Those creative types see a HOT-headed monster
Television directors and scriptwriters may launch a precedent-setting strike this Sunday in the name of royalty rights.
On Thursday night, some of the busiest writers and directors in the television and film industry crowded into a small room in Tel Aviv. Others are planning to hold similar meetings. Drama directors argued with soap-opera writers who wrangled with satirists, while they all examined bureaucratic and legal details. Details, which are often the source of comic inspiration, were discussed with absolute sobriety.
On the agenda: A general strike of television directors and scriptwriters slated to begin on Sunday. If the strike actually takes place, a precedent will be set in the annals of the local television industry. If the strike continues for any length of time, it may influence content on the small screen and interfere with broadcasts of leading programs like "Yatzpan," "Our Song," the new telenovela "Ha'alufa" (The Champion), "A Wonderful Country," "Fixed Game" and new productions in the works.
Meanwhile, deliberations between producers and broadcasting companies, particularly HOT, are continuing and may yet change the entire picture.
The reason for the strike is a struggle being conducted by Teli - the Royalties Company for Israeli Television and Cinematographic Works. It is acting on behalf of television directors and writers seeking copyrights to their own productions and royalties for reruns. In recent weeks, the protracted battle has turned into outright war with the HOT cable company. HOT, according to writers and directors, is the only broadcasting organization that still maintains a sweeping refusal to recognize their copyrights.
Until now, sanctions implemented against HOT by writers and directors unions caused the cable company some discomfort but also drew criticism. These sanctions included a call to union members to cease any new connections with HOT, thus thwarting the premiers of two new films on cable (a move that angered the makers of these films and, according to HOT, only prevented a few union members from conducting their usual business with the cable company).
Union members also tampered with a HOT billboard on the Gat movie theater in Tel Aviv and dispatched an activist, almost naked from the waist up (except for a bra) into the middle of the Bloomfield stadium during the broadcast of a soccer match between Bnei Sakhnin and Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The struggle for copyrights is packed with exhausting legal details and encumbered by a lack of appropriate legislation. But the strike may transform this battle into a fascinating power play involving the status of writers and directors versus broadcasting companies.
"We are now at the bottom of the pyramid," said Directors Union chairman Doron Tzabari to those present at the meeting. "All the department directors and programming directors - the ones with the big jeeps - don't understand that without us, they are nothing. No talent is worth a thing without a scriptwriter and a director standing in the wings."
However, writers and directors disagree as to whether the struggle should focus on HOT or be directed at all broadcasting organizations, including Channel 10 and the YES satellite company, which already recognize royalty rights.
Some activists, like Teli managing director and scriptwriter Avi Shemesh, scriptwriter Yossi Madmoni, and Scriptwriters Union chairman Amit Lior and directors Uri Inbar and Doron Tzabari, have decided to launch a general strike. That strike is intended in part to force all broadcasting bodies to recognize Teli and mainly to show solidarity with HOT writers and directors, who find themselves in the eye of the storm.
But such solidarity is not a solid thing. At the meeting on Thursday, some writers raised concerns and doubt regarding a general strike directed also at organizations that are now prepared to recognize Teli. The main point of contention was the extent to which unions could raise sympathy and enlist wall-to-wall collaboration in a general strike. Every writer and director fears the day that he may find himself alone, facing a legal action involving his employer.
For example, Rami Vered, the main writer of "Yatzpan," announced at the beginning of the meeting that he does not intend to strike. Acting on the advice of his agent, Vered explained, "I have an agreement with the producers - I cannot breach the contract. They will sue me."
Inbar responded, "Uri Gross, the head writer of 'Our Song,' says that he will strike. ['Our Song' director] Yoav Tzafir will, too. They are all going to break contracts. Are they going to sue all of us?"
"Yatzpan" writer Daniel Lapin said, "I have become the opposition against a general strike. I think we should focus on HOT - we shouldn't strike against those who are paying us royalties. If we btch this action, our situation will be worse than it was at the outset."
A nation on strike
Two large charts, divided into small squares, hung behind meeting participants. The charts represented the unions' current project: Mapping the positions of all writers and directors according to the productions in which they are employed. The name of every writer and producer who has expressed a willingness to strike is ticked. The charts include the titles of about 100 ongoing productions that would cease on Sunday in the event of a strike.
Union leaders know that a nucleus of writers and directors - those who work on the most popular and lucrative productions, like "A Wonderful Country," "Ha'alufa" and "Our Song" - are the most significant participants in the struggle and also the most likely targets of pressure from broadcast companies. Inbar says that some of the creators of these programs have agreed to strike, while others are expressing reluctance.
"If we don't get all the ticked names, this whole thing won't happen," he says.
Stars have also been enlisted in the battle. "Every program has its big talents," Inbar says. "It is inconceivable that they would not express their opinions. We are now working on the talent on 'A Wonderful Country.'"
Orna Banai and Assi Cohen have already signed a petition, he says. "We are now talking to Tal Friedman," he reports.
Will there be a strike on Sunday? Leaders are now trying to walk a thin line between war and diplomacy, like seasoned politicians. Negotiations with representative Shilo de-Bar, on behalf of the cable company's stockholders, will apparently be renewed, "and then everything could change," says Inbar. "I am doing everything in my power to prevent a strike and also everything to assure that a strike would be successful."