This Friday, December 14th from 12Noon to 3PM there will be an assembly of writers, celebrities and like-minded fans at the distinguished public affairs program Cambridge Forum in the Meeting House of the historic First Parish (Unitarian Universalist) Church, 3 Church St., Cambridge, MA 02138.
There, guest speakers, which will include Jamie Paglia, Joss Whedon, Rob Kutner and some of the Daily Show crew, will reach out to fans and talk about the cause they’re supporting. Once everyone is sufficiently pumped up, everyone will march with picket signs and pamphlets through Harvard Square to a rally outside of the famed Harvard Lampoon building, the home where so many television comedy writers cut their teeth. It will offer a chance for Boston fans (and those coming from outside the city) and writers to walk side by side, show the media and AMPTP that this movement is galvanized for the writer’s cause, and it is growing in strength and purpose.
Here at Slice of SciFi we side with the WGA and believe their position is a just one and in that spirit our reporter Linda Craddock sat down with rally organizer Jamie Paglia, who also happens to be the co-creator, executive producer and one of the head writers for SCI FI Channel’s mega-hit series “Eureka.”
While Linda asked a few limited questions about the show, the thrust of the interview deals with the strike and she gives Jamie a platform to better explain the position of the Guild and the writers it supports. We know you will enjoy this wonderful interview with one of the warmest people in Hollywood you will ever meet.
Linda Craddock (SoSF): Hello Jaime and welcome to Slice of SciFi. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) Rally in Boston and you being identified as one of the major forces behind the organization there. Tell us what that means?
Jaime Paglia (JP): Well, certainly I’m not doing this by myself. First of all the support that we have gotten, the fans, the groups that have been helping to organize it, the writers guild and other actors, writers from the West Coast like Joss Whedon, and people from United Hollywood. Everybody has been really amazing and basically what happened was my show shoots in Los Angeles and I live here in Boston by choice but I’ve been out in Los Angeles picketing with everybody else and I was asked to be a part of a sort of subcommittee of the show runners’ committee of people who tend to have some fairly active fan bases, people like Joss Whedon and Ron Moore and a number of others. We had a meeting and we were talking about how to help the fans, how to help them have a voice because we’ve been getting such an outpour of support. People writing, calling, emailing saying, “listen we want to get involved what can we do,” and part of that was an idea that somebody had to start a pencil’s campaign. This was [the] fan’s idea that they wanted to start mailing all these pencils to the studio heads and with the message we’re all on the same page, to bring our writers back with a fair deal and that, I think turned into a million pencils that arrived and were delivered there today. My feeling at the meeting was that this needs to be a movement, because we have such great support, we need to get out of Los Angeles and New York.
I think the stories have certainly played out in the media and it’s not as interesting and this isn’t actually about the two cities, it’s something that affects all of us. Clearly there are hundreds of thousands of people who’s livelihood is dependent on the creation, the production distribution of television and feature film entertainment, but we’re all viewers, we all have shows that we love and we all come from some place we call home and not necessarily from Los Angeles or New York and I happened to be in Boston so I volunteered and said I think we should be trying to expand the voice, the rallies into new markets, adding a new city every week or two as long as people are interested and willing. I happen to be here so we got to be the first. The idea is as long as this goes and unfortunately, I’m sure you’re aware as of Friday the Alliance of Motion Pictures and Television Producers walked away from the bargaining table, yet again. A very calculated PR move and we are ready and willing to continue contract negotiations because we want to get everybody back to work but we want to make sure the writers get a fair deal. The timing of that, I think, is even more important that we’re going to holding more rallies like the one we have planned for Friday.
SoSF: Now the walk out took place on November 5th, is that correct? How long are you willing to wait for resolution?
JP: We will wait until we get a fair deal. The precedent was set in 1988 for, I think what the producers anticipated was going to happen which was we’re going to be a divided membership and in 1988 that’s exactly what ultimately happened because the Guild wasn’t unified. They accepted the deal to get back to work that cost us dearly in DVD and video tape residuals.
This is the new frontier now in the media and the mistake that was made then is not going to be made again because that is the future of how we are going to be watching our entertainment. It’s all on-demand, to be downloaded to our computers, to our televisions, to our iPods and telephones and very soon computers and televisions are essentially going to be the same machine and the way things stand right now, with our deal there is absolutely nothing in place for any kind of fee on residuals or otherwise to be paid to writers of the content that’s downloaded either on a per charge basis or by advertisers supported streaming video and what weâ€™re asking for is very simple – A share of the profits that they make from that, 2 Â½%, the same residuals formula that we have for television reruns. As it stands now, you watch my show on a Tuesday night and then on Wednesday they happened to rerun it and after a period of time that rerun will net a residual payment, a small one, but it does add up and it is significant for writers who are trying to make a living, especially for people who are just getting started. That person who wrote that episode would receive a fee based on a percentage of the profits the network makes from rerunning that episode from advertising dollars. If you run that same episode over the internet, that writer receives nothing. There have been many shows, mine being just one small cable show, but so many shows, network shows. If you think about ours making approximately in the upper hundreds of thousands to a million downloads over the course of the last two seasons versus a show you might see often that has millions of their episodes downloaded. “Battlestar Galactica”, so many of these shows and they are charging $1.99 for those downloads on iTunes or they have been and somebody is making a profit from it, the writers are not. They have no[thing], there’s absolutely nothing in place to protect that. That is what we’re asking for and it is a very reasonable and fair deal and so the answer to your question is 91% of the guild voted in favor of a strike authorization and everyday, the longer this goes, honestly is everyday stronger in our resolve. The presence on the picket line, the energy and commitment to this to be resolved as soon as possible but fairly and it’s really amazing because I know people who are willing to risk their jobs, their, shows, their houses through this cause.
SoSF: You’ve gotten a great deal of positive feedback from the actors themselves, obviously.
JP: Yeah, the Screen Actor’s Guild has been amazing. They’ve come out in full support of us. We’ve had hundreds of actors turn out on the picket line bringing food with them, just out to give us support, people like Carol Mendelsohn of “CSI” and Mark Cherry from “Desperate Housewives” a few weeks ago. We were out there at the same gate with them at Universal NBC, Universal Studios and they had the idea of picketing with the stars. We all invited our cast to come out, any actor that would be willing and we had something like 600 actors come out from all walks of shows and feature films and that’s the kind of commitment because this is also an issue for them. Their contracts are going to be coming up at the end of June and this residual formula applies to their situation as well, as well as the DGA. I think that the support we’ve been receiving from fans who could have wanted to have a voice in this have been expressing it on the fan boards and the blogs and we wanted to try and give them a more tangible way to get involved. This rally is as much a way to say thank you for their support as it is to send a message to the AMPTP that this is not going to go away. We’ve received amazing support from these guys and we will continue to work with the fans, with the writers in cities all over the country and keep on adding more rallies, as it goes on, if it goes on.
SoSF: In anticipation of a fair resolution, are you working on any projects in an unofficial capacity or continuing to do anything with your show?
JP: One of the first things that was sort of percolating in the final weeks coming up to our contract expiring and our negotiating trying to work things out with the producers that there were all these sort of back-door conversations between network heads and studio heads and people like me and Joss and others who have shows who are executive producers as well as writers sort of this inkling, well, you’re really not going to not work, right, I mean you’re not going to seriously sit at home and do nothing. I mean you’re only going to be hurting your own show. That was when the show runners committee got together and we all shared very similar stories and we came up with the advertisement that was put in place of the ads before we went on strike. Pencils down means pencils down and all of us added our names to that pledging but none of us, or any of our staff is going to write a word until this is resolved so when we come back we will be where we were when we went on strike when it comes to our shows
SoSF: Interesting. Speaking of your show, can we talk about it a little bit? You are a writer and Executive Producer for the SCI FI Channel original series “Eureka”, 25 episodes as a writer, 19 episodes, executive producer.
JP: Executive Producer for all of them actually. (laughing)
SoSF: Sorry…correction made!
JP: Yes, I co-created the show.
JP: And we’ve been very fortunate and I think this is one of the reasons why we want to make sure the fans of our shows have a voice in this. As Joss Whedon was saying this isn’t just a dialogue between the writers and studios, really this is very much about the fans because without them NONE of us would have a job on either side of this division and in terms of my show, we have been very fortunate to have been embraced by an amazing number of people very early on and they’ve continued to support us so we feel very lucky and grateful.
SoSF: And you have been renewed for a 3rd season which is great!
JP: We completed one week with a full writing staff before our contract expired. We’ve had one week of brainstorming on Season 3 before we had to put pencils down.
SoSF: So I guess in that one week there’s not a lot you can talk about in terms of anticipating changes in cast for Season 3?
JP: Well, you’d be amazed when you get on a good creative jag how much you can get accomplished. I think we’ve mapped out a lot of what will happen in the first half of the season, some episode concepts and some great ideas for character drama that’s going to happen. A lot of fun stuff and that’s hard because we can’t wait to get back to that and make Season 3 even stronger than Seasons 1 and 2. That’s why we keep pushing for the AMPTP to come back and talk to us and try and work this out and not ride out the holidays. That doesn’t serve anyone but I think they’ve made it very clear that this is a PR move and they have really no intention of negotiating in good faith until they absolutely have to.
SoSF: Is there anything in particular you’d like to say on behalf of the writers Guild or anything regarding your show and what you want to accomplish when you do get back to work?
JP: Well, in terms of the rally, please come out, we would love to have you there, meet you, say thank you, walk side by side with you with picket signs and help spread the word about what this is and why we’re striking and what the issues are. There are great number of people who do understand what’s going on and have been incredibly supportive and clearly this is something we want to try and continue to educate as many people as possible. We want a presence and want to send a message clearly that there are a lot of people vested in this and they would like to have their shows and feature films back on track with people being treated fairly by other companies that profit from the content that these people create. In terms of our show, I hope we can get this resolved as soon as possible so that everybody’s who’s livelihood relies on this industry and myself in particular from my personal standpoint, we can get back to work so that we can continue creating more programming for the audience to enjoy.
SoSF: You know Jamie, I had a list of questions I was going to ask about the show, but I’m not going to as a way for Slice of SciFi to show support for the writer’s cause. I too will put my symbolic pencil down for now.
JP: Ok, wonderful.
SoSF: I’m going to allow this interview and the posting on the website to focus on your cause.
JP. Good, and thank you!
SoSF: We can revisit “Eureka” and Season 3 at a later date.
JP: Why don’t we do that. I definitely want to keep the focus on the rally.
SoSF: Yes, that is why I didn’t go into detail about the show. I hope you get the turnout you expect and best of luck with negotiations
JP: Thank you for your interest Linda