Monday, November 05, 2007

The Writer’s Strike of ‘07

It’s on now. The 4,000 members of the WGA (Writers Guild of America) have voted to go on strike. Why’s that? Well, it’s got a lot to do with as the story by Gary Gentile, Associated Press Business Writer says, “…a bigger slice of DVD profits and revenue from the distribution of films and TV shows over the Internet.” You can read the article yourself here:;_ylt=Aq744qd6kZtymLr5XbCrFsYE1vAI.

Are they serious? Yes. Check out this letter dated 10/31/07, from the WGA website entitled, “Pencils Down Means Pencils Down”: Scroll down and see who is on the list. (BTW, I love that whole, “You have our word” ending.)

Writers have always been the red headed stepchildren of the film industry. They are not in front of the camera, they don’t direct or produce and they don’t usually throw tantrums if there are green M&Ms in the craft services bowl. They don’t have trailers on the set. They do not work with models or computer graphics designing special effects that are seen on small and big screens across the world. They don’t operate the cameras, edit film (35mm or digital), work with sound, cast for parts or scout locations either. They have nothing to do with scoring a picture or television series. Yet without the writer NONE of it is possible. Without the spark of creation inside the mind of a writer it all goes south – every last one of the aforementioned jobs simply does not happen. You see, Gentle Reader, it is the writer who first realizes that the story is there; from acres of blank 8.5 X 11 inch paper he (or she – BTW from this point on “he” is synonymous for both he and she) sees it first. In the theater that is his mind he constructs it, nurtures it, chips away at it and watches it develop honing the edge making it real. He hears the sounds around him, feels the textures and sees the colors of this world vividly displayed before him. Soon after he meets the inhabitants who live in there and they begin to talk to him. If he is observant enough and can jot down their words and listen to what they have to say then he can put it onto paper to report his findings to the rest of us here in our world. Now if he can assume the role of imagination’s correspondent and do it with voyeuristic abandon then he just may be a writer; a wordsmith whose job is to serve the story no matter what venue it takes.

Currently the venues in question are Film and TV; both are examples of collaborative story telling. You see once a screenwriter sells his script it is out of his hands and faces the hard, cruel world. I’ve been told this is akin to raising a child who becomes an adult – you raise them so far and then, one day they are on their own. I’ve been told this by people who have actually sold screenplays. What happens to the scripts after they are released into the wild is usually out of the writer’s hands. This has been changing with some directors wanting to have the writer(s) on set for ideas and/or changes but as a general rule of thumb once it is sold it’s gone. There have been amazing screenplays that have been made into horrid atrocities of filmmaking. This is the hazard of collaborative story telling. It’s just the way of things; the scriptwriter’s circle of life.

But I digress.

Late night TV will feel it first, followed by talk shows. Forget topical TV until after the strike is over. What happens with this strike will send ripples through the rest of the industry. The SAG (Screen Actors Guild) is watching closely to see what happens with the WGA for their own negotiations with the producers. They will want at the very least what the writers will get.

Everything is further complicated with how a product is delivered. Emerging technologies have and will always see to that. No one believed that people would be interested in watching color films until “A Visit to the Seaside” (which was made in “Kinemacolor”) premiered in 1908. No one believed that anyone would want to see a film where the actors talked until “The Jazz Singer” was released in 1927. No one believed that a giant ape could climb the Empire State Building with Fay Wray in hand until Willis O’Brien pioneered stop motion animation and made it happen in 1933’s “King Kong”. I could go on but we all get the gist, no? Fast forward to now. No one believed a few years ago that we would be able to plug these little things called “iPods” into a computer via the internet to download TV shows and films. Welcome to now. Titanic corporations are fighting it all out right now for who has the intellectual property rights (Viacom Vs. Youtube). This fight will play into speculative technology – or rather, technologies that are still emerging. Remember how well the recording companies befouled the whole MP3 thing? Well, film companies don’t want to repeat the same mistakes and that puts the film and TV industry is in the crossfire.

I support the writers. I’ve never sold a screenplay but I have two registered with the WGA and a third on the way. It will be interesting to see how this all develops. I’m not the only one who will be watching for the outcome. It might be a good time to rent some DVDs. I recommend the first season of “Heroes” and all seasons of “Battlestar Gallactica” and “4400”; believe me it will be better than all the reruns we are about to be hit with.

“Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead." - Gene Fowler

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