WGA Strike

Before we all start bitching about how horrible movies and some TV shows are (CSI:Miami – I’m looking at you) take a gander at this little gem written by a writer who is a little tired of screenwriters getting all of the blame.

Remember, as your favorite shows go into repeats in a few weeks, why exactly it’s happening.

Hollywood hasn’t ever been kind to writers and nothing bothers me more than seeing certain actors and directors pull ridiculous paychecks and then checking script sales only to discover that the writers only made about six figures – maybe. Six figures – maybe – for a script that for some took years to write, not to mention thousands upon thousands of hours. The argument can be made that thousands of scripts are bought every year and if and when they are produced they could be duds, however that never stopped producers from shelling out huge amounts of money to attach a star to that dud.

Television is pretty much run the same – high concept idea gets bought, script gets made as well as possible follow up scripts (though in past TV seasons, I seriously wonder if that was actually true) pilot is shot. If it gets picked up, great, get cracking on more scripts – saying of course they other keeping you on the team.

In the last few days, you’ve heard how the networks have several episodes in the can so they should be good until February sweeps. I know that’s not true, and it was confirmed last night. Most actors are on a pay for play contract, so they get paid for the episodes they shoot. If you have a show that isn’t doing so great in the ratings or the cast has lots of side projects, episodes are shot practically on an as-needed basis. Plus, there is the spectre of Standards and Practices that has to screen episodes to make sure they are “appropriate” for television. Finally, despite whether or not a script is written, it may undergo several re-writes, not to mention overdubs, editing, etc., before it actually sees an airdate.

I heard a cast member of Desperate Housewives say on ET last night that she hopes the writer’s strike ends soon because the scripts they currently have suck. I’ll bet they do. Ordering a season’s worth of episodes and actually having something to shoot from are two different things.

This isn’t about fatcat writers making a bunch of money off of the shows or movies they write. This is about producers and corporations – people who are already ridiculously rich – keeping money made from distribution of movies, television shows, etc., without paying not only the writers, but the actors and directors.

To equate it to terms of writers like me who don’t (yet) deal in film: I write a novella. I get paid a modest sum for it and it gets published. I get royalties and I get paid for appearances because it’s in my contract. Someone wants to include my novella in a collection. Fantastic, I’ll get paid for that too because that’s in my contract. Now someone wants to release my work online in ebook form and distribute it on mini-discs that can be accessed from kiosks all over the world. I don’t have a provision for that and my publisher knows it. I may not get paid for it and he knows that too, so he could keep all of the money. That’s something I want to have included in a contract so that no matter what form my works appears in, I get credit and compensation. By the way, that is included in most standard publishing contracts and as technology changes, the contracts evolve.

That’s what the WGA wants for it’s writers, and ultimately for directors and actors as well. Contracts should evolve to include rights and royalties for the breakneck speed at which technology changes, and producers should take advantage of that.

Did you know that until fairly recently, many actors didn’t make a dime off of the repeats you watch on television? No one foresaw “syndication” or “re-runs” or “Season Six” collections. Dick York died penniless, and most of us have seen every episode of “Bewitched” a billion times. Now, most of those rights are included in actors’ contracts, however the contract doesn’t include YouTube, MySpace, or any other media where the work might appear. Writer’s contracts almost certainly don’t include it.

Unfortunately, technology is evolving entirely too fast for Hollywood to keep up, and again, it’s behind the times and it’s greedier than ever.

Without writers, you wouldn’t have movies or games o television or radio shows. Actors standing in front of cameras with nothing to do would look pretty silly.

Support the writers of the WGA when you see them on the street. Remind the writers how much they’re appreciated because their work keeps Tracey Morgan off the street, because without 30 Rock, his unfunny self would be dead in a gutter by now. I hear there are some actors out there as well, because they have a stake in this too. Go take a writer out to lunch. Let him crash on your couch, give him access to your shower. This may be a long winter because Hollywood has movies in the can it can release onto us for years to come. They will suck and suck hard, but people will still go to pay to see them. Meanwhile, writers may lose cars, homes, and those waitressing and telemarking jobs could become very scarce very quickly.

Here is Joss Whedon’s take on things. There should be more of that man in the world.

Enjoy your repeats. I’m off to read a book.