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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog

(OR EL DUDERINO IF YOU'RE NOT INTO THE WHOLE BREVITY THING)

-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Strike Update and Opinions

I am still holding out hope that the WGA and the AMPTP can reach an agreement today, averting a strike. But I'm not holding my breath, despite rumors of some progress made today. Especially after I note the untruths and combative nature of the various statements over at the AMPTP website (I hesitated to link to it, but more information circulating is better in my opinion).

One of the things that I've been doing the last couple of days is talking to writers that I know, gathering their opinions. And I've been interested to find some differing points of view from those I've spoken to. I spoke with two working writers yesterday at synagogue, and another today via IM. I'm not going to mention any of their names since I didn't ask their permission, and since I easily could be misquoting them or misinterpreting their impressions. And if any of you do read this, and I have misinterpreted, please accept my apologies, and understand that is why I left you anonymous! But I did want to air some of the opinions.

The first writer I spoke to is a WGA member who has written for television, and then had a few features produced. He's approximately the same age as me (I'm 36), and married with a family. I'm giving details like this as a frame of reference only. I will refer to him as "A."

"A" was adamantly against the strike, and rather angry with the WGA for what is going on. He felt that those agitating for the strike are not representative of most working writers, primarily coming from the ranks of either the extremely successful and wealthy A-listers or the writers who are in the union more by fluke. People who may have written a single film or TV episode, got into the union, but make their living in other fields like law or something else. This was also a bone of contention in our discussion, since I am not in the guild, but I tried to assure him I was really just trying to learn his opinion and educate myself, not argue with him or tell him what the guild should be doing.

"A" sees the damage that the strike will do as much more significant than the gains it might achieve, and actually doesn't believe there will be much gained either. To him, DVD is a ship that has sailed already, a fight we already lost. So why are we bringing it up again now? And with internet, he believes no one has figured out how to make money off of it yet, so why not table the discussion until later when we really have an idea what we are arguing about.

Furthermore, "A" is doubtful that any strike will accomplish much because it will hurt the writers more than the producers, and we are bound to lose any war of attrition. He quoted a friend in likening it to sitting down to play poker against the richest man in the world. I didn't mention it then, but I don't think the analogy proves the point, because I take the opposite view. I have played poker against people who were significantly wealthier than me, and who brought lots of money to the table. And yet, I was still able to make a good amount of money off of them, sometimes more than I would against a less wealthy player. If you think the goal of a strike is to hurt the opposition, then you are right -- you can't beat the wealthiest man in the world. But if your goal is simply to improve your own standing, then the wealthiest man can be an excellent opportunity to do so.

Writer "B" is a bit older than Writer "A," probably in his 40s. He too is married with kids (older than A's kids), and is a bit further along in his feature career. He too was unhappy with the current situation. But he seemed less pessimistic or adamant about it. "B's" biggest complaint was that he felt the WGA had done too little to avert a strike, and that the leadership wanted one all along. I don't think he felt the points were not worth fighting for, just that the means of achieving them were not ideal. His wife, who was standing next to him, seemed more nervous about what it would mean, though she was also trying to keep on a positive face. But the bottom line, however, was that he was angry that it got to this point, but that he agreed that there was little choice at this point but to strike. It was bad that they didn't do enough to avoid the strike, but now there was no other way.

Writer "C" is almost exactly my age, younger than me by 5 or 6 months, married with a young baby. He is an associate member of the guild, and has had a number of deals go through in both TV and Film, though none have gotten to production as of yet. He just sold one of his specs to a major studio, closing the deal just under the wire, and has also been developing various TV pilots and the like. "C" is a staunch supporter of the strike. He sees the WGA's fight as significant, due to the way writers have been treated previously, and the potential for the future that this opens up. DVD's were a lost cause and Internet is going to be potentially huge. And he worries about it both because of the way we were treated with DVD, and also because of the prevailing (dismissive) attitude towards writers in Hollywood in general.

"C" is also hopeful about the WGA's power in a strike -- it's ability to achieve its goals. In his numbers, if the WGA got what they wanted from a new deal, its members would collectively gain around $200 million over the next 3 years. And the industry will lose $2 billion in a strike. So it is just good business to avoid the strike or end it quickly. (I did not inquire about the source of those figures, so I have no idea how accurate or inaccurate they are.) I pointed out that while I hope he's right, it also isn't as black and white as he paints it. Because as "A" correctly pointed out to me, what the AMPTP gives writers will not be viewed in a vacuum. Rather, any increases we gain will also be seen as indicators of the gains that SAG and the DGA will be seeking for their new contracts, in 9 months' time.

Still, "C" did also make another interesting point about the WGA's power in this. As has been noted in Variety and elsewhere, late night TV is going to be one of the first areas to be hit by this strike, potentially blacking out shows as early as Monday night. "C" pointed out that this shorts the studios of one of their major means of promoting their films that will be released in coming months and mid-season TV shows. This is a potentially large hit to their bottom lines, and something they may want to avoid.

So, that's an anecdotal collection of some of the opinions I've been hearing from pro writers. I'd love to hear the opinions of a few others out there from around the Scribosphere. We all know where we can find Craig's opinions, and even some of John's. But how about you others? Stephen? Chris? Jon? Julie? Anyone else who is a working writer? I'd love your opinions.

Now, just as a side note, I wanted to let you know that if you are not a member of the WGA, but you support the strike, you can still show your support by joining a picket line, if you like. I have not decided if I will do so, and know how shocking it would be to my parents if their son actually joined a picket line (come on dad, you can tell me in the comments here how you'd feel if I did). If I do go, it is most likely you'll find me outside the Fox lot, since it is closest and most conveniently located for me. We'll see. While I still support this strike, I'm trying to process all of the different pieces of information I've been hearing and evaluating everything.

(On an unrelated note, I apparently spoke too soon in my last post, and The Jets have accomplished what I should have come to expect -- they blew it again. And on another unrelated note, I may hold off on the last post I wanted to get up, and write it tomorrow instead.)

UPDATE: I meant to mention that I found it interesting (though not all that significant) that none of the three writers I spoke with had attended the WGA meeting on Thursday night at the Convention Center. Though Writer B's writing partner did attend. I also wanted to direct you to another working writer's opinions. And she was in attendance at the meeting. Kira has just begun what I hope will be a long and successful TV writing career. Read what she has to say, for the perspective of someone at a different point in her career than the other three I listed.

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3 Comments:

Blogger "Julie Goes To Hollywood" said...

Well, I guess it affects us all negatively but I don't think it could have been avoided. Do I think it's good for the business? Of course not. However, I voted for it, support it and plan to picket as long as my feet (and cash) hold out.

Why? It all started when I joined the Guild a year and a half ago and went to a new members meeting. They show you a documentary about how, and why, the guild was formed. I hadn't realized until then that the Hollywood Ten, and other top writers who were ultimately blacklisted, had been accused of being communists as a direct result of their unionizing efforts, and that the federal government was overtly in cahoots with the companies.

Though some of them had Oscars, these writers threw themselves on the fire for future generations -- such as this one -- and we're doing the same. I have no regrets, even if I never work again as a result of standing up for what's right. Nobody ever gave s anything because it was the right thing to do. The right thing for studios to do is make as much money as possible for themselves. Nobody will ever give us anything we can't even bother to demand.

4:10 AM  
Blogger IM Anonymous said...

There you go. Principle. Thinking about the whole, not the individual. Julie has summed it up nicely.

6:11 AM  
Blogger Bear_banker said...

Is there any way I can speak to you personally about writing scripts?

shanguelei@gmail.com

12:45 PM  

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