Frank Pierson: John Ridley Is Wrong

This is reprinted from the LA TIMES. If you're interested in seeing John Ridley's original Op-Ed piece defending his position, it's here. If you'd like to see Craig Mazin's brief aside on Ridley's choice, go here.

Personally, I'd just like to add one thing that people never quite seem to grok about going fi-core -- it means you can't vote on any contract (or anything political within the Guild) ever again. It's permanent. If you are, for example, determined to see the WGA take whatever deal the DGA eventually comes out with, then if you've gone fi-core, you won't be able to vote.

Like many people, I get frustrated with just about any group I find myself in, sooner or later. The choices are to storm off, or to work to make it better from inside. Myself, I want to have a voice in making things better. Even if it's not easy to do. -- LK

John Ridley is wrong

A former Writers Guild president explains.

By Frank Pierson

January 14, 2008

When there were rumors of an A-list screenwriter going "financial core" from the Writers Guild of America, I was as surprised as John Ridley was to find out it was him. His resume is mostly pretty good television episodic writing, and he's made a good and well-deserved living doing that, as well as representing himself as the voice of Hollywood writers on the Huffington Post, NPR and in occasional Op-Ed articles here and there.

His assertion that I, as president of the Writers Guild, once gave him "a new orifice" because he complained of the lack of diversity in guild membership, is something I do not recall having done. The issues of diversity have always been a deep guild concern, but employment is not in the guild's control — whomever is employed by the studios becomes a member of the guild. The guild does not hire nor fire.

During and after my time as president, the guild organized a number of programs to give blacks and Latinos chances to do nonwriting services on shows, to at least get a foot in the door, and these programs were modestly effective. When I was a producer of "Have Gun — Will Travel" in the 1960s, at some risk and considerable trouble, I cast blacks, Latinos and blacklisted actors and writers, bringing them into the employable stream. Because I don't recall the phone call Ridley refers to, I can only reply in a general sense to Ridley's charge: If he had problems with how the guild was run, the best way for him to change it was to work from within. So far as I know, he has never worked on a guild committee. He was invited to run for office by the nominating committee of the guild in the interests of diversifying our board membership, but after a brief flirtation, Ridley refused the opportunity to educate and invigorate that body.

Now he has abandoned the community of writers and become in effect a spokesperson for the Assn. of Motion Picture and Television Producers. He can scab-write and (under current labor law) retain all the union benefits won at great sacrifice in three major strikes over 50 years. In doing so, he only prolongs the strike he deplores by doing the writing he couldn't get without it.

What Ridley does not mention is that he has a contract to write "Red Tails," a movie to be directed by George Lucas — low budget, by the way — this year. How convenient this seems. That he is now — having gone fi-core — free to write his first real movie during the strike.

And even so, the guild, with our continuing contributions, will take care of Ridley when he's sick, protect him from predatory rewrites, pay him his residuals and support him in his old age, and he doesn't even have to walk for it. (He is, by the way, walking by himself, the only screenwriter who has gone fi-core during the strike.)

There is a word for this: parasite.

Frank Pierson is a screenwriter whose credits include "Cool Hand Luke" and "Dog Day Afternoon."


reasonable said...

I hate John Ridley.
Hate is not too strong a word for this level of sycophant. Any gains this strike could allow for minority writers are jeopardized by his evil example. Though I'm positive those out there in the position to hire more than the 9% minority writers in the Guild today, will see beyond Ridley's negative (stereo)type.

Jake Hollywood said...

As much as I disagree with Ridley's point of view and think he's short-sighted if nothing else, you have to admit that he's smart enough to know that there's no real penalty (no more voting? I bet Ridley doesn't lose much sleep over that one)...And therein is the problem with fi-core, there should be a substantial penalty for taking the easy route , but there isn't. Ridley gets to enjoy all the protection from being in the Guild, but doesn't have to sacrifice anything when the Guild takes a stand. Not a bad deal, especially if you're only interested in yourself.

J.Y.M. said...

Thank you, thank you Frank Pierson. I lament daily that Ridley has practically been the sole "voice" of the Hollywood writing community on NPR. How interesting that that sole voice is also the sole guild member to go fi-core due to the current strike. Good to see this fact mentioned in the L.A. Times, which helps to put Ridley's anti-WGA, rhetoric-filled rants into context.

helluvagal said...

Having made this loud show of hypocritical, cowardly self-interest, Ridley should never work in this town again.

Unfortunately, this town is crawling with other morally bankrupt wretches who wouldn’t hesitate to hire scabs. It's their karma.

hollarback said...

Very well put. I kind of pity Mr. Ridley, I can't muster up any hate. How can someone who can only see his own interests and version of the world really write?

Cross Red Tails off my viewing list as well.

latelatebloomer said...

Sadly, we are giving ridley what he wants; ATTENTION. He's like a dog; doesn't matter to him if the attention is positive or negative... he just wants it. I say we just ignore him. It's not like he's a relevant or important writer.

zencat said...

Thank you, Mr. Pierson. It is about time someone reality checked John Ridley.

Brian Scully said...

I agree that what John Ridley did in going Fi-Core was purely out of self-interest, and I don't thinkt there's much mystery in that. What I want to know is what in the heck is wrong with George Lucas? He could hire ANY good writer in town and he ends up choosing this guy Ridley? I had to look up Ridley's credits on IMDB and well, I'm having trouble imagining George Lucas saying "I have GOT to have John Ridley to write my movie." Yikes! If anything, we should all be quite impressed by John Ridley's agent. Now THERE is a talented person.

JimBob said...

I understand why there are "right to work" rules. Society doesn't want unions to decide who works and who doesn't work by making union membership obligatory for employment. Okay, agree or not agree, I get the thinking. What I do NOT get is how someone who doesn't want to be a member in the sense of...well, being part of the collective bargaining organization, can walk away and continue to receive pension and health benefits as long as they meet the earnings criteria for a member in good standing. What is the thinking there, please?

Felix said...

Frank Pierson is amazing (Cool Hand Luke AND Dog Day Afternoon... wow).

This guy Ridley comes across as some whiny brat. An opportunist who's trying to find any kind of rationalization (I hate the union blah blah) to justify his selfish actions. He proclaims in his article that he's had enough and is acting like he has guts to walk out of the strike. Well, truth is it's the opposite. It takes guts to stick with it. If he had any guts or principles about this he'd have gone fi-core right off the bat as soon as the strike was declared. On top of that, if he hates the union so much (the union that protects him!), have some guts and just quit the guild entirely and see how it is out there without any guild protections and health insurance and all that.

serena said...

John Ridley the only screenwriter who has gone fi-core, and he represents himself as the voice of Hollywood......sick, sick, sick.

Dear Mr. Pierson,
So, you're the wonderful genius who gave me the line,"What we have here is a failure to communicate", (Cool Hand Luke). Can't tell you how many times I've used that line, in my btl crew job,and just in life. Thank you.

Sometimes Showrunner said...

I've got to add my head scratching to Jim Bob's. Could someone please explain WHY while the vast majority of WGA members and supporters burn through shoe leather and savings accounts on the picket line, public scabs from Ridley to Stewart and Colbert get to thumb their noses at us all (and collect fat paychecks) with no repercussions? I understand you can't just grab a pension that a vested member has "earned" but why can't these scabs be booted out of the guild entirely, the studios no longer asked to contribute to their pension or health. They can pick up their pension for all that they/the studio has contributed up until they went fi-core/scab when they reach retirement age. They'll now be free to pick up their own health insurance as there will no longer be contributions made there. And as for their residuals and royalties, well, they can do what artists have done in the music business have done for years, hire a good lawyer, at their own expense, and have them track them down internationally on their behalf. Yes, the actions of the many principled members of the guild will not and should not be affected by the actions of the self-centered few, but it sure would help take a little chill off opening up that latest mortgage bill knowing that there were REAL and VISIBLE consequences to counterproductive and selfish actions.

Arizona Kid said...

Bless you, Frank. John Ridley is a punk. His stock and trade is victimology. He will, thankfully, be forgotten in the sands of time...

striketowin said...

Weeeee! Just like in his films, Mr. Pierson really tells it like it is! Parasite. That is the word. But why can we not implement some of the suggestions made by "Sometimes showrunner"?'I'm all for it. We have the same problem in SAG. It's high time for some changes.