Sunday, November 18, 2007

SLIFR FORUM: THE WRITER'S STRIKE


It seems like a pretty simple idea. As formats change and more feature films and TV programming become available for downloading and live streaming and other Web-based means of distribution some genius hasn’t even thought of yet, it only stands to reason that the people from whom the original ideas for these projects sprang, the men and women who provide the skeletal structure for your favorite shows and movies, and often most of the meat on those bones as well, should somehow be compensated. And why not, when producers and networks and studios stand to make so much more money every time one of those products finds a new way to get to the people who will pay to see it?

There is word today that talks will resume after Thanksgiving between writers and studios in the hopes of ending the current WGA writer’s strike. That is good news, not because I’m worried about what will happen to my favorite TV show or how it will affect my life (though it surely will in some way). No, it’s basically because I am a writer, though not part of the WGA, and I have friends who are writers. And I can easily understand the anger and frustration and sense of diminishment that comes along with seeing words being devalued in the Hollywood community, either by dismissive studio executives or by the rush of critics and fans to heap solitary praise on directors and/or stars, and often excluding mention the role of the writer in the creative process. Those same words are then being appropriated by someone other than the person who wrote them and used as the basis for a whole new stream of massive revenue, the participation in which the writers are being denied. Nobody on the picket line is saying they have the life of a textile worker or a coal miner. But it’s more than a bit disingenuous for people who head up an industry known for trafficking in blasphemous amounts of filthy lucre and regularly green-lighting projects with budgets that could swamp those of several small nations to try to portray writers in Hollywood as greedy jet-setters who merely want to add more big bucks to their already swelling coffers. Most of the people I know wouldn’t be willing to trade their job security for the chance to write for a living, for the occasional opportunity to pour their hearts into something they really believed in, but more often the necessity of working on something just to make enough money to live out the year.

As the strike has progressed and I’ve read about all kinds of ways that fans, actors and others can support the men and women on the picket lines, I’ve thought about how I could contribute support of my own. There was Blackout Blog Tuesday which happened last week. Unfortunately, I didn’t hear it about myself until after the blackout had begun. And as I thought about it, I honestly couldn’t be sure if I would be undertaking a blackout on my own blog out of solidarity for the writers, which I certainly feel, or because it would be a convenient way to explain what has been a difficult period for me to find time to create my own work here. I didn’t want use the plight of the WGA membership, deliberately or not, to in any way, directly or indirectly, as a public face to justify my own inability to produce work for this site at the rate I’d like to.

So I thought the best thing I could do, not being even close to the most informed person on the blog block, would be to open up the comments column to those of you who have something to say about the strike, in support of the writers or even the studios, in the spirit of constructive dialogue and observations. I know what I know from what I read, just like most of us who aren’t on the front lines do. If there are any writers who want to use this forum to air their issues, have at it. It’s my hope that we can garner more support for the hopes of the writers that this strike will end beneficially for them and their families, and yes, even for the studios (those concerns don’t have to be mutually exclusive, do they?).

I really hope, for the benefit of those I know whose livelihood is dangerously implicated in the outcome of this strike, that all will go encouragingly well once those talks resume. My viewing habits can bear the strain of not having fresh Letterman jokes every night before I go to sleep. But I’d rather hear the fresh jokes-- not because I’ll sleep better, but because that’ll mean the writers are back at work, in New York and Hollywood, sweating to create more TV shows and movies to enthrall me and enrage me and cause me to have much more to write about, with enthusiasm and disdain, in my own way.

Those who enjoy the work of WGA writers (and come on, that’s all of us), the floor is yours.

4 comments:

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Mystery Man said...

Dennis, I've been on the picket lines, and we've reached a point where everyone, including those in the media, have lost perspective. Believe me when I tell you that this issue has nothing whatsoever to do with the writers and the tiny percentages they're asking for when it comes to residuals. It's so inconsequential on the business as a whole that it's stunning the AMPTP would even debate the subject.

The problem with rising costs in Hollywood has to do with this antiquated film distribution system, which should have been demolished years ago. In this age of next day DVD arrivals from Netflix, it is absurd that Hollywood should still live in the past and spend billions and billions shipping those heavy canisters of film reels to tens of thousands of theaters around the globe only to have it all shipped back to them when it's over. That's the reason risk is sky-high and everyone's losing money. This massive antiquated distribution system should be completely demolished, and they should be shipping piracy proof DVDs into theaters for next to nothing. In this day and age, it ought to be dirt cheap to get films into theaters. (I wrote about it here.) Believe me, THAT is the real problem here and that alone would chop about ten billion off the overhead.

Essentially, Hollywood would rather lose billions because they failed to embrace the digital revolution and bicker with writers over fractional percentages than to go to the trouble of overhauling this old, low-quality, expensive system involving film.

-MM

Chris Stangl said...

Word is, unfortunately, that the post-T-giving talks are a PR move on the producers' part, and they completely intend to Not Accomplish Jack Squat, in full force.

jim emerson said...

Good gosh, that's my old neighborhood! I used to live a few blocks down about a block north of Beverly on Oakwood and Sierra Bonita, and CBS Television City was part of my everyday life. (Lived there when the Pan Pacific Auditorium -- home of the notorious "Xanadu" (but also a place Elvis actually played) -- burned down.

I think everyone needs to go to the Gumbo Pot behind this building in the Farmer's Market. That will solve everything.