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Writers Guild Strike In-Depth

November 4, 2007 1 comment

Writers Guild to Strike Monday

The more I learn about this situation, the more convoluted it seems. I know members of the Writers Guild of America are striking Monday because they want more of the digital piece of the pie when written work makes it to the Internet. Members of the guild are also striking for more residuals from the multi-billion-dollar DVD industry. That sounds simple enough… And fair.

Tina Fey is the creator, executive producer and star of NBC’s 30 Rock, one of the New York-produced series that will be immediately affected by the strike. This quadruple threat (known for her work on Saturday Night Live as the first female head writer, and her breakout hit with Lindsay Lohan, “Mean Girls”) is also a WGA member who writes for the series. Photo from geekfitters.com

Here is the official press release from the Writers Guild of America.

To start, I’m always nervous when guilds and unions strike, because it gets into that gray political area, and I’m never sure what the underlying reasons for the picket truly are… I mean, sure there are the public reasons, the ones that are stated without censure by PR gurus and union representatives — but then there are the reasons that are stated behind closed doors. Unfortunately, nothing is black-and-white with politics, and I don’t believe unions and guilds are always above reproach.

The WGA strike, however, seems pretty legitimate. I believe they have every right to want more for the product they provide. While I value all the working cogs of the Hollywood Machine – from the grips to the crafts services men and women to the producers, actors and writers – I have to agree that historically, writers have gotten the least amount of respect considering what they do for the industry. Actors, directors and producers are among the highest paid in Hollywood, and while writers are paid considerably for their services, it would seem they also get paid to not complain when their works of art are altered without their consent.

Apparently it’s not unusual for writers to be vastly ignored once they step foot in a studio; their creative control ends once they send in their edits, because as soon as the director and the producers get a hold of it (not to mention when actors are given the freedom to adlib), anything can happen. Let’s not even go into what happens when the editors sit down in their labs.

To be fair, writers know the risk going in, and the pay probably isn’t bad enough for them to leave. Still, I am a firm believer in the idea that television and film should be a collaborative meeting of the minds. I respect directors, producers, actors and editors for their contribution to the film industry. In short, I think they’re all brilliant, and as a media production student who would love to work in the film and television industry one day, I can understand their positions.

However, writers continue to lack the respect and, yes, financial advantages that others in the industry have. Yes, producers have been known to write, but if all producers were meant to write for the industry, there would be no need for writers in the first place. Writers are more often than not the first ones to nurse a new story to life, to research and develop it; they also tend to be the go-to people when edits need to be made in a pinch, or when actors have issues with the content; they are the ones whom few viewers know by name or face. I firmly believe something should be done to rectify this 70-year-old industry trend.

That said, I am disappointed that it came to this. This strike is essentially halting production on many programs. It won’t happen right away, and it won’t happen in droves, but it will affect many actors and crews. As The TV Zone blog on newsday.com stated, late-night television will be “gone. And quickly at that. And per my understanding, don’t expect someone like Jon Stewart to do a Johnny Carson – who left the air in the ’88 strike, but returned a few months later in May of that year. Stewart’s a member of the Guild and it’s inconceivable that he’d break ranks with fellow scribes.”

Also, according to the online publication, daytime soap operas could be facing re-run time after the New Year. Love ’em or hate ’em, the soap opera industry employs many who will more than likely be out of work for some period of time. The aforementioned strike in 1988 resulted in the producers writing instead, which kept the soaps on the air, according to latimes.com. Maybe that will be the case here.

 

Conan O’Brien is one of the many late-night funny men who will be affected by the WGA strike on Monday. Photo from tv.yahoo.com

So, what we have here is an issue that no longer just affects executives (who continue to get paid no matter what, bless their wealthy hearts), but it also affects crew members, or even writers who didn’t want to strike. In addition, I’m not even sure the contract issues the WGA is currently fighting have anything to do with soap opera writers, as their work does not make it to DVD or the Internet — legally.

Also, I’m not sure how the various unions support actors and crew members who are out of work due to a strike, and it’s entirely possible that they are required to be paid something while they beat the streets of Los Angeles and New York — mostly New York — looking for jobs. Still, I find it very ironic that the writers of Hollywood, in their quest to gain more respect, have essentially turned the industry on its head.

One other thing: It’s my understanding that executives are unwilling to raise residuals on DVDs because they’re not sure how sales will fare in the future. While I completely understand the logic in that business model, DVD sales are a very lucrative business for studios. It’s gotten to the point where a movie can essentially tank by industry standards in the box office, but rake in enough to make it a relative success in domestic and international/overseas sales, which include rentals and purchases. If I’m not mistaken, I believe the same can more than likely be said for television shows as well, which explains why the TV on DVD market skyrocketed a year or so ago.

I’m sure nothing is black-and-white, even in the WGA’s understandable attempt to gain more leverage. There may be more to the situation than meets the eye — in fact, I’m sure of it, considering WGA members haven’t been allowed to discuss their closed-door meetings since threats of the strike began. At the same time, they are honest grievances that are backed up by fact and historical precendent.

I hope the situation is secured in a timely manner, however, if only so WGA member Ajay Sahgal (video below) can stop stressing out. Poor guy.

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