Monday, November 19, 2007

And the World will feel the fire and finally know.*

(*If you got the reference immediately, you get to be my new best blog-friend.)

If you haven't been keeping up with the Hollywood writers' strike, or need an overview, the following is submitted for your perusal:

Two weeks ago, the Writers Guild of America--the creative artists union that is comprised of writers from television and movies--decided to strike. The key issues related to the renegotiation of their contracts were focused on the question of residuals--how much of a cut an individual involved in the process gets on the resale of the product. This is akin to novelists' royalties.

Back in the late 80's--the last time there was a writers' strike--this was also the issue. At that time, the home video market was struggling, and the WGA agreed to take a smaller-than-requested cut on the residuals from something called a "VHS tape." Some of you older readers will have to fill me in on what that is. (Kidding.)

This time, the union wants their cut--which translates into literal pennies per DVD--to be doubled. Also, they want residuals for the other media platforms that their work could be transferred to, such as online paid viewings (e.g. iTunes), mobile phone broadcasts, and other formats that were unthought-of in the era of the previous contract.

The producers and studios are having none of this, insisting that the writers are getting enough, that they're receiving their fair share already. The deadlines for arbitration passed, and on November 5, the WGA was on strike.

The opening impact of this strike was obviously felt on the late-night talk shows and weekly shows like SNL--shows that are constantly writing that night's or week's scripts and don't have a stack of scripts already completed. But the ripples are already starting to spread.

Most TV shows were halfway through production, so many will have shortened seasons. Some were prepared with hastily-written season-ending stories, while others just ended. Some shows slated for 2008 premieres are going with a much shorter season, are airing the episodes they have in the can and hoping for quick resolution, or are not starting at all.

So the question is: how many episodes left do I have of my favorite TV show? Look for your answers here.

So what does TeacherDave think of the WGA strike?

Historically, I've been anti-union. My dad has been management for practically all of his professional life. And he's one of the good ones. But he's had to deal with unions for years, and strikes that happened back when my dad was in the grocery business back meant that he had to do practically any and all jobs in the store to keep it running. It was a miserable time for him, because like everyone else, he was just trying to do his job. So seeing and experiencing that, I have a natural distrust of unions.

That being said, I have to side with the writers on this one. A writer should get royalties or residuals for their work. Same with print media. If I write a book, and agree to terms for paperback and book-on-tape royalties, I'd want a cut if there were three new media formats that my work was being translated into. The next time I negotiated my contract, I'd insist that I should get compensated.

Something I notice about a lot of these discussions is that many folks who side with the companies against the strikers cite the fact that they should just be happy they have a job, or just be happy they are being paid to write at all. There is often an undertone that, if they don't like it, they should get a real job. This type of thinking gets under my skin. I work at a computer all day, but it doesn't negate the work I do. Just because I don't sweat and get dirty and have calloused hands doesn't mean I work any less or contribute any less. Some may disagree, and that's fine. I would argue that the work of the artist makes the life of the laborer more worthwhile and enjoyable.

The other argument I've seen is that this move by the WGA is motivated by greed, and that these "fat-cat" writers shouldn't be so money-grubbing. It's interesting how it quickly becomes a class issue--a matter of "those rich people" just trying to get richer. (How dare they!) The fact is, the average writer makes enough money to be classified middle to upper-middle class at best. Sometimes it's months or years between paychecks. Residuals for these writers are bread and butter.

Here's an interesting editorial about the strike. The author sides with the WGA and provides what I think is a fairly reasoned argument.

A few links for those who feel strongly:

It hurts me, this strike does. "The Big Bang Theory" has already gone dark. "How I Met Your Mother," "Chuck," "Heroes," and "Journeyman" will quickly follow. "Smallville" will last until February, but that's mainly because the next two or three episodes will be spread out over the next three months. And all that leaves me are "The Biggest Loser" and "Kid Nation" (my new, fascinating "guilty pleasure" show), which are both more than halfway through their seasons.

But it doesn't matter. The writers should get paid. It's the right thing to do.

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