I have comments to answer, which I'll get to in the next post. But based on stuff that's gone down on other blogs of late, I have some shit to say. Before I get to that, I just wanna say that no matter what anyone else says about honoring contracts and what have you, the showrunners have seriously stuck their necks out for the rest of us during this strike. They're taking serious hits, and they're fucking rock stars to me right now. I believe that one of the most important aspects of a showrunner's job is to protect the writing staff. Right now, every showrunner who's walked off his or her show is protecting all of us. That's an extraordinary example of character. Thank you.
Recently, there have been ongoing discussions about whether writers deserve what we're asking for. Tempers are high; we all get that. This strike is affecting a lot of people, not just the writers. But I'm not speaking for anyone else here. Not directors, actors, producers, studio executives, networks or fans. Not even really writers. Just me.
Writing seems to be one of those professions that people don't really understand. They understand novel writing a little bit; novelists are smart. They use pens and typewriters and create serious-sounding things like manuscripts. They have publishers and editors. They go on book tours and wear tweed jackets with smart-looking elbow patches. And when their books sell, they make money. But when a TV writer or a screenwriter wants the same deal, people go, "Whoa... hang on there, Sparky. Aren't you rich enough?" They've somehow decided that Stephen King and JK Rowling deserve their millions, but TV and film writers do not. Whether or not film and TV writers are rich enough is irrelevant. A writer who makes huge buckets of money and a writer who lives half the year on unemployment are due exactly the same deal -- a fair one. And that's what the writers want.
So why are writers in Hollywood treated so poorly? Why do TV and film writers take it on the chin over and over again? Why do we fold? Why do we cave? Why do we thank people like Chernin, Moonves and Iger for the beating and then come back for more? Why can't we all be Harlan Ellison, absolutely refusing to work for free? Well, people inherently know we're pushovers. It's so hard to break into this business that we will do anything we can to get that break. What that usually means is, we write on spec. We do free rewrites. We take notes from anybody who shows interest in our work. We write free projects for producers, all while ignoring the little voice that goes, "Um... you know this guy's a total idiot, right?" We try to think commercially, because this is a commercial business. Our instincts, once so wild and creative, now have to be directed. We think in genres, in trailers, in taglines. When thinking about a TV pilot, we think first about how we would pitch it. Is the title catchy? Is the logline simple and clean? Are the characters different but the same? What about the idea itself? Is it just edgy enough, but not so edgy that it scares executives? Will this show pair well with "Chuck?"
In Hollywood, we aren't thinking about the work from our point of view. We're thinking about how it will be received by the people with the money -- producers and executives. We're thinking about directors, and whether or not an actor is going to want the part. We worry when we hear a similar idea. We're helpless and angry when nobody wants to hear an idea that we KNOW is solid and right. But initially, we're excited about new ideas. They have possibilities. They're grand and important and fun. They're exciting and magical. Suddenly, you're no longer tired or scared or frustrated. The idea spreads its wings, and it's a fucking fantastic feeling.
But if you're working in a commercial medium, those wings have to be clipped. Either you're going to do it, or an executive or producer will. It's inevitable. What's been interesting about the occasionally vehement strike discussions is how many people will say, "You chose to be in this business. What are you complaining about?" As if we don't have a right to be frustrated and pissed off because our job is perceived as something that's a constant vacation. This fight, this argument, this discussion... it's not about money. It's not about how I have SUCH a cooler job than someone who teaches, or bags groceries, or does whatever people in finance do (seriously, I'm a financial dunce and I just don't get it). It's about soul. It's about those wings. I hope everybody get a chance to experience that in their job, but I feel that they don't.
Yeah, this is a great job. And it's seemingly impossible to convince people that even thought it's great, it's also soul-crushing and hard. Because we're putting our brains and hearts and ideas out there every day, and there's always some Chernin/Moonves configuration that is going to strip the soul out of it and mine it for the only thing they care about -- money. And that's the business, isn't it? That's what we chose. We didn't walk into this going, "I'm gonna change how Hollywood works, yo!" But there's always been a disconnect between the creative part, and the business part. With all the big companies now owned by soulless corporations, that has just gotten worse. Studio heads are no longer creative guys who are also business savvy. They're all bean-counters now. All that matters are the numbers, which explains the reliance on testing.
So the executives only care about profit. And since we're giving up our creativity to them, the writers only care about respect -- the respect the Hollywood writer has never been given and has never been able to take. But these CEOs, these executives, they've got the mercenary heart of Han Solo, minus the roguish charm, wit and soul. Money is all that they love, so that's what they will receive. And that's all they respond to. So by asking for money, by asking for our fair share of the profits they continuously rake in (and gloat about, on the YouTubes), we are demanding respect.
This is not something the Hollywood writer is comfortable with. If we emerge somewhat unscathed from our work, we're grateful. And geez, if we manage to produce something that we're actually proud of, we're giddy. But more often than not, who you are -- what you itched to create -- is crushed under the boot heels of the corporation before you've put pen to paper. There are the myriad outlines, the studio and network notes, the drafts that have to go through several hands, the budgets, the director, the actors, the editor, and then back to the executives again. Film and TV are collaborative mediums, it's true. But the element of collaboration is getting buried beneath the demands of production, of non-writing executive producers, of hangers-on who don't contribute to the project but take huge chunks of the budget. Collaboration doesn't mean meeting the demands of the marketing department, who can't be bothered to really, sincerely do their jobs, but who want you to make everything easy for them. Collaboration isn't about people who are so threatened by the emergence of somebody truly talented that they would rather destroy a show than have people think they weren't the geniuses behind it.
It's not about collaboration anymore. Now, it's about people grabbing their piece and damn the rest of us. And regardless of how disastrous the climate is, of how the writer will tell himself not to care because nobody else does, a new idea will always spread its wings. And the writer will sit there, in Starbucks or Swork or his garage, and thinks, "This time, it's different. This is the one. This is the story I was meant to told."
And the CEOs seriously don't want to give us four cents for that.
np -- Marc Almond, "Stardom Road." Hmm. A little torchy, wot?