Friday, July 1, 2016

"Dispatch From 'Arbiter Number 3'"

Which is me but I am under cover so… “Shhhhh.”

I have been “invited” to participate in a Writers Guild arbitration.  Three arbiters examine the material and adjudicate the credits, which will determine who will cash in if the show it a hit which it usually isn’t but just in case.

What are we arbitrating this time?

For an impending “Web Series, the “Employer” (a studio or production company) has accorded “Writer A” a “Created By” credit and “Writer B” a “Developed By” credit, which “Writer A” is not disputing. 

As an adversarial contest this one is hardly the “Scopes Trial.”  The “Scopes Trial” would have had to go…

“You Honor, John Scopes taught evolution in his High School biology class.”

“And you’re saying that’s a punishable offense?”

“No, we’re actually fine with that.”

… and it didn’t.

Everyone involved in the proceeding was in total agreement.  And yet we are forced to “go through the motions” because, by Writers Guild mandate:  A “Developed By” triggers “automatic arbitration”, I suppose to determine whether the “everyone” who was in total agreement was mistaken.

In the context of “pressure”, this process was, as someone once described to me in a different context,

“Bases loaded, two out, bottom of the first.”

All I had to do was support the currently designated determination, e-mail my “Determinative Decision” to the Writers Guild, and eat one – or both – of the York peppermint patties that accompanied the arbitration material as a “Thank you” for participating in this thankless – and arguably meaningless – undertaking.  And then wonder why I ate them because normally I don’t.  (How could I not eat them?  They were a present.)

But here’s the thing.

The accompanying instructions explained that this thankless and arguably meaningless undertaking had to be completed within forty-eight hours, and that my “Determinative Decision” be delivered “…no later than nine A.M.” of the deadline day.

That’s how they wrote it:

“No later than nine A.M.”

In intimidatingly bold typeface.  Implying that if you were late,

They would send you to the principal’s office.

And re-evaluate your health coverage. 

The arbitration set off immediate explosions in my stomach.  What if there’s not enough time to read the stack of “relevant material” and complete my “Determinative Decision” using exactly the right wording – the wording of the Television Credits Manual?  (If you wrote “‘Writer B’ has ‘substantially improved’ ‘Writer A’s’ original contribution” rather than “substantially enhanced  ‘Writer A’s’ original contribution”, they’d send it back to you, insisting that you word your personal decision in the precise language of the manual.  That happened to me one, and it was humiliating.  Or was it infuriating?  Or both?)   

And there’s the dreaded phone conference when there is no unanimity.  By the way, Guild regulations do not require unanimity – hence, the three arbiters to avoid a tie – but they prefer it.  “Majority’s good enough for democracy but apparently not for the Writers Guild.  

I have been involved in these anxiety-riddled phone conferences, arguing a minority position – the other two arbiters ruling the other way – and ignominiously losing, agreeing finally to reverse my decision – even though it was correct – to put an end to the foolishness and return peacefully to my unchallenging life.

Okay, so there’s the looming time pressure, the pressure of cloaking my decision in the appropriate verbiage, regulations verbatim, and the potential peer pressure of the phone conference and possibly – and with me, almost certainly – uncomfortably swimming against the tide.   

It’s weird.  Objectively, virtually nothing was on the line. 

Why then was I quivering in my boots?

“Hey, it’s just like the old days – writing scripts and delivering shows on deadline.  How exciting.  It’s like you’re back in the saddle.”

Yeah, except for one thing:

I hated the saddle! 

I got through it somehow.  The unrelenting pressures of the job – I endured that for years.  The question that rushes immediately to mind is:

How? 

Was that guy actually me? 

And if it was…

Why am stressing over this meaningless arbitration?

Sure, I was often terrified back then.  But it was not like I threw up every morning before going to the office.  I went in, and I did it.  I went home, and I came back the next day.

Well, I pep-talked myself, that was me and this is me. 

So let’s get to work.

I read all the material – though I could have easily leap-frogged to the foregone conclusion.  I wrote my “Determinative Decision”, copying the applicable “blah-blah” out of the manual.  And, much to my relief, there was unanimity amongst the arbiters, erasing the necessity of an unwanted phone conference.

And all of it under the wire.  I exhaled relievedly.  I was finished.

Or so I believed.

I get a call from the Guild’s “Credits Administrator.”  She is returning her retyped version of my “Determinative Decision”, deleting my handwritten signature and replacing it with the masquerading “Arbiter Number 3.”  She required my approval of that revision.

She e-mails back my decision.  I read it.  I fax back my approval. 

Now I was finished.

Or so I believed. 

She calls back.

“While I have you, the same company is involved in another arbitration and I was wondering if….”

My one regret in this process was that my immediate “No!” was a little too intense.

Although eminently truthful.

Once, I handled onerous challenges on a daily basis.

Now – and not without noticeable difficulty…

Only once a year.
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Happy Birthday, Canada.  Be proud you're not proud.

1 comment:

Fred from Scarborough said...

I'm a little bit proud but didn't tell anyone.