As the Writers Guild strike enters its second week, I think it’s important to cast a wary eye towards articles such as the one that appeared in the New York Times that seems to be pitting actors and directors against the writers when it comes to getting even a small share of the residuals that the writers are demanding. While a small number of elite actors (Tom Cruise, Will Smith) can demand the “first dollar gross deals” discussed in the article, a much higher percentage of actors subsist on relatively small wages. And while the $70 million paychecks that an actor of Cruise’s stature could demand is possible, it’s a little misleading to suggest that such a payment could overturn the entire Hollywood economic system, as teh article seems to imply.
In fact, when you put these numbers in perspective, as Jane Hamsher does, pointing out that CBS exec Les Moonves earned $28.6 million last year, and that former Viacom CEO Tom Freston was paid $60 million to stop showing up for work, the WGA demands are clearly a drop in the bucket. Add to that the fear tactics being used by media executives about the instability of the current business model, and color me skeptical. As Patrick Goldstein points out, Hollywood studios notoriously saw video as potentially destroying the film industry, and now video and DVD are the primary sources of profit for most movie studios, with the theatrical release serving almost as a promotion for home distribution. While I don’t want to dismiss some concerns about how media companies will monetize digital distribution, the suggestion that these big media companies are imperiled is vastly overstated.