Struck by the Strike

It has been interesting viewing the strike from across the Atlantic. For the last week, I have been keeping up on things from Munich by reading the International Herald-Tribune, USA Today, and whatever British newspapers I’ve stumbled across. The contrast between how the British press is covering the walk-out and our U.S. news media is, well, striking.

The British press, which has no pretense of objectivity, appears to be solidly behind the writers. More than one article portrayed our demands as  reasonable and the AMPTP’s reaction as greedy and bewildering.

But the U.S. press, which does pride itself on objectivity, seems to be siding with the networks and studios. Virtually article mentions how highly paid some screenwriters are, or  makes some  snide aside about strikers arriving in their BMWs and Mercedes or going from the picket lines to their Malibu beach homes. An article in the Herald Tribune even portrayed striking writers as espresso-sipping dandies wearing "arty sunglasses" and colorful scarves. It’s obvious that more than a few print journalists suffer from an inferiority complex and are  jealous of screenwriters.

On top of that, trade publications like Variety and newspapers like the Los Angeles Times depend heavily on studio and network advertising revenue, so it’s hardly a surprise that screenwriters aren’t getting a fair shake. L.A. is an industry town, and it isn’t screenwriters who are keeping the lights on at the Hollywood Reporter.

I did get a kick out of the article in Variety a week or so back, where their editors whined that the WGA refused to be baited by each and every negative comment from the AMPTP. They warned that we were going to be "swift-boated" if we didn’t respond whenever one of their so-called reporters, who don’t know how to write without being spoon-fed a press release, asked for a statement from the Guild. I’m proud that our leaders are, for the most part, taking the high road when it comes to responding to the baiting or in characterizing the state of negotiations.

What has also been interesting to me is the feedback I have been getting from German writers, producers, studio execs and network execs regarding the strike. Much to my surprise, they all seemed to be solidly behind the writers. Why was I surprised? Because writers there don’t have a guild or a union and don’t enjoy the protections, creative writers, standard pay, and other benefits that come from having a strictly-enforced, Minimum Basic Agreement. They also don’t have the  financial benefit of residuals (unless they work for the state-owned networks, where they do get some rerun money).  I kind of expected them to resent us. But even more surprising to me was the supportive comments I heard from studio execs, most of whom provide shows to the networks on a work-for-hire basis and don’t share in any of the revenues. Considering how immensely popular U.S. shows are in Europe, the execs were shocked that writers are only getting a barely measureable percentage of the windfall profits.

Me, too.

I got home last night. I will be walking the picket line tomorrow.

14 thoughts on “Struck by the Strike”

  1. At first I thought you guys were a bunch of greedy jerks for going on strike. I felt like since a lot of people depend on you for their jobs, like all of the back stage people who make less than you guys and probably can’t afford to fly 1st class, that you guys should just get back to work. But after watching that video, I disagree with my previous line of thinking. You aren’t asking for a lot more…4cents? To be paid the same on the internet as on tv? That’s fair! Good luck.

  2. For some reason viewers in this country just aren’t able to translate what they see on a screen back to words on a page, so screenwriters aren’t much credited with authorship of a film or TV episode, no matter how brilliant it is. Actors and directors and cinematographers and editors all get their due, but not writers, and this shows up in inadequate compensation and obscurity.
    I had occasion a few years ago to read Mark Andrus’s screenplay of As Good As It Gets. I wish to take nothing away from Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt and others, who performed brilliantly, and yet as I read that screenplay I was aware that every line of dialog, every marvelous scene, every sight gag, every bit of business (such as compulsive-obessive Nicholson not stepping on sidewalk cracks) was there in the script that sprang from the mind and genius of Mark Andrus.
    It is time that writers received their due, and not just a minor increase in residuals. It’s the writers who should be the stars earning megabucks, and not airheaded actors mouthing someone else’s dialog and playing someone else’s characters.

  3. Another observer notes Anti-WGA press bias

    Although I’m neck deep in work and have no time today for a proper analysis of it, you can see from the entry below that Lee Goldberg isn’t alone in his perception of Anti- Writers Guild of America bias in the American press.

  4. I caught some talk on CNN or one of the cable news shows that seemed to be slamming the writers in the way you mention, but mostly they’re remaining neutral or, as you say, somewhat on the side of the writers.
    I think the statistic, which I don’t doubt for a second, that at any given time, 48% of members of the guild are unemployed, should open some eyes. Being a TV or film writer (or any writer, probably) is a pretty volatile place to work.

  5. I think it is a great idea that the studios are firing production teams from tv shows. The writters are greedy people, I dont buy for a second that 48% of writers are unemployed. Fine then get another job. I think if this strike goes on any longer every show should be canceled and the writers that are out of jobs should be hired to start new shows. Sure i have favourite shows, but i have lost respect for alot of them now with this strike.

  6. That’s interesting about the US media being more anti-writers. Every article I’ve read so far has seemed to be pro-writers.
    It’s why I believe this thing won’t last long. Overall, public sympathy really appears to be towards the writers and the networks have to be aware of that.
    Overall, I support the writer’s positions, but I disagree with strikes because of all the innocent people who get affected in the process. (And in this case, I don’t only mean the viewers – I mean the crew members as well who work on series)

  7. Mr. Casey: I am going to rename writers as storytellers and then ask you what Hollywood would be like without them. There would be producers, directors, actors, extras, grips, photographers, editors, special effects people, set designers, publicists, and many more. And no stories to tell. I am curious as to why you single out the storytellers and aren’t calling actors or producers or directors greedy.

  8. Richard: First off 99% of TV shows out there suck, there is no story telling in them, just sex. So hollywood would be better off with new writers. Second they are only on strike so they can get more money and sit on there asses when the 48% of them are not working, and not trying to find a job.
    The only shows worth watching:
    October Road
    Criminal Minds
    These are the only shows where there is actual story telling.

  9. Mr. Casey, when shows fail to reach viewers, they die, which is one reason why nearly half of screenwriters are unemployed. While the market for writing works downward, penalizing failure, it mostly doesn’t work upward, rewarding success for writers. This is because the actors and studios have made off with the profits. See this New York Times piece on who gets what:
    The whole entertainment business would see better scripts if writers were rewarded for them.

  10. Mr. Casey: now we are at the crux of the matter. The guild has made a powerful case that there are few rewards for success. Writers are not stakeholders in a successful enterprise. Their talents are exploited by the stakeholders (stars and studios), who give them virtually no share of the profit. So your assertion that if they want rewards they should write better stumbles upon reality.


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