The Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers and the guilds (Writers, Screen Actors and Directors) are at loggerheads, and the tension over talent costs could give rise to the first major entertainment industry strike in a generation. Online distribution gives talent an opportunity to seize the means of production — why rely on the networks and studios when you could capitalize on your fame online?
If you think that’s just my Marxist bias, think again — it’s also the opinion of entertainment lawyer Kevin Morris, expressed in a Wall Street Journal op-ed column today [sub req]. Morris says,
Simply put: If you kick artists off a playground, don’t be surprised if they make sand castles at a new sandbox.
The Screen Actors Guild, for instance, is trying to raise dues in order to fund a new online department (currently, only one person, Pierre Debs, handles agreement negotiations for online productions). According to a conversation I had with SAG representatives in January, guild members are categorically prohibited from participating in any production that isn’t under an agreement — while I’m no entertainment lawyer, that would seem to specifically exclude producing non-union projects, online or off, during a strike.
Of course, it seems silly to think that Tom Cruise is going to produce a $150 million blockbuster for online distribution while on strike, but something like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s project “Funny or Die” is certainly realistic — and could provide a model for how such content could be funded. Again, this is Morris talking:
The big winner in all of this will be Silicon Valley. A crippling strike, and even the stockpiling of movies and programming in anticipation of a strike followed by a slowdown, will greatly benefit both established and start-up net ventures offering content.
There is some precedent on a smaller scale — during a strike by employees of the Canadian Broadcasting Company, many correspondents began posting video, audio and text online via blogs.