I Don’t Support the WGA Strike

But I don’t not support it, either.

I am getting pretty sick of hearing about the strike, though; About how everyone thinks the writers are millionaires, the studios are evil, and the ulterior motives lying just beneath the surface on either side.

If I have your attention now, there’s more to be read after the jump…

I’m a below the line kind of guy. When I was a freelance cinematographer/gaffer/grip, I got paid for the work I did and that was that. Some of my movies went to DVD, some didn’t. It didn’t matter to me because by the time the last piece of crap I shot hit the shelves at Blockbuster, I was already on a new job. If I wasn’t on a movie or TV show, I was teaching kids at NYFA, or freelancing at a major cable news network, or writing for magazines. It’s not exactly what I wanted to do, but if i didn’t go out and look for the work, it was my fault when I didn’t get paid. It was (and still is, for some people) a sucky existence. I sure could’ve used a union then.

Having said that, I’m a little apathetic when I hear about how difficult it is for a WGA writer to support his/her family on a writer’s salary. Vis a vis minimum salary requirements and benefits, the concept of a residual is like the icing on cake. From what I know about WGA membership (and that’s very little, so correct me if I’m wrong), once you’re in… You’re in. It’s not like the Motion Picture Editor’s Guild, where you have to clock a certain number of hours per year to retain your benefits. That makes sense to me. Why shouldn’t writers have a minimum amount of words or pages that need to be sold in order to recieve their residuals? From what I’ve heard, there are a lot of current WGA members who haven’t sold a story in years.

Again, I wonder… If these people need money so bad, why don’t they just go out and find more work? I can see myself having an opinion either way if this were a matter of addressing a basic need, but no one’s being waterboarded or stripped of their benefits. People tell me that the writers want to be treated fairly. To that, I say that if this were really a fair universe would the Suite Life of Zack and Cody still be on the air while I’m stuck watching the same 12 episodes of Freaks and Geeks over and over? The point is that everyone’s idea of what’s fair is going to be different. That much should be obvious. The producers think they’re giving the writers a fair cut of the profits, and the writers disagree.

More power to the both of them, because no matter what, it’s the viewers that ultimately win. When the dust settles, what we’ll be left with are the first rays of the new dawn of entertainment distribution – TV 2.0, if you will.

Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof wrote the most tempered and perceptive editorial on the whole process in a recent NYT article. He talks about the death of television and the eventual obsolecense of “air” as we know it, aided by the proliferation of digital recording devices in the home, and the Internet*. Even Michael Eisner has suggested that the picket lines be moved to the Apple Campus in Cupertino. In a few years, the primary market for content delivery probably won’t be television – it’ll be iTunes.

*Edit: After all, isn’t that was this is all about? I can see how it could be hard to quantify your viewership. Digital distribution over the Web seems to be the most ambiguous of mediums, unless you’re using a registered service (i.e. iTunes). On that note, would it be considered a conflict of interest if the WGA just struck a deal with Steve Jobs?

30 Replies to “I Don’t Support the WGA Strike”

  1. The difference between a writer and an editor is that, indeed, a writer can toil away for years, writing good stuff, and not sell a thing after spending countless hours on his projects, while an editor isn’t out there editing for free between jobs hoping to sell his work.

    I wonder if the same people who think that writers aren’t due residuals also think musicians should stop bitching about record companies screwing them over?

  2. Cutter I have to admire your stance and putting it up there. Nicely laid out. It should be interesting to see how it plays out in the comments.

  3. “I can see how it could be hard to quantify your viewership. Digital distribution over the Web seems to be the most ambiguous of mediums, unless you’re using a registered service (i.e. iTunes).”

    Why do people keep saying this? Selling on the web is one of the EASIEST ways to track your sales. By non-‘registered’ service, do you mean pirating? There’s no money exchanged here anyways, so how does it even factor in? To me, this seems like the simplest solution ever…give the writer a percentage of the total online or DVD sales. Duh.

  4. “From what I know about WGA membership (and that’s very little, so correct me if I’m wrong), once you’re in… You’re in.”

    It’s a points based system, you have to make enough points (for selling scripts, rewrites, treatments, etc.)to get in and must continue to earn points to maintain your status. If you don’t, then your benefits are dropped.

  5. I agree with Brian. The internet/itunes should be the most reliable way of knowing how many units are sold.
    Musicians are getting a cut of the music they sell on itunes, so why not the writers?

    However, it is brave to post your unpopular opinion on a blog that is so pro-strike. What’s better is that it opens a new conversation and you allow room to be questioned as well.

    Perhaps the strike SHOULD be moved to Apple. I mean, Apple and Google are really flying under the radar these days as two companies that will soon own everything under the sun, but the public still views favorably. The Un-Microsofts.

  6. The difference is that an editor does a job and is paid for that job. A writer creates something and is paid to give up their rights to it. Imagine television with no one coming up with the ideas! (OK, I can see where you could say that might be an improvement, but it wouldn’t really.)

    I do appreciate your perspective, and I admire your cojones in posting against the popular opinion.

    And this has been sitting here so long that I’m sure it’s now redundant. That is what I get for trying to comment before coffee. I thought I pressed ‘Post’ – really I did.

  7. Why should these strikes be moved to Apple? This makes as much sense had previous strikes been held at Blockbuster or even Wal-Mart.
    Apple and Google are not content producers, they’re content providers, and aren’t the ones who hire and sign contracts with writers.

  8. p.s. Most writers do have other jobs. And why is that OK? Writing is a full-time job, and should provide enough income to not have to also work as a receptionist or a cashier or a courier (et cetera).

  9. The whole argument that “if writers are feeling underpaid, then they should find work doing something else” is just so mean-spirited and reactionary. It suggests that one has no right to ask to be better compensated for work they just happen to love doing.

    Some anti-strikers insinuate that writers are lazy good-for-nothings who don’t do any “real” work when they’re not getting paid to write. Surprise: Most WGA members who don’t often get paid work must resort to various day jobs to put food on the table. (And when you mewl about writers who haven’t worked in years asking for residuals, I say this: If “Chinatown” DVDs continue to make money for Paramount, then Robert Towne deserves to see some of that money, whether or not he’s sold a new script in the last 5 years. My argument: Paramount hasn’t done much work on “Chinatown” lately either, yet they still make money off it.) Every writer would, I’m sure, love for residuals checks to pay their bills, so they can focus on their craft, but so would you. But at 8 cents a DVD, most entertainment writers will still have to work those non-writing day jobs, so it’s not like you’re just making rich people richer.

    Also, let’s remember how sucky it is to be a writer. Your best work is often thrown out or watered down by some exec who isn’t even trained in your field, then you get blamed by audiences when that watered-down work is presented with your name on it. Writers put up with a LOT of crap. We all know this. It’s stressful and demoralizing. And you might say “Great! Then quit!” But if we all quit doing what we loved doing just because we had to deal with a few jerks, what kind of people would we be? I say give the writers a freaking break already.

  10. Again, I wonder… If these people need money so bad, why don’t they just go out and find more work?

    Don’t you think if it were that easy, they would?

    There’s a core misperception in your argument that being a writer is the same thing as being a gaffer or a grip or a best boy. By your logic, Scholastic is more entitled to Harry Potter profits than JK Rowling, and her contribution is no more important than the guy that runs the press. I think that’s a little short sighted.

  11. In a few years, the primary market for content delivery probably won’t be television – it’ll be iTunes.

    Yes, and that’s the whole point of this strike.

    We’re moving toward on-demand delivery of digital content, especially via the net – not just iTunes, but also Hulu and and its upcoming workalikes and other such channels. Plus VOD via cable.

    Big, big changes are afoot.

    But you also said:

    The point is that everyone’s idea of what’s fair is going to be different. That much should be obvious. The producers think they’re giving the writers a fair cut of the profits, and the writers disagree.

    But the “share” of the digital-distribution revenue that the studios want to give the writers (from VOD, iTunes, Hulu, etc.) – their current offer on the table – is:

    NOTHING.

    Zip. Zilch. Zero. Nada.

    Unsurprisingly, the writers don’t consider that a “fair share”, and it’s kinda hard to see how anyone else could, either.

    The studios say it’s too early to tell how much money they can make from digital distribution, so the writers should accept a contract that gives them nothing at all for these formats, while the studios continue to study the matter.

    Big changes are indeed afoot, and the writers (and most everyone else in the business) can see that handwriting on the wall. The writers are just the first union to have to confront the studios over this, and other unions will have to deal with whatever precedent the writers’ contract sets. So it’s not surprising that the writers have widespread support from other crafts as well.

    As Joss Whedon says:

    We’re not just talking about an unfair deal, we’re talking about no deal at all. Four cents from the sale of a DVD (the standing WGA deal) sounds exactly as paltry as it is, but in a decade DVD may have gone the way of the eight-track. We have to protect the rights of the people who tell the stories, however they’re told.

    It’s not about an “unfair share,” it’s about no share at all.

  12. …no one’s being waterboarded or stripped of their benefits. People tell me that the writers want to be treated fairly….everyone’s idea of what’s fair is going to be different.

    So am I right that what you’re saying is that as long as you’re not being tortured or denied health care, you shouldn’t strike (or complain) about anything else because we live in a morally relative universe? That’s what it sounds like you’re saying, Cutter. (I’ll bet you’re a Ron Paul supporter aren’t you? I can just feel it.)

  13. Cutter, you rock! Besides, there are other people in this City who are REALLY struggling…and the writers (and producers, and studios, for that matter) refuse to acknowledge they even exist. They can all suck it.

  14. I think that one point you are missing is that the studios are currently demanding that content be produced for new media (internet and cel phone) with NO compensation for anyone – writers, actors, directors, gaffers, grips, etc. as the studios classify all content produced exclusively for internet/phone as “promotional materials” to support the broadcast. Then the studios turn around and sell online advertising during the “promos” turning them into revenue streams. Read the interviews with Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica), or Greg Daniels (The Office) to get more insight into this.

  15. C’mon, MA, you can’t be serious. What exactly are you implying? You think the majority of writers in this city aren’t struggling? Is somebody that works as a day laborer or at a fast food restaurant somehow more deserving of support than somebody that’s living hand to mouth trying to be a writer? That’s some classist bullshit.

    I’d love to know when it became so easy to make a bundle in Hollywood, because somebody forgot to share the secret with me and every person I know.

  16. I hear you 5000!. It’s like the whole “the Jews own all of the banks” thing. I’m like, “Hey guys, member of the tribe over here!! Let me in on the conspiracy.”

  17. The Militant is clearly trying to get a rise out of someone, and I might have to step up to the plate. I am so fucking sick of the idea that just because you support one cause you are opposed to another similar cause. If I give money to a charity that helps children, do I therefore hate animals? No. It’s a pointless accusation designed to distract everyone from the fact that writers deserve to be compensated. That doesn’t mean that writers want anyone else to suffer.

  18. I support the writers. That being said, it doesn’t help when they spread disinformation that can easily be fact-checked as wrong. The writers said they get no money from ITunes. I believed them. The producers laid out an ad that said writers get money from ITunes. I started doubting. Quick googling brings up this article (http://macdailynews.com/index.php/weblog/comments/hollywood_unions_cry_foul_over_apple_itunes_store_abc_tv_shows_deals/) from 2006 where the guilds are complaining they’re not getting a fair share from ITunes sales. I know the article talks about one specific company and one specific method of internet distribution, but it belies the writers’ assertions.

  19. And what about the rest of the industry that is going to be put out of work? I was here in ’88 and that sucked. This feels worse.

    I support the writers and their need for a new contract. But does the everyone else below-the-line need to lose their jobs over this? Because that’s what’s happening. And if you think there are enough spare jobs in this town to absorb an ENTIRE industry, well, your math may be a bit off.

  20. The writers aren’t putting people out of work. The AMPTP is. They are the ones refusing to negotiate. And besides that, how is it the writers’ responsibility to make sure everyone else has a job? All the writers I know feel terrible about the whole thing, but it is not their responsibility or their fault.

  21. Nathan, ABC’s decision to pay DVD rates for iTunes distribution wasn’t the result of a negotiated contract.

    It’s just one company that decided that (this time, anyway) they’d pay something; and then unilaterally decided how much.

    The point is that they’re not required to pay anything at all, and they haven’t negotiated the payment rates with anyone – not the writers, not the union.

    They paid whatever they felt was good enough, when they happened to feel like paying.

    And now they want a new contract that says that’s okay – that they can continue to pay whatever they like, if they happen to feel like it. Or not, if they don’t.

    “Your fair share is whatever I decide to give you, if I decide to give you anything at all.”

    Does that sound like the sort of promise you’d want to hear from a network or studio?

  22. People tell me that the writers want to be treated fairly. To that, I say that if this were really a fair universe would the Suite Life of Zack and Cody still be on the air while I’m stuck watching the same 12 episodes of Freaks and Geeks over and over?

    Yeah, it’s the writers’ fault that Freaks and Geeks got cancelled. Wait, what?

    This brings up another point I hear from time to time — the writers have no right to make money off their work because part of their work includes writing for Cavemen. You don’t think we know Cavemen is shitty? We don’t choose the shows, the people inside the buildings we’re picketing do.

    The producers think they’re giving the writers a fair cut of the profits, and the writers disagree.

    But if you say we can’t or shouldn’t strike, ultimately we won’t be allowed to disagree.

  23. Are these the same writers that are responsible for all the crap on TV? Stupid stories about people who look nothing like me, live lives not even close to mine, who write shows that take place in Los Angeles and fail to include Latinos as characters?
    I drive by these striking writers every morning and they seem to reflect the homogeneous images and characters they write about. Until they start accurately portraying the diversity that exists in this city, I will have a hard time feeling sorry for them because they’re not doing a good job.

  24. Angry Latino: Thank You! Why support people whose whole expertise is rooted in stereotyping, or disregarding you? How many people of color are in those picket lines? Very, very, vry, very, very few.

  25. To all the whiners who blame writers for the crappy shows that make it onto the schedule. It’s not the writers’ fault. The blame sits squarely on you, your family and your neighbors. Networks only air what people will tune into.

    Sure, you may be a holier-than-thou “I only watch quality TV” type, but most of the country isn’t. You are not the center of the TV Universe.

    A TV writer may craft a brilliant and wonderful story, but by the time it hits the air, too often the network execs have disemboweled it, tossing its bloody, lifeless carcass into your living room. But don’t blame the writer for writing what you have proven time and time again that you want to watch. That’s why “good” shows usually get canceled.

  26. I think Militant and Angry have an interesting point worthy of discussion all its own. But I think its a little ignorant of them to assume that these same writers haven’t written or pitched shows with Latinos in lead roles.

    The reality is that producers have final say, and frequently shoot down the idea of minorities as central characters, rejecting scripts, or suggesting casting changes that reflect a whiter, Nielsen safer demographic.

    What is out there is the George Lopez show, cancelled but strong in syndication; Mind of Mencia which is insulting on many levels, but still shows some hope that America isn’t frightened by Latinos; and Ugly Betty, which wasn’t the brainchild of some network executive, but instead of Silvio Horta, who has been out there on the picket lines.

    That said, from personal experience, Latino screenwriters are very, very hard to come across, which is very strange in a city where they are the predominant ethnicity.

  27. …not to mention networks full of Telenovelas (granted, they’re targeted to the Latino market, but they still count). And I like “Cane” on CBS. It’s Dallas with sugar cane, and a mostly Latino cast — including Hector Elizondo and Jimmy Smits, who have received top billing in many series over the years. And what about Eva Longoria. And producer Selma Hayek?

  28. While it’s great that the writers on the picket lines have pitched stories with rainbow packed types of people, why do all the writers look the same? I mean in LA my friends and I have always said it takes a special kind of person to have that many friends and co-workers that look exactly like them.

    And we don’t mean the special in the good way.

    There are no Asian, Latino, African-American, heck mixed races people who want to write for crappy TV, obviously it doesn’t take skill, so what’s the deal with the obvious old boy’s club going on in the picket lines.

    Just asking.

    Browne

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