Friday, December 16, 2016

"The Green Envelope"

It begins every time one floats down from the mail slot into the awaiting wicker basket below.  (An authentic Longaberger basket, an appreciated gift from Ohio family members.)   

To members of the Writers Guild, the arrival of “The Green Envelope” announces “residuals.”

Whoa, it just occurred to me:  “Green Envelope” – money.  Could that possibly be deliberate?  I hope not.  We writers have a reputation to uphold.

For those of you not familiar with the term, “residuals” – labeled “royalties” in loftier circles, which is a demonstrably classier descriptive:  

“Her Majesty decrees you an additional emolument.”  Versus “Everyone took a big bite and these leftover ‘residuals’ are for you” – residuals refer to subsidiary payments to writers for subsequent airings – somewhere – of episodes they wrote for TV series later sold to ancillary (off-network) markets in syndication.  (There are also “network residuals” but they dry up disturbingly quickly.)

Before the Writers Guild won their members the right to residuals, their employers issued a single payment for the original script and that, fiduciarially, was that. 

If subsequent work stoppages are any example, the striking Guild members, which did not include me, as the dispute took place before my arrival, walked around studios holding a placard on a stick for a number of months until the other side finally gave up and said “Yes.”  After that, we had residuals.

Which was only appropriate… proclaims a writer whose scriptorial ancestors fought for and won this justifiable benefit.  Employers were profiting from the sale of already produced episodes sold to syndication – and by “already produced” Read: free of any subsequent expenditures on their part – and since Guild members originally contributed to those episodes from which their employers were profiting a subsequent time, they were legitimately entitled to a percentage of those profits.

Am I getting too lawyerly?

Simply articulated, there was a secondary revenue stream, and the creative participants – writers, directors, actors – fought for and now receive residuals from those profits.

“The Green Envelope” contains those residuals, making them a welcome arrival to our homes.

However…

And in fact, this post is actually about “However”, and, in fact “Number Two”, could have been reasonably entitled “However…” instead of “The Green Envelope” and, in fact yet a third time, I may go back and re-title it “However…” 

Nah.  “The Green Envelope” has at least minimal “Curiosity Appeal”:  “What’s in the ‘Green Envelope’?”  “However…” is like, “I don’t even know what part of speech that is.  And I’m not crazy about those dots.”

Pivotal Factoid:  The longer a show continues in syndication, the more the residual payments diminish.  I am not exactly sure why.  I guess with every re-airing, the syndication package becomes less valuable.  Either that, or it was a compromise settlement, which the writers accepted, tired of walking around studios for numerous months holding a stick.

Like almost everything, there are two ways of looking at “The Green Envelope” phenomenon:

The “Optimistic” Way:

“So what if we’re receiving less.  It’s still ‘effortless money.’

“How many people in other lines of endeavor would love to open an envelope and find an additional payment for work they had completed possibly decades before.  Not just menial laborers.  Heart surgeons.

‘Oh, look – a residual for the valve repair I did on Mr. Pomerantz back in 2009!’

“I know.  Nothing was re-sold in that case.  But still, every time my heart beats normally… that, in a way, is like a “heartbeat rerun.”  And Dr. Trento does not receive a dime!  It’s ‘Single Payment.’  A cardiacical ‘buyout.’”

Man, optimism tires me out. 

The Alternative Perspective:  (where the contrarial “However…” slips in.)

Recently, I was the recipient of a check, an accumulated residual payment for three episodes of The Mary Tyler Moore Show written in 1976-77 amounting to…

Drumroll, though not a genuinely triumphant one…

… after “Withholding Taxes” had been deducted…

One dollar.

That’s thirty-three cents per episode.  Actually, one of the scripts was rounded up to thirty-four cents, making the entire dollar.  I wonder if they considered which of the three scripts was actually “a penny funnier.”

At least I was not sent separate checks wherein the amount of the check on the inside was lower than the amount of the stamp appended to “The Green Envelope” containing it.  As a practical strategy, they waited until the payment was at least double that of the stamp’s actual value. 

In truth, I’d have preferred if they had paid me with three stamps.  But that would be greater than the payment contractually due me as set down in the negotiated “Collective Bargaining Agreement” so they didn’t. 

I have actually received even smaller residual disbursements.  One, I recall, was for seven cents.  Which arrived by itself.  I guess they just wanted it off the books.  Maybe it was never on the books.  Maybe they snuck into their kid’s bedroom when they were sleeping and extracted seven cents out of their “Penny Bank.”

“Sorry, sweetie.  I have to pay a writer.”

That’s the alternate “However…” which, by the way, is considerably easier to write.

So there you have it:  Two contrasting views concerning residuals.

Optimistic:  “Free money!”

Pessimistic:  “Seven frickin’ cents!”

I will not adjudge which perspective is more accurate.  I will mention only, as a “tiebreaker”, the response of my Bank of AmericaATM, which when I tried to deposit my less-than-a-dime residual check flashed

“Cannot read this amount.”

Which was the ATM’s compassionate way of saying,

“Are you kidding me?”

Machines get it.


Optimists do not.

1 comment:

Stephen Marks said...

ATM? I'd be saying "are you kidding me" to MTM. Along with "fuck you." It's not like you wrote 3 scripts for The Trouble With Tracy or The King Of Kensington, it was The Mary Tyler Moore Show, a classic. I've watched those episodes probably 50 times each and they make me laugh every time, I should be sending you a cheque Earl.

A Longaberger waste basket? Never heard of it, I guess I'll have to look it up on Wicker-pedia! There, there is an example of a 7 cent joke. I should be receiving, at most, 7 cents for writing that lame ass joke.