1/30/2008

Thoughts From a Screenwriter

Just wanted to mention this, after reading Phil Alden Robinson's piece:

As someone who works almost exclusively as a screenwriter, here's why I reject the idea I hear often that "this is a TV writers strike."

It's true that the streaming numbers don't affect screenwriters now -- but in the future, new means of delivering content, including movies, are going to be invented. Will we get 1.2% of 100%, as we do for pay-per-view/video on demand? Or will the companies arbitrarily decide to classify whatever the new technology as getting the DVD rate (1.2% of 20%, i.e. .3%)?

Don't think it can't happen, screenwriters -- just take the case of EST, aka downloads. The DGA, WGA and SAG all maintained that EST should have fallen under the "video on demand" formula, meaning 1.2%. Common sense says it should. But the companies unilaterally declared downloads to be DVDs. We got .3% -- and improvements on that in the DGA deal still don't come close to the 1.2% that should, logically, have been the baseline we started from.

If our union fractures, and screenwriters decide not to support the needs of TV writers in this negotiation, then when our turn comes, we'll be in the same position -- and we'll be there with no leverage.

It certainly seems to me that it's no accident that the companies didn't go after the screenwriter hotbutton numbers of 1.2% for New Media rentals (Netflix, Apple TV, etc.) in this round of contract talks. By doing this, they convinced some of the membership that this strike wasn't about their interests. It's strategy, it's smart -- but the congloms didn't decide to do that just because they like screenwriters. They did it specifically to divide.

I personally remember hearing, during the contract talks in the 90s, that DVD residuals were "a screenwriter issue." In hindsight, that perspective proved to be both misguided and totally incorrect -- and TV writers who bought into it were some of the most affected, when DVDs of their work sold millions and millions, and they were effectively shut out of a whole new revenue stream.

I hope we won't make the same mistake again.

Divide and conquer is one of the oldest tricks in the book. But it's still a trick. Unions survive, and make meaningful gains for all their members, when all those members recognize that the greater good matters. Not for altruistic or idealistic reasons -- although those are also important -- but because of the cold, hard math of the bottom line, which is this: once the companies succeed at picking off some of us, it means they're eventually going to come after all of us.

We're not just the Screenwriters Guild of America, or the Television Writers Guild of America. Nor are we the Comedy, Drama, Punch Up, Soap Opera, Late Night or Script Doctor Guild of America.

We are the WRITERS Guild of America. And that's where our strength lies.

-- LK

"We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately."
-- Benjamin Franklin, at the signing of the Declaration of Independence

24 comments:

Jake Hollywood said...

I'm one of those who've complained that this strike seems like it's all about TV writers.

On the line all I run into are TV writers. They're a chatty bunch, tending to be more vocal about their concerns and talking to each other all the time -- just like high school, but different.

However...

When it comes to why we're on strike, no matter how much I moan about TV writers, the one thing we all have in common is that for far too many years we've gotten the short end of the stick. And that's a fact. The numbers prove it.

And if any of numbers in the proposed DGA deal are accurate (which they appear to be), the AMPTP is still trying to stick it to us and turn us against one another.

That's why, TV or feature writer (like I am), we must stand together until a fair and reasonable contract is in the offing. That's why, despite our differences as writers, we must be united, walk the line together, and reject the attempts by outside sources to fracture our collective will.

And now, more than in the previous months of this strike, we need to continue to remember that everything starts with the writer. And it could end badly because of us as well--especially if we don't stand united--everything good we've done in this strike could far apart. I don't know about you, but I value and respect my fellow writers far too much to let that happen.

And I'll be out on the line everyday until the WGA leadership tells me to stop.

Brooklyn scribe said...

Couldn't have said it better myself.

Reading your post during breakfast was a great way to kick off the day before heading to the picket lines.

Amen, brother.

Gotta go...

Sileencer said...

Hey all.

I would like to express my Support and by doing this I create my own little Blog site. helpthewriters.com

This is the only way I could contact united Hollywood.

I created when I didn't find any other sites about the issue, so I hope you guys don't mind. I have added links to UnitedHollywood

I also created a petition that I will send when its gets filled to moguls.

Marjorie said...

Thanks for high-lighting the fact that this contract will affect all writers for signatory companies. As I've said before, all content will soon be delivered via internet. Also -- the "screenwriter" and "TV writer" division is increasingly meaningless, as more and more people work in both formats. Don't let a tactic divide us into self-defeating camps. And by the way -- there are some pretty chatty screenwriters out on the lines. Maybe Jake Hollywood should try another picketing shift.

cee hibb said...

Peace and blessings to WGA (East/West/North/South). I'm a SAG/AFTRA actor, Voiceover artist, poet... and I'm all about the movement that's going on with regards to the Writers' Strike. The Writers demands are not at all unreasonable and once the AMPTP agrees to it, they'll see the benefits now and in the long run. Bottom line is, its time for a 'raise' so why not give the 'raise' to whom it's due? The Bible states (Luke 10:7) "And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house."

Writers have worked very hard to help producers accumulate huge profits year after year, while producers respectively do their part. Each entity has a difficult task at hand, so why not honor the writers requests so that both hands can come back together to once again 'wash each other? May God help us all. My hope is in God Almighty however that His Will be done and not ours. One love yall;-)

*CoreO*

Victor Laszlo said...

interesting. this site only posts comments that are supportive of the WGA and not challenging to the party line. it would seem if you have a morally righteous/defensible position, you would encourage dissent, not censor it. It's similar to another authoritarian regime currently in power who questions anyone who dissents.

mheister said...

Right effin' on!

Same applies to cooperation between the guilds. Remember the story about the Catholic priest in Nazi Germany who repeatedly lamented that after the Nazis came after the Jews, the gays, the gypsies, the liberals, and he didn't stand up for them, there was nobody left to stand up when the Nazis came for him.

While that's perhaps a slightly more extreme example, I'm glad SAG is standing up for the WGA.

Ashley Gable said...

The author mentions, and I'd like to emphasize -- that the loathed VHS-turned-DVD formula was initially considered a feature writer issue in '85 and '88. And one reason those strikes collapsed is because some TV writers went back to work, thinking the VHS formula didn't affect them.

The TV writers were mistaken as well as wrong. And that formula has effed TV as well as feature writers for 20-plus years.

The lesson? Never underestimate how many ways the Moguls will find to make money off our work. And how many ways they'll try to fuck us if we let them.

So feature writers, please don't make the same mistake as your short-sighted TV brethren in the last strike. "We're all in this together" is a practical motto as well as a moral one.

Captain Obvious said...

Ashley, as a feature writer, I can say without a doubt I'm 100% behind the strike and in it for nothing less than a fair deal.

Thank you for the emphasis. It's a point that has to be made and understood.

Bill said...

Victor Laszlo said...
"interesting. this site only posts comments that are supportive of the WGA and not challenging to the party line."


Yes that is how it works around here, and the "Party Line" here is more of the louder Hardliners shout down any dissent with name calling. The sound of silence in the news blackout coming from the informal talks is unbearable to some so they fill the void with loud unproductive noise.
Both sides are still in there talking, right? Can't you just believe that maybe they're on to something that just might work, or do you all really think it can't be done without waiting for SAG to strike in June? Come on - show a little faith in you team!
We'll all know the truth soon enough.

BTL 399

Jake Hollywood said...

Marjorie,

I've been to just about every strike location there is: Paramount (writing partner's home court), NBC Burbank, CBS (both TV City and Radford), Fox, WB...the only place I've missed is Sony (tomorrow it's Disney--favor to a friend). And I've done morning, mid and late afternoon shifts.

Here's the thing, I just want to do my time. I'm not really interested in being "chatty."

But thanks for the suggestion.

Luzid said...

@ Victor:

That's an outright lie, or you're just not paying attention. The very fact that your post, followed by Bill's, is here shows your statement to be erroneous at best.

shortgirl said...

Victor

This site is "United Hollywood". There are many sites that you can vent including Variety, The Hollywoood Reporter and Deadline Hollywood Daily that will publish whatever you want to rant about. This site is for writers and fans to comment on concerns and a find a little support from others going through similar experiences.

They have allowed many dissenting voices but times are stressful enough right now without hearing constant harping about how wrong we all are.

Please avail yourself of the many sites you can state your opinion without fear of being censored.

My best to you if you are out of work because of this strike. You are not alone. My prayers continue to all.

Stay strong Mighty Writers.

stuiec said...

Here's another thought: you are the Writers of Scripted Entertainment That Is Recorded Guild of America. You write words that are meant to be performed as entertainment (unlike, say, novelists) in media that allow the performance to be widely replicated in both space and time (unlike playwrights).

That means that the value of your work is only fully realized when your words are given shape and action and voice by an entire creative team. And every person on that team, from the most skilled to the unskilled, from the most highly-paid to the least-paid, contributes an essential element to the finished product.

So I submit to you that the definition of "we" goes beyond television writer vs. screenwriter and encompasses all of the guilds and unions involved in the creative and production process. Solidarity has to mean more than solidarity within the WGA or between the WGA and the SAG -- it has to mean solidarity between all of the guilds and unions, if it's to be meaningful in any real sense.

Dennis Wilson said...

Victor Laszlo weighed in with: "interesting. this site only posts comments that are supportive of the WGA and not challenging to the party line." Yeah, and there are no ads for Coke on the Pepsi Web site.

This ain't the town hall, Vic. Why should the WGA publish material undermining its efforts?

Not An said...

Victor L and Bill -

I quite often express views a little outside the mainstream and find that they are usually met with civility; that's one of the things I most value about this site. If you want to see dissent shouted down visit DHD - actually, you're better off if you don't.

Respect to all even those who disagree with my always correct opinions.

Captain Obvious said...

Well-said, Stuiec!

I wish more people would grasp this. We truly are all in this together, and "we" is far more all-encompassing than many may choose to realize.

We stand shoulder-to-shoulder as creative individuals or those that support creative pursuits. Our opposition is a huge, profit-hungry machine.

It truly is a David and Goliath scene.

We must remain steadfast in the face of adversity. Everyone needs to see each sister guild as an ally. If one falls prey to the machine, all are dealt a pernicious blow in the process.

Clifford Ball said...

Bravo!

As a big fan of the screen of all sizes I know how important great writing is and am appalled at the pathetic amount you have participated in the success of great shows. This issue isn't rocket science, but it certainly is the pinnacle of greed of a dinosaur system. My hope is that this will encourage entrepreneurs to innovate a new way to produce and distribute film that is fair to all, without the outrageous costs of bureaucracy that contributes nothing.

Please, remain steadfast and know that people like me are standing with you. Best wishes for your families and hope for a bright and better future.

Phill said...

I think that the person who builds his muscle at the gym does not do so at the first few easy bench presses, but the last most difficult ones, that build the muscle. This is the stage that the strike is entering. I encourage writers to embrace the resolve necessary to achieve what by any measure is fairness.

buzzearl said...

Here is a 1/30/08 article in Reuters regarding the ratings hit which the networks are taking because of the strike:

http://www.reuters.com/article/televisionNews/idUSN3063888020080131?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0

Apparently, even Fox --with "Idol" is down 14% from one year ago at this time.


BuzzEarl

Victor Laszlo said...

i posted that comment, because an earlier submission of mine that gave a rationale, measured response to the original post somehow disappeared into the ether. It was not insulting or combative, I just tried to correct some very basic inaccuracies in the original post. That is why i said that dissent was being stiffled because this site really doesn't want to debate the issues at hand.

stuiec said...

captain obvious: "Our opposition is a huge, profit-hungry machine."

You just made me think of a one-act play I was in when I was a college freshman. It was about the funeral of an Irish fisherman -- one of the men who live on a coastal island and who make their living by going to sea in tiny boats, in an area in which the sea is so treacherous that none of the men know how to swim -- there's no safe place to learn.

The members of the entertainment guilds and unions make their living at the edge of a large and hungry machine. The machine is not an enemy, any more than the Irish Sea is the enemy of the fishermen. But it can be an adversary -- certainly at best a partner, from whom good things like money and fame and pride of craftsmanship flow in return for hard work, but at worst, a deadly dangerous maw that can suck an individual in and spit out his carcass when it's been bled dry.

Maybe rather than David and Goliath, an earlier Biblical analogy is better. At its best, the relationship between the Hebrews and Pharaoh led to Joseph being made the Grand Vizier of all Egypt, ensuring that the Egyptians and Hebrews alike survived in fat years and lean. At its worst... well, Moses was one hell of an organizer.

Captain Obvious said...

Stuiec I'm glad my idle comment was a catalyst for your elaboration. Wow.

Victor: Some of my comments don't make it through either, and I'm undoubtedly a supporter. It happens that way sometimes. Try not to read too much into it.

cee hibb said...

"*Maybe Jake Hollywood should try another picketing shift*." ---LoL---
Marjorie, you better leave Jake Hollywood alone;-) But for real though, it's good to see us on here debating this very important matter positively
because if the writers didn't strike this would've only been swept under the rug and the producers would still be walking away with fat pockets while the writers would still end up with the short end of the stick (ewwwwwww.... grossss)