More on the Hollywood Writers Strike

Continuing our coverage of the 2007 Writers Guild of America strike, here are samplings of a few interesting posts in the blogosphere about the subject:

From ScrappeFace, Scott Ott pointed out that despite the writers billing themselves as the creative force behind the shows, so far their strike is pretty ho-hum:

Critics slammed the new strike by the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which debuted Monday, calling it “unimaginative,” “derivative” and “a tired rehash of previous work by other unions.” [...]

“When the greatest minds in Hollywood get together,” the unnamed Variety critic wrote, “what do they produce? Picket lines, posters, inane slogan chanting…in others words, exactly what the United Auto Workers or the International Ladies Garment Workers have done before.

In Huffington Post, actress Jamie Lee Curtis declared her support for the writers, but lamented their inability to come up with witty slogans for the strike:

I am for the writers. They are the starting point for any movie or TV project so without a writer, there is no content. My beef is that the slogans that they are chanting are so poorly written.

"What do we want?... INTERNET!... When do we want it?... NOW!"

That's the best these writers can come up with?

Darren Barefoot asked the question in many of our minds: so, exactly how much are the writers being paid anyhow?

Assuming Ms. Vernoff wrote both the story and the teleplay for each episode, she’d earn a minimum of US $30,823 per episode, or about US US $92,500 for the three she wrote. This has nothing to do with the popularity of “Grey’s Anatomy”–these are standard minimums for writing sixty minutes or less of network prime time TV. Maybe there are bonuses or premiums for working on popular shows? [...]

Network prime time television is pretty splashy, admittedly. What about somebody who’s slaving away for a daytime soap opera or so-called “strip program”? If you’re the head writer on an hour-long soap opera, you earn US $31,879 a week, minimum. If you’re a contributing writer on a soap opera, you earn a ’script fee’ of US $3,087 per script.

Forbes has an article about why the strike is do or die. The writers must win, if the union wants to survive:

When 12,000 Hollywood writers traded pencils for picket signs this week, they took a huge risk. Even riskier: not striking. Losing to the studios now could doom their union as television gives way to the Internet.

“We know that the future of the industry is the Web, and that in the near future television sets and computer monitors will merge into the same screen,” says Kate Purdy, a writer for CBS' (nyse: CBS - news - people) Cold Case and a blogger behind a new strike-related writers' blog, United Hollywood.

Despite the excerpts above, most of the postings in the blogosphere and on the web in general came out in support of the writers.

United Hollywood, an unofficial blog started by a group of strike campaigns, has an online petition you can sign to show your support for the writers. So far, they've garnered over 8,000 signatures in just 24 hours.

One final thing: despite the wide coverage over the writers strike here in Los Angeles, it's interesting to note that the strike seems not to be a major concern everywhere else. The term "writers strike" does not appear in the top searches on Technorati, Google Hot Trends, Yahoo! Buzz, and AOL Hot Searches.

Image above is from Here in Van Nuys [Flickr], who has a few more shots of the strike.


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Let me respond to a few points raised by Nonimus #22, c-dub #23, and ryan #24. I'll try to get to every point raised, though I may miss something.

Re: The writers’ strike is not about “suffering.”

I re-watched the videoclip "Why We Fight," which I posted before on Neatorama. The clip stressed that the Guild is fighting for the economic survival of the families of writers (48% unemployed at a given time, others depend on residuals to pay mortgages, etc.), thus the strike is about "suffering."

Darren Barefoot dug up a WGA document which dictated the minimum pay for writers. These are VERY well-paying jobs! Most people in the US don't make this kind of money... No wonder there is not much sympathy for the writers: regular folks view this as the fight between the rich writers and the super-rich studios.

Re: The writers strike is about fairness.

Perhaps my understanding of fair is different than yours, but in my mind fair is sharing the upside and sharing the downside.

A writer is paid (and paid well) for his script: payment is made for work done - that is fair. I don't see why residuals MUST be included. Again, my position has always been that if a writer can get the studio to give him residuals, then great! But there is no a priori reason why it must be so.

The video clip pointed out that novelists get residuals (royalties, but same difference). Musicians also get residuals. True, but they don't get salaries.

The video clip failed to note that there are other types of writers who get salaries don't get residuals: advertising writers, as well as those who write for magazines and newspapers.

[Aside] There is another big difference between a book author and a TV show writer, and that's interchangeability. A book author is the primary creator of the book. You can't change the author of a book without changing the book itself, but that's not true of most TV show writers. Although you need writers for a show, WHO they are is of less importance - thus they are more analogous to factory workers than to book authors.

Re: Back-end deals don't work because of creative accounting of studios.

Would the writers agree on the principle that they should pay up for a flop, if they can agree on a fair and equitable accounting practice with the studio?

Obviously there is a problem with "Hollywood accounting" but other big businesses (like music and the book industry) have tackled this problem, so there is no a priori reason why back-end deals won't work.

Re: bloggers on Neatorama

Neatorama's authors don't get paid for their work (sorry, guys!), but other blogs that do pay their authors do it on two main models: the first is pay per post ("salary but no residual") or profit-sharing ("residual but no salary").

There is also no union in the blogosphere: anyone can write a blog, not just Guild members.

Re: It happens that Hollywood can support good salaries. Anyone can break in, if they know the terrain and play the game.

and

Re: And you consistently describe the guild as some onerous construct that’s being inflicted on the writers – but the guild IS the writers.

Not so: ONLY Guild members can write for the studios. If you're an independent writer and you sell a script to the studios during the writers strike, then you'll be barred for future membership from the Guild (meaning once the strike is over, you can never write for the studio).

I find it odd that all writers must belong to the Guild - independent writer can't get a job without joining the Guild. It's like saying in order to vote you have to belong to a political party.

Re: I say “studios structure themselves and consolidate resources in order to exert their control,” and you say, “No.”

What I meant by no is that studios do not consolidate resources into a single hand. They compete for talents, including actors and writers, otherwise they'd be a monopoly (like the Guild). A writer can shop his script to Sony and to Paramount or to whomever. The reverse is not true: all major studios have to hire ONLY Guild members.

Re: The writers obviously can’t assume liability for a studio’s failure to promote a project / It isn’t the writers responsibility to make a show successful / f the show fails, it’s definitely not the responsibility of the writers.

Writers claimed credit for success of a movie! They claim that without the story, they'd be no movie/show - their contribution is CENTRAL to the success of the project. (Actors? Grrr! They're just pretty faces with no talent!) But if a show fail then writers definitely aren't responsible? You can't have it both ways.

Re: i hate people who get nasty just because they think people make or spend too much money. Wealth is always relative. If you can’t handle it, maybe you should consider a socialist country.

Writers deserve to get as much money they can make. And so does the studios - that's capitalism. Restricting independent writers? Blacklisting those who cross the picket line? Those are socialistic practices.

Lastly, my thanks to Lee for the links. The John August's piece on Why Writers Get Residuals is very enlightening.
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Here are some good posts by people within the industry, explaining some of the issues:

Why writers get residuals, screenwriter
http://johnaugust.com/archives/2007/why-writers-get-residuals

To live by the pen by Doris Egan (who writes for House)
http://tightropegirl.livejournal.com/16033.html
Dead things on sticks, Denis McGrath (who wrote for Blood Ties) has a running series of posts regarding the strike
http://heywriterboy.blogspot.com/

My take on the strike is a little more whimsical.
http://leesvoice.blogspot.com/2007/11/when-writers-strike.html
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It isn't the writers responsibility to make a show successful. The producers choose who to hire and which scripts to turn into projects. They are also responsible for making sure everything is done well, on time, and on budget. If the show fails, it's definitely not the responsibility of the writers. They should be paid for their work just like everyone else. p.s. i hate people who get nasty just because they think people make or spend too much money. Wealth is always relative. If you can't handle it, maybe you should consider a socialist country.
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Alex,

Your double standards baffle me. The guild determines what deals are acceptable in the best interest of its members; the studios determine what deals are acceptable in the best interest of its "members" (shareholders). There is no difference between these two entities that is significant enough to deny the writers the ability to negotiate collectively. And you consistently describe the guild as some onerous construct that's being inflicted on the writers – but the guild IS the writers.

I say "studios structure themselves and consolidate resources in order to exert their control," and you say, "No." No? A studio is not a structure that consolidates resources? Well, whatever. But again, your double standard is baffling: while it's true that the guild decides who works in their business, each studio likewise decides who works in theirs. In this case, too, the studio and the guild are analogues.

The reason the guild should not be asked to assume risk is that they don't have any say in how much the studio support the project receives. The writers obviously can't assume liability for a studio's failure to promote a project.

And again, this isn't about the writers "suffering," it's about fairness. As content shifts from TV to the internet, a fundamental piece of the writer’s compensation is being taken by the studios. I don't live in Los Angeles, and I'm not in the movie industry – but I do care about this strike, because it has implications for workers in other professions across the country.
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Alex, you are missing the point. Studios produce and distribute content. That's their business. That's their investment and risk. They keep the lion's share of profits. When we talk about "equitable" profit sharing among writers, actors and directors, we're talking pennies on the dollar.

The writers' strike is not about "suffering." It is about big business that merits better percentages for those who make the business possible. And yes, like it or not, guilds as gatekeepers allow for a sustainable livelihood.

By sticking together, the guilds have bargaining power to negotiate a fair deal for income and benefits. Despite your suggestion, back-end deals don't work. The creative accounting of the studios will never admit to a profit to share. The residual system is not some happy accident. It was set up to protect and compensate the talent, rightfully, for all their efforts. The talent's compensation also incidentally supports the agents, managers, et al, who make tinsel town tick.

As an aside, how much are you willing to pay your bloggers here on Neatorama? Do you pay them a flat rate per week, per post? Is there some kind of back-end profit sharing after you have covered your costs of doing business? I imagine there is always someone willing to contribute to your site for free (such as through the "Suggest a Link," or for the promotional exposure). If you paid your bloggers a penny for each unique user to click on their story submission, would it be enough to support them? Maybe it would be an incentive to improve the savviness of posts or to attract other quality contributors? These are rhetorical questions. I don't know (nor is it my place to care) what the economics of your site are.

More to the point: It happens that Hollywood can support good salaries. Anyone can break in, if they know the terrain and play the game. No sympathy required.
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