their own contracts with producers.  And when earlier this year, SAG went a bit shaky and laid-off 35 staff as a cost-cutting measure, some members walked over to join AFTRA.  SAG’s finance’s are still written in red as their dues come from actor’s and when they’re not working, SAG loses money.

It’s thought Howard and his top line supporters will win-out with the full merger proposal as in the event of a strike studios won’t be able to get members of the other union to work instead.  AFTRA isn’t sure about the merger because of SAG’s internal bickerings and the ultimate question will always be, who controls what.

Something they’ll have to look inside themselves to answer.

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Posted in: US - Film news, US - TV news

Axed Agents’ Double Dealing

August 26th, 2009

Hollwood AgentsThe recent merger of top agencies William Morris and Endeavor has naturally meant too many agents for too few desks, but those let-go have found a loophole to their benefit.

The merger between the two agencies meant a number of agents were back on the job market when looking for a job didn’t promise the most positive outcome.  A number found jobs at rivals, CAA, UTA, ICM and Paradigm, though for some it meant a cut in their average $225k salaries.

However, part of their contracts with their previous employers said that if they were made redundant and had to take a job for a lower salary, the previous employer would have to make up the difference for the duration of their old contract.  So if they had six months to run at William Morris, then William Morris would have to pay the difference between the lower salary they’re getting at their new job and what they were getting when made redundant.

Agents though are natural wheeler-dealers and some took advantage of this by doing a favourable deal with their new employer. By offering to take a lower salary in return for a bonus at the end of the year or into the next year, making their salary up to what they previously received, they would get the booster extra money from their previous employer, plus the bonus on top!

WME figured this and told them they wouldn’t pay-up on their old contracts so the agents sued and WME backed-down.

And I thought being fired was bad news….

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Posted in: US - Film news, US - TV news

A TV In A Magazine

August 20th, 2009

TV In Entertainment WeekIn the frantic search by advertisers, to find more novel ways to get our attention, CBS have joined with Pepsi to put a TV in the September issue of Entertainment Weekly.

An 84mm LCD screen just 2.7mm thick will be embedded in a page of the magazine within an ad for Pepsi Max and will show clips from CBS’s Monday primetime line-up for its autumn schedule.   Up to forty minutes of video can be stored on the screen’s chip and CBS will be running clips from shows including the comedies, How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory, followed by clips from dramas, NCIS: Los Angeles and Three Rivers.

The screen had to be rugged enough to withstand delivery by mail, though for this one-off, the TV edition of the magazine will only be going out to homes in New York and Los Angeles.

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Posted in: US - TV news

The Rich and The Poor

July 23rd, 2009

Mark ThompsonWhile we in the UK are concerning ourselves with the news that many BBC executives earn over £100,000, with Director General Mark Thompson, topping the list at £647,000, their counterparts in the US blow them right out of the salary pond.

CEO at CBS Leslie Moonves, made a whopping $31.9 million last year, followed by Disney CEO Robert Iger at $30.6 million and Time Warner CEO Jeff Bewkes at $19.9 million.

All companies, ‘struggling’ to find the money to make programmes, but kinda puts the Brit salaries into perspective.

Now excuse me while I book my ticket!

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Posted in: UK - TV news, US - TV news

The Past Is Back

July 2nd, 2009

Liz TaylorA library of over 3,500 hours of news footage from the sixties and seventies is just seeing the light of day after being stored in a bunker and never seen.

Owned by Associated Press, the 20,000 cans of 16mm film were stored in a London bunker under Goodge Street station once used by Eisenhower to direct the D-Day landings.  The film is being restored and transferred to HD videotape and some of it is now available to view.

The quality is remarkable and it features unique scenes not covered by any other library footage, including a young Saddam Hussein being given a tour of a French nuclear power station and a young Margaret Thatcher, then education minister, campaigning for a yes vote on the joining of the EU.  Other clips feature the fashions of the period, Liz Taylor’s 40th birthday with performances from Barbara Streisand and Joan Baez.

The film has remained dormant for all this time as its ownership changed hands many times before it came to AP, then the cost of the restoration project was low on the company’s list of priorities and it was hard to see any potential benefits.

It’s thought it’ll take another 18 months to complete the project, and who knows what they’ll find on the way.

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Posted in: UK - TV news, US - TV news

Obama Warns Americans

June 5th, 2009

Americans buy DTV boxesPresident Obama has issued a warning to all Americans, no digi-box, no TV.  On June 12, US TV goes all digital, it’s the analogue switch off.  People with cable or satellite will not even notice of course but those receiving TV via an aerial will have fuzzy screens without a box.

The switch off has been massively publicised for over a year in a multi-million dollar campaign and was supposed to happen on February 17, so consumers are confused as to the delay.

Officially, it’s because up to 7 million Americans just aren’t ready and still don’t have boxes, despite the us_dtv_2009government’s subsidy with $40 off coupons.  A potential outlay of $280m if everyone took up the offer.   Obama is worried people will miss out on better quality pictures, in fact any pictures.

Conspiracy theorists have another idea though as this clip, (from 55 secs) reveals.   They suggest it’s one of the digi-box manufacturers who isn’t ready.  A senior Obama advisor on the switch off, happens to also be the CEO of one of the manufacturers of digi-boxes and it’s been suggested he asked for the delay as his boxes weren’t ready and he wanted to have a good position in the market.

Whatever, D Day is now June 12 when Americans will wake-up to a better quality breakfast show.  It’ll look better at any rate.

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Posted in: US - TV news

Don’t Hear It Here First

May 21st, 2009

Bones posterYou thought the internet was the place to get news on up-coming productions fast and first, well, like newspapers and then radio, it used to be.  Now – you know what’s coming next, it’s Twitter.  News on the re-commissioning or otherwise of US TV shows now breaks out from the stars and producers to their Twitter followers, before studio PR’s get to draft a line.

While Fox were keeping quiet on negotiations for the two year renewal of Bones, Exec. Hart Hanson, had informed delighted fans via Twitter.  And when Castle, star Nathan Fillion heard ABC had picked-up his show, his 51,000 followers were the second to know.

Hope you’re following us on Twitter, we want you to get the news when we do, or once we’ve reported it anyways.

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Posted in: US - TV news

American Idol In Court

May 13th, 2009

In a development of the story we ran a few weeks ago, employees of Fremantle american-idol-season-7jpgMedia shows including American Idol, are now suing the company over poor pay and working conditions.

The former employees, including a music coordinator for American Idol, claim they were forced to work, ten, twelve and even twenty hour days without being paid overtime or being allowed meal breaks.  They also claim the company asked them to falsify time cards so they wouldn’t have to pay overtime.

It seems such treatment is not uncommon on reality TV shows. In January the Writer’s Guild settled a claim begun in 2005, on behalf of reality show writers, for over $4m.  In one claim, a writer on the series, ‘Temptation’ was awarded $14,000 in back pay and compensation.

Simon Cowell is saying nothing.

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Posted in: US - TV news

Connecticut Tax Attracts Springer

May 6th, 2009

The State of Connecticut is one of the most attractive in terms of the tax incentives it offers film and TV companies who shoot there.  Less attractive though, if you’re an audience or participant researcher for the Jerry Springer Jerry SpringerShow, for Connecticut is too nice.

NBC is moving three of its top shows to the state, Jerrry Springer, Deal Or No Deal and the raunchy Maury Povich show, where it will doubtless make big savings, but will the shows suffer?  Traditionally such shows are based in big cities like Chicago, New York and LA, where shows titled, ‘when the baby sitter takes care of your man’ can easily find people to go on stage and a rowdy audience to cheer them on.

But Connecticut and in particular Waterford, where the shows will be based, is best known for its waterfalls, art galleries and serious opera, for the serious middle classes and hedge fund millionaires.  Watch out for, ‘My cleaner shrunk my shirt!’

mauryOh, and for those of you not familiar with the Maury Povich show, it’s merchandising includes baby body suits bearing the line, ‘I met my daddy on Maury’.  Get the idea?!

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Posted in: US - TV news

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