Sunday, November 18, 2007

Red Army Blues

Oh, interweb, you complex mistress! You love, you hate, you goad, you enchant. You BITCH.

We're in week four of the strike and it seems that the growing potential for optimism is counter-balanced (heh) by an equally growing mass of malcontents. Everywhere you go on the internets, gruff dissenters are bleating about how THEY WON'T BE SILENCED! IT'S CENSORSHIP! YOU BASTARDS! Well. Just... bullshit, okay?

So. A few things need to be re-stated.

1. We're on fucking STRIKE.
The WGA is on strike, and the AMPTP would like nothing more than to see a cracking in the ranks. I wasn't in the WGA during the 88 strike, but my understanding is that one of the things that led to a settlement was that very thing. The showrunners broke with the leadership and demanded a deal.

That deal sucked, which is why we're here today.

Now, we have the showrunners making a very hard decision and on the internets, asshats are criticizing them for it. Whether you agree with their decision or not, this is not the time for the troops to criticize the leadership. I'm sorry; it just isn't. I realize what a remarkably unpopular view that is, and I get why -- because we're living in Bush's America and he's ALL about the no-criticism zone. But that's a different situation. I wouldn't expect the troops to say to Bush, "Um... you're an asshole, and this job sucks." Because they're doing the job, and they need to be fully committed to it. What we're doing doesn't begin to compare with that, not by any means, but it's the same general idea. And really, our leadership supports us much more than the Bushies support the troops. At least we get t-shirts and donuts.

2. CENSORSHIP! FASCISM! BLACKLISTAGE!
Those who cry "censorship" are idiots. You bleat about how you have a right to say what you want, and then you say it, but if somebody tells you they disagree with you, it's censorship. That doesn't make any sense.

We NEED to believe in what we're doing. The time for criticism is gone, and if we get a deal and go back to work, then you can complain and say that Verrone, et al, didn't represent us well. But right now, I am fully, 100%, behind our leadership. And I believe that seeing our resolve strengthens theirs. I want them to go into the negotiations believing that we're behind them, that we support them. Those of you who think this is crap need to broaden your focus past your fancy house and your kids' nifty private schools. People are constantly accusing Hollywood folks of not understanding "real people." You're proving that to be true.

Health care, a pension, a fair residual/internet deal... maybe this isn't important to you people because you DON'T live in the real America. You don't see how the middle class is being obliterated. You don't see how corporations -- the very monsters we're fighting here -- have assumed control over every aspect of our lives. You believe in the "customer service" and "convenience" bullshit. This isn't important to you, because you take for granted what we have now. But people FOUGHT for it. Writers GAVE UP THEIR RESIDUALS so you could have your fucking health and pension. Don't piss all over that. Get some historical perspective.

Not convinced? From Nikki Finke:
WGA member Ed Decter (co-screenwriter of There's Something About Mary) emails me: "Please mention to your readers that while Oprah's gift basket (The United Artists 90th Anniversary Prestige Collection) contains some incredibly wonderful classic films on DVD, the writers of those historic movies will make only four cents out of the $869.00 that the basket costs. Ninety DVDs times four cents would come out to $3.60. That is the writers' share of the Presige Collection. Hold on, I have to amend that. Only the writers of the movies AFTER 1960 will be eligible for the four cents. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond had the misfortune of writing Some Like It Hot in 1959, so their estates will receive NOTHING."


Everything that working people have in this country was fought for, at great expense. Those who don't acknowledge this, who just want to moan about how upsetting it is that their lives aren't perfect right now, don't know how good they have it because of these other folks. In this age of Corporate America, we need unions and guilds. And really, we have it pretty sweet. As Americans, we don't have to give up a fucking thing. We're even told to go shopping when things get rough. We're living in a fairy-tale world of giant cars and plastic shoes, of midnight Best Buy sales, American Idol, and the best technology the world has ever seen. But what's the point of it if we're fucking unconscious?

3. Picketing
The talk about how we're all rich fat cats isn't helped when writers don't think walking the picket line is mandatory. It's not a choice, people. You don't get to sit on your asses at home, choosing on which day to make your appearance, when the rest of us are out there every single day. Yeah, I'd like to get shit done, too. But this is my priority. The irony is, all the asshats who are staying out probably make more money than me anyway, and will benefit more from a better contract. They'll all go back to work and sell shit and get on shows. They've got nothing to worry about. So why am I out there every day (except for today, because my ^%&*^& car broke down) and they aren't?

Because I don't take shit for granted and I think it's important, even if we don't stop one truck from going through that gate. By not picketing, these folks are not supporting the leadership. They're not supporting their Guild, or their fellow writers. I see showrunners and show creators out there every Goddam day. I see staff writers, assistants, Guild associates (some of whom are doing the lion's share of the work and won't benefit like we will), I have even seen a few big-time feature writers. I've seen IMPORTANT, RICH-ASS PEOPLE on the picket line EVERY DAY. Those who aren't picketing, you're not too good for it. Trust me.

4. What the hell is the internet?
Good LORD, people... learn some shit. I was interviewed by John Ireland yesterday, he of the cranky writer caucus, and it was fairly obvious he was trying to get me to agree with him. I doubt very much that the interview will be seen anywhere, because I do not agree with him. He's trying to put bandaids on larger problems. Why isn't anyone going, "Hey, that whole POD thing? It's destroying TeeVee." But no... he's focused on the loss of freelance jobs in TeeVee. Buddy, that ship sailed a LONG time ago.

Then we talked about the internet. Now, I'm no tech genius, TRUST me, but I know some shit. Not much; just enough to get by. But apparently, I know a LOT more shit than others do. People seem to think that we're about three seconds away from streaming GLORIOUS high-def video straight into our brains. People don't REALLY understand these delivery systems; they think iTunes looks peachy. They don't understand video compression. They don't understand compatibility issues. WE HAVE TO UNDERSTAND THIS STUFF. Everything is so user-friendly and click-simple now that people don't know how anything works. I like to know how things work. I like to know where to find the best MPEG-2 conversion software. I like to figure out how high a bitrate I can use on a DVD so my DVD player will play it. I like to convert video with a variable bitrate, when all the templates just use a constant bitrate. I like to know how to convert and burn DivX files. So I have a pretty basic understanding of file sizes and bitrates. I wish the people blathering on about internet and HD had a fucking clue. Storage and delivery will become a bigger and bigger deal. Computer chips will become a bigger deal. Integrating computers and televisions will become a bigger deal.

We have a lame-ass internet deal because people don't do their homework. For those of you who want to take a peek into that world, check out VideoHelp. Just browse a little.

5. Fallacies
The biggest one going is that we're losing support. That's such bullshit, y'all. The United Hollywood blog has a rather pointed entry up about how the AMPTP is hiring shills and trolls -- a la the right-wing nutbars -- to spread disinformation. Just check out Mazin's site. They're everywhere. Naturally, the shills and trolls, in their anonymous guises, flood the gates and insist that they're not trolls. It's a little tough to believe them, since they're all spouting Nick Counter's erroneous talking points. We HAVE seen this before. the Bushies do this all the time. Yes, Saddam was responsible for 9/11. Got anything new, Tinfoil Boy?

Here are the numbers from the recent WGA e-mail:

Three separate surveys indicate overwhelming support for the WGA. The most recent source of good news comes from Daily Variety. Nearly two-thirds of their readers, representing a wide range of affiliations, support the strike. Even more impressive, when Writers Guild members were given the chance to express their opinions in a secret ballot without peer pressure, 84 percent stated the strike was necessary. Furthermore, 69 percent of all the Variety subscribers polled see the WGA as being "more honest and forthright" than the media corporations.

The AMPTP has less reason to smile. Fifty percent of respondents said that since the onset of the strike their view of the corporations has become more negative. Two per cent like them better. Adding to the AMPTP woes, 52 percent of Variety subscribers blame the media corporations for any crew layoffs that have taken place.

Today's Wall Street Journal (11/26/07) praised the strength of the WGA, saying that the "walkout has enjoyed strong unity" and warning media corporations that the strike could lead to the "total collapse of Hollywood's entertainment machine." Obviously, that is not our objective. We are committed to bringing this strike to a timely end. A robust and profitable entertainment industry benefits us all.


Yeah, there's our militant leadership, all right...

The real interesting part, though, is how the trolls keep "worrying" that the WGA isn't getting its "message" out to the "public." Based on the above numbers, the public gets it. If I talk to someone who doesn't, I explain it. And check it -- THEY GET IT. People aren't stupid. But ultimately, it doesn't really matter if the public understands or if they're with us, because they're not going to vote on anything. But it's nice to have the support. WHICH WE HAVE. SO FUCK OFF.

Another fun fallacy is that all us writers make $200,000 a year. First of all, that's total bullshit and the people who bleat on about this don't understand how the industry works. If one more person mentions minimums, I'm taking someone the fuck OUT. This is a sweet Republican nutter tactic. They get people talking and arguing about a fallacy so the truth isn't revealed. The trolls try to derail the real conversation because they know they're wrong. Remember the SwiftBoat bullshit? Yeah. Like that. The truth is, this isn't about how much we all make. It's about a fair deal.

4. The IATSE/WGA war
Can we just STOP? Film is a collaborative medium. We all need each other. Residuals benefit IATSE members. All us writers are sorry that every one of you is going to lose his house in the next month. At least you have a house to lose. Okay? So cut it the fuck out. Those IATSE members who are supporting the WGA -- you rock. Thank you. To the rest of you -- whatevs. Believe whatever you want. It's not my job to convince you or to apologize EVEN MORE. This benefits you, so you're welcome.

A few comments:
Charli says:
The other as I watched videos and read blogs about the strike, it occurred to me that we hear a lot about television writers but that we have heard very little about feature film writers or even feature film actors joining the picket line. Any thoughts on that?


I think some film actors have been out in NYC. I haven't personally seen any. A lot of film actors have done the Speechless campaign, which is pretty cool. There are a few feature writers out. I wish they'd be more vocal so we'd know who they are! I know several who have been out there every day.

Also, much has been said about the rights of writers, etc. What hasn't been spoken much about is the work writers do, those lonely hours by the laptop, thinking, and thinking, and more thinking - our minds escape the reality and slip into a world we create, a world only writers seem to understand is real before others can envision it. Writers are a different lot, souls who explore what isn't real but we all believe could be real if we can somehow break the veil of our own reality and existence.


It's virtually impossible to describe a writer's job too a non-writer, for the reasons you stated. We're basically working all the time. We can't just clock out and go home. As Red Smith said, "There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein." E.L. Doctorow said, "Writing is a sociably acceptable form of schizophrenia." And Emily Dickinson said, "Publication is the auction of the Mind of Man."

Writers know how to use words, yo.

Crystal,

I had an altercation with a writers assistant who was a bit mean-spirited and snide about the WGA wishing everybody a Happy Thanksgiving when thanks to them, there was no money for turkey. When someone (not me) pointed out that that was mean-spirited, she came back with 'her rights to speak her mind' and 'right to pay her rent.' To which I came back with the comments that the right to free speech was fought for by someone willing to shed their blood, and that the right to unemployment benefits, indeed, all rights have been fought for by someone because the bosses give up nothing they don't have to. To which I got blasted by her because she didn't like getting a history lesson. There's always someone in every situation that makes things harder.


Exactly! My opinion, people need more history lessons.

And D goes,

Oh hell, are we going to turn this into another IA vs WGA thread? That's why I left Mazin's site for so long. Yes Josh, thank you for writing scripts so we can have jobs. Yes IA thank you for turning scripts into movies so writers can get paid. Thank you most of all Kay. When you call someone a "pussy" it makes my day. You are the coolest.


Well, shucks! This won't get like Mazin's. Trust me. Because here's the deal, as I said above and will say again in case anyone missed it:

WE ALL NEED EACH OTHER. All the writers I've talked to get that. I know it's frustrating for the IATSE members because they're casualties here. WE KNOW THAT. WE'RE NOT STUPID. So it shan't be addressed anymore. Anyone tries, and I'll talk about ponies. Swear to God.

I found this howler of an article online. It's from the LA CityBeat magazine, and was written by Natalie Nichols. She's upset at the dearth of good genre shows. Fair enough; I agree with that. But then she says this:

Most of these new shows are derivative and, worse, dreadful to mediocre. I’m almost glad, because this means they’ll do poorly, the networks will lose interest, and genre can be pushed back to the fringes, where it thrived for years in the hands of passionate people who had something to say and knew what they were doing.


Yikes. Claiming that those who created this year's genre shows aren't passionate isn't really fair. Okay, there's David Eick. I'll give you that one. But Ms. Nichols shows a total lack of industry understanding if she thinks that the passionate, smart genre people aren't out there selling shows and trying to get them on the air. That's total bullshit. As for the fringes... where are these, exactly? With vertical integration, there's just no such thing anymore.

Some asshole on Mazin's site went after me because I talked about the number of layers one has to go through to get a show, or just an episode, on the air. Apparently, being a writer means accepting that everything is in glorious Technicolor at all times. This simpleton didn't understand the point -- we all accept how difficult it is, but we reserve the right to be frustrated. People who take everything on face value go, "You chose the job. Stop whining." But if we all sit around and just do what they want without trying to find a way around it, the industry will stagnate. There seem to be only two viewpoints with the simpletons -- one, that writers are bad/incompetent/passionless, and two, that executives are evil/incompetent/passionless. Neither is true, and it's a lot more complicated than that. Ms. Nichols essentially says that the bad writers are pretty much doing whatever they want, and it sucks.

She also says this:
Yet the classic networks, though more recently fascinated, are apparently already out of compelling genre ideas.


If you doubted her competence, doubt it no more. Girlfriend doesn't even know how the industry works at its most basic level.

I do wonder how CityBeat finds their reporters.

In closing, a few links:

WGA Strike: A Love Story. Just... watch it. And see how the writers are using the internets while the studio CEOs probably don't even know how to turn their computers on.

Mark Evanier explains it all.

np -- The Twilight Sad, "Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters"

Friday, November 16, 2007

Lovers, Thieves, Fools and Pretenders

Not technically a song title, but a fantastic lyric from one of the best songs ever written.

I wanted to get to some comments, and to hopefully reassure Anonymous, who had this to say:

Hello, Kay, for purposes of identification and reference, I'm the writer who wrote a comment regarding your Meaning of Soul post by beginning that 'I've been in the Guild since the early 70s...' and went on to talk about the history of the WGA giving up the authorship of our own material and how that has directly influenced the creative and economic issues that face writers today. The merits of that aside, I was taken aback that you did not see fit to print my comment. I was recommended to your site by a writer friend I respect, and took the time to write a reasoned observation re your post, personally attacking no one, not usuing abusive language, etc. All I did was give your comments some historical perspective which I thought others might find illuminating to the creative process and the issues facing us now. Clearly, though, all you want to print is affirmation (i.e. "Brilliant post, Kay," etc.) If you're going to censor posts that are not abusive etc., but merely ones you may not agree with...well, then your blog is clearly not one where an honest, open, exchange of ideas can take place, and therefore a total waste of time. Except for you and your sycophants. Too bad.


I don't blame you for being taken aback. I don't remember seeing your post but somebody else said their comment didn't show up either, so maybe Blogger's screwy. If it did show up and I rejected it, I was clearly high that day and that was a mistake. I've been doing the comments as they come in, so I hope I didn't reject it by accident but if so, I apologize. I'm not about rejecting comments that aren't all sunny and "yay, you!" Just FYI.

I have rejected a few comments. A coupla spam, and some troll bleed-through from Mazin's site. Which is something to talk about. English Dave says:

And so far a troll free blog! But they will come, oh they will come.

I'm sure everyone's noticed how on United Hollywood, the first comment on almost every post is by some anonymous blogger with a negative comment. They must be working shifts.

As for Mazin's? More trolls than a Brother's Grimm fairytale.


Exactly. It's easy to attack someone when you're behind the veil of anonymity, which is all but about four people on Mazin's site. I don't require people to use their real identities here but on Mazin's site, anonymity exists only so these trolls can attack others and spread disinformation. But then the purpose of Mazin's site is different from mine. This is just me talking, and people hopefully being interested enough to read. Even as he constantly rejects the notion that the site serves any purpose other than a personal blog, there's a lot of subtext there and that attracts people who needed a place to focus their enmity.

Mazin may not mind when people come to his house and pee on the floor, but I do. That said, I'm not picking and choosing which comments to approve so it'll make me look better. My opinions are mine, and I don't expect everyone to share them. Discussions are great. I'm happy that people are liking the blog, and I like the atmosphere here. It won't go the way of most places on the internet, where every discussion inevitably descends into internet Thunderdome. People who are so angry that they have to attack others can stay on Mazin's site, or comment on Nikki's site or United Hollywood. NOT here.

Obviously, the most important thing going in writer-land is the strike. I do want to talk about it, but I'm not going to talk about percentages and strategy. Nor am I going to continuously apologize to the people who have become collateral damage during this strike. I do that face to face every day on the picket line. I'm not going to defend my chosen profession when some asshat goes, "What are you complaining about? You chose to be a writer. Nobody forced you."

Well. Maybe that one deserves a look.

The entertainment industry is hella glamorous. You flip through US Weekly or People and see what the stars are wearing, where they go on vacation, all that other crap. Making TeeVee and movies is glamorous. Sitting at a computer, pounding away, is glamorous. Going to premieres, being on sets, is glamorous. And don't forget, we all make at least $200,000 a year. THAT is TOTALLY glamorous. People in this industry are set up to be hated. Hell, sometimes by others in the industry, like the IATSE guy the other day who yelled at us and said, "I shit on your protest. You fucked my Christmas." There was a group of us, and we even had the perfect flyer for the guy to read. But he refused to take it. He refused to listen when we tried to tell him that a big chunk of his health and pension plan comes from residuals. Because he didn't care. He didn't want to be rational. His life was being turned upside down (I guess in a few weeks, since he was going to work) and he wanted to take it out on us. It was impossible for him to take it out on the studios, because that's where he was going. And we were visible.

The idea that my profession is so cool and marvelous that I'm not allowed to explain how it can be hard and demoralizing is childish. This is the kind of shit you deal with when you venture out onto the greater internet. It's almost impossible to get your point across because you're too busy defending yourself from people who hate you before they even know who you are. I am not required to suck it up and go, "You're right. My job is so awesomely excellent that I should just shut up and hand you money." Bullshit. I'd love to find the person whose job goes smoothly and wonderfully every day. I think most people who love their jobs do so because they're hard. If something's easy, you take it for granted. There's nothing more gratifying than making it through adversity and having that moment when you go, "Yeah. THIS is why I do it." I think this is a large part of why people are so into sports. Not only is it evident in the faces of the players, but the fans can play along too, and identify with that feeling. And the high that I get from watching Rags To Riches win the Belmont, or Shen and Zhao lay down a perfect program to win Worlds, is what I strive for in my profession. And those moments rock. Everybody should have them.

Okay, enough with that. More comments:

Tim,

Thanks for your reply to my comment. I thought that I'd be safe here (obviously if I want to work in Canadian film or television), but my worry was that American studios would only hire writers out of L.A. (for television). I read on Jane Espenson's blog about her coming out to Vancouver to do so writing for Battlestar Galactica. I would think having a writer they could go to in Vancouver might advantageous.


American studios DO hire American writers even for shows shot in Canada. Sometimes the staff is based in Canada, especially when it's for a show shot in Toronto, but mostly the staffs are based in the U.S. There are the occasional co-productions, where a certain percentage of the writers and directors have to be Canadian, but there don't seem to be a lot of those at the moment. I think right now, you're safer in Canada!

VDO Vault sent some good links for fans who support the WGA, and mea culpa for not getting to this sooner:

WGA supporters
Fans for WGA
Fans 4 Writers

Those are awesome. Thanks!

As I'm sure everybody now knows, the WGA and the AMPTP are going back to the table next Monday. While this is far from a guarantee that there will be a deal or even that the AMPTP WANTS to make one, at least they're going to talk. I prefer to be positive about this and think that they DO want to make a deal, and that both sides actually know what they want. The AMPTP has yet to put an offer on the table, or respond to the WGA's offer from two weeks ago. Yeah, maybe they just want to tread water until they can force majeure their deals. Maybe they want to use the press and go, "Okay, THIS time we went in to make a deal and the WGA fucked us." Whatever. I want to think this is a good sign, so I shall. Anybody who wants to think otherwise can find some pals on Mazin's site.

And here's Dave, a voice from the past!!
It's Dave here again, your old pal from the MBATEOTU. First off, let me say that your picketing accounts have been both intriguing an illuminating. I've also thoroughly enjoyed your posts at Mazin's site. You and Josh Olson seem to be the informed voices of reason over there! sadly, much more so than the douchebag who actually runs the site (did you see his 'magic cake' blog? WTF?) You've really helped provide perspective in the face of the few dorks shouting "You're nothing but a bunch of lazy fatcats" ad nauseum.


Ah. Yes. Magic cake. As Josh tried to point out over there, if we have to resort to using magic to explain residuals, we're fucked.

Anyway, I had a question I wanted to run by you regarding something that recently happened to me. Over the last year and a half, my writing partner and I have written three TV movies and one feature for Larry Levinson Productions, which is a non-signatory prodco. It served as an excellent proving ground, and the checks were enough to keep the lights going and food on the table. We did some good work over there and built a solid rep. Soon afterward, we scored some meetings at Lionsgate, where we began to work out a deal on a project that would've qualified us to join the guild, writing the remake of an 80s horror flick that already had a director attached, but the contracts didn't get signed before the strike, so it pretty much went into an infinite holding pattern. Yeah, we were initially bummed, but we're both fully in support of the issues, as we know our careers will be defined by the outcome of this strike.

The day after the strike began, I got a call from an exec we worked with over at Levinson. He told me that they were still moving ahead with various projects and that they'd love for us to take a couple more assignments for them. He spun it as if it wouldn't be a problem, since Levinson's non-signatory, we're not guild yet, we'd be signing non-union contracts, etc. Thing is, one of Levinson's main financial partners is RHI Entertainment, and they most definitely ARE a struck company. Their name pops up first in the credits on every one of the movies we've written. Levinson also sells their films to a variety of other struck companies, like Lifetime and Spike. I told the exec that, although this seemed like something of a gray area, I didn't think it would be right to accept any assignments for films that would wind up with these companies, even if they weren't technically the ones who were signing my checks, the whole thing seemed somewhat shady to me. The exec, of course, told me that I was being paranoid and that doing work for them wouldn't affect our standing when it eventually came time for us to join the guild. Still, I felt that it would be backhanded and shitty, so I turned him down.

Did I do the right thing here? Despite my non-union status, I want to show solidarity for the union to which I will (hopefully sooner than later) belong. Basically, I just want to know that I wasn't being an asshole.


Legally, I don't know. But in this climate, it's better to err on the side of safety. I do know there's been talk of a lot of slimy shit going on and even if you can honestly say, "I didn't know," there are ways of finding out, so that's no excuse. You could call the WGA, even if you're not a member, and talk to somebody there. They'd be more than happy to answer any questions.

And speaking of solidarity, I'd very much like to support my brother and sister scripters on the picket line. Would I be welcome to come down and join in?


Absolutely!! Everybody's welcome. There's a big rally on Tuesday in Hollywood and the guild is trying to get as many people as possible.

Anonymous says:

Thanks for this, Kay. I was looking at some of the messages on Artful Writer and even Writer Action about how the showrunners were being unethical by violating their contracts because they refused to walk past their own writing staffs out on the picket line, and thought to myself-- that's no ethical framework I recognize or want any part of. Fuck those people. Even Ted Elliot, who I used to admire. Actually, especially Ted Elliot.


Heh. It's easy to follow the rules when you don't want to deal with your own morality, and that's what I saw going on there. This is a strike, not an orderly disagreement. It's hard enough to disrupt these companies. Why make it easier for them? The point of a strike is to make shit happen. Obviously, Ted and Craig don't think the strike is doing any good, which makes me wonder what they think we're doing. Craig, of course, has yet to grace the picket line so he's out of touch. The showrunners made a huge sacrifice for the rest of us. How can you not be grateful for that? If we're not going to make the studios realize they need us to make money, what's the point?

Matt,
Thanks for the link. Added yours as well.

Ian,

Checked out the Moonlight episode that you did, and yes I used torrent as iTunes literally sucks. And you know what, I wish you were writing more :( (obviously not while the strikes on...) as it rocked, made me want to check out the series again (kind of dismissed it after the pilot)


Glad you liked it. I think the show's gotten better every week and I gotta say, it's the most gorgeously shot show I've seen in a long time. Just stunning. As for iTunes, I'm a bitrate whore and iTunes gives me the shakes. DivX is beautiful.

And now we're back to where we started, with Original Anonymous:
Kay, my apologies...as you did post my rant about not posting my initial post...which is more germane to the 'Meaning of Soul', and unfortunately still not posted. But to surmise, when the WGA gave up authorship of OUR OWN CREATIVE WRITING back in the 40s, we doomed ourselves to just getting crumbs from the corporations who are no different from the venal studio heads back then. I would strike forever for the essential right to own what we write. Then and only then would we have economic and creative power. Because as long as they 'own' what we write, very few of us can have the serenity and satisfaction of knowing that what we write makes any kind of a difference. Because they have the power to give us the 'notes', and then when we don't execute our scripts the way they like, they hire our sisters and brothers to rewrite us. The Dramatist Guild stood up to this insanity like a million years ago (and the paradigm was the same -- producers financed plays, just like they finance movies), and they WON. With the exception of James Cain and Dudley Nichols and other who were called Commies, the WGA, however, caved, giving away what we create and dooming us to being percieved as hacks. 'Schmucks with Underwoods.' Our only creative victories for most of us, unfortunately, are our first drafts. Thanks for hopefully posting this bit of historical perspective.


Very interesting. Thanks. The lack of foresight is intriguing. It seems that we're always giving something away that we want back later. What's really screwing us in TeeVee now is that the networks have ownership of the shows. Vertical integration has made everything harder, not easier. It's a mess. It's still possible to do a show that is wholly and purely you. But it's a perfect storm situation that exists about once a generation, it seems. I think about the shows I really loved, and they all existed in a bubble. If they hadn't, they would have been torn apart. "X-Files," "Buffy," shows like that. New networks taking a risk. I was getting pretty depressed about how that wasn't possible anymore, but then came "Mad Men." Same situation, same outcome -- total creator-driven brilliance.

This post was supposed to be short. It is not.

Huh.

Monday, November 12, 2007

The Meaning of Soul

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?

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Singing Rule Brittania

I haven't run out of song titles, but I've run out of strike-related titles. And it was a long day. So get off my back.

Three days of picketing down and rather than flagging in our resolve, we're making up more union slogans. The support from the passersby and from the entertainment community has been fantastic and, with the exception of a few thumbs down, virtually unanimous. We had the inimitable Harlan Ellison picketing yesterday with an excellent homemade sign that said "Nick Counter Sleeps With The Fishe$$$$." It was taken away, and then given back. Today, Garry Marshall showed his support by marching and chanting with us at Warner Bros. The "ER" actors came out yesterday and the "Grey's Anatomy" actors came out today. A guy had a sign that read "John 3:16 -- somebody wrote that." And Carlton Cuse had a funny one that said "Want to know what's on the island?"

Actors and talk-show hosts continue to buy food for everybody but Gate 2 at Warner Bros. Seriously, what do we have to chant to get a pizza over there?? Come on, Jimmy Kimmel, where's the love?? Next we're doing noisemakers and tambourines. Think we're noisy just yelling? Wait till later.

The AMPTP -- clearly they are not creative, or they would have come up with a less confusing acronym -- keeps trying to scare the WGA membership into giving up the ghost by saying things like, "We've got a full schedule of programming. We're not worried" to "We're good till about June."

Well, Les Moonves and Peter Chernin, if that is indeed true, I suppose we'll be on strike until June. But are the shareholders REALLY going to see that CBS has ordered "Baby Nation" and be fine with that? Really? These asshats, rich cocks though they are, only run the studios. They don't run the corporations. So it'll be interesting to see if their fat asses get handed to them by the people who are REALLY in control.

I believe that the WGA leadership wants to negotiate. They want talks. And they want us to get a fair contract. They're not turning down anything that the membership wouldn't have guffawed at in the first place.

Here's a nifty YouTube page with some video from the first two days, and from the membership meeting announcing the strike. This week, the studios sent out letters to people on deals, effectively ending those deals. And here's what is ironic. We got aced out of selling a pilot this year partly because of those deals. Yeah, I'm laughing pretty hard about now. Ha fucking ha.

Some illuminating posts at The Huffington Post, and some stupid, inane ones. Even a few idiotic posts that weren't from John Ridley. I know. Amazing, huh?

There were bunches of comments this week. A lot of them are from folks who've drifted over from Artful Writer. So let's see what y'all had to say!

Tim W., you had a question from Halloween that got lost in the shuffle. Sorry about that! I said it was almost impossible to work outside of L.A. Tim's from Vancouver, so that's not a problem. You guys have a thriving TeeVee industry, yes? I was talking about people from rural areas who think they can be professional TeeVee and film writers without relocating. They cannot. You're fine.

Deering found me. Hey there! Glad you stumbled across the blog, and that you think as much of "Mad Men" as I do.I think the strike kind of effed everything up and I didn't talk about how much I adored the finale. I mean, shit. Seriously. You go through the entire season alternately hating Don and understanding him to feeling deeply for him. It's a terrific set-up for the second season. My favorite storyline, though, is Peggy's. I did NOT SEE THAT COMING. But in retrospect, it's fairly obvious. I sure hope we get to see a season two of this show. TeeVee should survive and the strike should end only for that.

And PH is here as well. Geez. Talk about the olden days! We were pleased with our "Moonlight" episode, although it's weird doing a freelance because we're so accustomed to seeing it through editing and post. So it's a little disconcerting.

Wendy wants to know what she can do to show support. Wendy, go ahead and watch those DVDs. Yes, we're being underpaid for them but at least we ARE being paid. What I don't want people to do, however, is download episodes from iTunes or watch episodes on a network's website. WRITERS DO NOT GET COMPENSATED FOR THAT. Our "Moonlight" episode was one of the most popular downloads of the week and we get nothing.

When you illegally download something and the network doesn't get any money for it, they call it piracy. But when you download something or watch streaming video with commercials and the writers don't get any money for it, the networks call it promotion. DON'T LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS. Steal from the networks. You KNOW how much they hate it. But we're not supposed to hate it if they steal from us. Somehow, that's their logic. If you don't know how to use Bittorrent, go read up on it. It's very simple, and you can find anything you're looking for via Bittorrent. The quality of Bittorrent downloads is, ironically, FAR better than the downloads you can get at iTunes or the streaming video on the networks' website. So if it's not out on DVD, don't let those bastards make one red cent off the writers, directors and actors. Because they're STEALING from us.

Tim W. wanted to clarify a post I made over on Mazin's site. Tim, I was not accusing Craig of making the idiotic "Writers make $200,000" statement. My beef had to do with his claim that rich guys like him subsidize the rest of us.

Crystal says:
I can attest that every gate at NBC Universal has been covered. Even the Chaplin-Hollywood-whatever studio that I've forgotten existed had picketers in front of it. That to me was impressive, because like I said, I had forgotten it existed.


I worked there once. Glad it's being covered, but I do pity the people who have to cover it... although there IS a Starbucks close by...

I'm not WGA yet, but I'll be helping with the picket lines whenever I can get away... on my free time... and when they shut us down... as people need to understand, this affects us all... it's about the present... and the future...


Thank you, Crystal!!!!

And Bill sends a link from the picket line, with the writers of "The Office." I hadn't watched this yet, and I highly recommend it to anyone who's unclear on what this whole strike is about.

http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gifThese guys rock.

BooM says:
I ain't the best writerer. Thank god there's a guy, albeit a TV guy, who's in hell over his hyphenate situation (a struggle I haven't really seen at the other place). This guy's chosen "Writer," no matter the cost. That guy is Shawn Ryan, about the series finale of his baby:

"I will not go into the office and I will not do any work at home. I will be on the picket line or I will be working with the Negotiating Committee. I will not have an avid sent to my house, or to a new office so that I can do work on my show and act as if it is all right because I'm not crossing any picket lines."


Here's the difference between now and then. People like Shawn Ryan. Shonda Rhimes. Greg Daniels. Josh Friedman. Damon Lindelof. Bryan Fuller. Josh Schwartz. These people created their shows, but they're all out on the picket line. They're executive producers, which means they manage the writers, they hire the staff and the crew, they deliver cuts to the networks and studios, and they do the notes. But they are all, first and foremost, writers.

It is DAMN HARD to get a show on the air. Getting your own show is the epitome of TeeVee writing, the culmination of everything you work so hard for. I've said this before, but it must be reiterated because it is SO important. These people are walking away from something that they may never have again. If they didn't do this, we really wouldn't have much of a leg to stand on. Because we'd be split. As they do when they're running their show, they lead by example. And the example they're setting is, I believe, why we have the public overwhelmingly on our side.

There are producers, directors, actors and crew members crossing our picket lines. And many of them are heartsick about it, but most unions have a no-strike clause. They either go to work, or they get sued. And EVERY actor who has been interviewed has said the same thing -- they wouldn't have a job without the writers. The TeeVee actors are, understandably, much more vocal about this, since they work more closely with the writers and the showrunners who hire them. This is solidarity, people! This is why we make up our silly-ass chants and picket OUTSIDE, for God's sake, which is not natural for us. It's hot, and sunny, and there's air and ground. It's WEIRD.

np -- White Whale, "WWI." Geez, this album's REALLY good...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Stachka!!

I hope this strike is shorter than the Eisenstein movie, but...

First day on the picket line. If the studios' hopes is that the writers will become divided, even if this thing goes on a long time, us writers are getting closer hourly.

The support of our own Guild is one thing -- we're the ones on strike, after all -- but I was truly grateful to the SAG members who showed up and picketed and chanted all four hours. So what a shock to come home and see the lies about studio gates not being covered.

As somebody who was at gates 2 & 3 at Warner Bros, I can assure any directors who are off shooting their movies that EVERY GATE at Warner Bros. was covered. Perhaps writers who ARE off directing their movies and aren't even going to be involved in actively supporting the Writer's Guild should keep their fucking mouths closed if they don't know what they're talking about. Stop the hearsay. It's damaging.

We already have a publicity issue with this thing, since some people believe everything they read or hear. Writers do NOT make, on average, $200,000 a year. We are not on strike because we're greedy. But that's what is reported in the press. So for somebody in the Guild who is (for some unknown reason) held in high esteem by the press to get EVERY FUCKING THING WRONG and to be a whiny asshat to boot, well... it's galling and depressing. And after SUPPORTING MY GUILD and hopefully helping to protect the future of ALL Hollywood entertainment unions, I want to punch him in the heart.

It's unfortunate that people have to get their information from this particular person's blog, because more often than not they walk away with the impressions HE has left. And those impressions are his personally, and he thinks he lives in some writerly ivory tower, way above the rest of us donkeys. He's not a good enough writer to stop his contempt from coming through.

THIS IS NOT ABOUT PERSONAL GAIN. IT'S NOT ABOUT EGO. It's about ALL of us.

So here's what happened today.

The picketing writers at Radford went to the location and got the CBS show "Cane" shut down. "The New Adventures of Old Christine" is shut down. Shawn Ryan, the creator of "The Shield," will not be on the set for the last episode of the SERIES. I was on the line with the creator of "Pushing Daisies." The co-creator and showrunner for "Moonlight," the showrunner for "Cold Case" and the creator and showrunner of "Sarah Connor Chronicles" were picketed Warner Bros. as well. Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson did not cross the picket line. America Ferrera from "Ugly Betty" was out picketing.

Guild president Patric Verrone was going from studio to studio to show his support. Even cranky John Ireland stalked around at Warner Bros.

EVERYBODY in a Guild or a union who honored the picket line, EVERY writer and showrunner who is NOT editing or producing his or her show, is showing a solidarity that WILL be reciprocated, at least by me. If anybody WOULD like to actively support the strike, you are more than welcome to show up and picket at any studio.

Now go hug a Teamster.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Look Back In Anger

Seriocity: Strike edition!

So tomorrow, we picket. Hopefully, it won't be too combative, but you never know, right? We're writers. We're not confrontational by nature, unless it's on the 'net.

All anybody outside the WGA has to go on is what they hear on the TeeVee and radio and read in the newspapers and on the internets. I've been checking out the internets a little and it's been illuminating. There have been several posts in places like The Huffington Post about the strike and we've gotten support from people with NAMES, y'all, folks even your Aunt Tillie in Weewaw has heard of. Do regular people get to post on The Huffington Post, or is it just famous folks? I really do not know.

The press seems to think it's important to talk to these highly visible folks, as if only they can lend credence and heft to the situation. Because unfortunately, in our celebrity-driven culture, an interview with the middle class just won't cut it. Who would care?

But the strike isn't about the people who are, at the moment, massively successful. It's not about making the rich richer. It's about a few things that are more important than that, and the press continuing to focus on "names," which when you're talking about screenwriters and TeeVee writers, seems rather hilarious. They'll have a MUCH easier time if SAG strikes. Nobody turns on the TeeVee and goes, "Oooh, Martha! Come quick! Carlton Cuse is talking about the strike!"

The asshat who's negotiating for the studios claimed that the average writer makes $200,000 a year. Now, I don't know about the rest of y'all, but even during the good years, I wasn't making close to $200,000 a year. This is a tactic on their part to show that writers are greedy fuckers who just want to get their fat, grubby fingers on the studios' hard-earned cash. Which simply isn't true. So why the WGA continues to push these writers front and center is a mystery to me. And the press, of course, continues to interview them as well. So as far as the public is concerned, the rest of us are in the same boat.

You can see this on the internets. There's a lot of "Boo hoo, rich Hollywood writer, now you'll know what it's like to be one of us." Honey, I already know, okay? And it would be lovely to know where my next paycheck was coming from. I haven't known that for several years. What's even more amusing (because it's SO wrong-headed) is the contention that writers don't deserve to be treated fairly because TeeVee and movies suck. Yeah, as if all of this is contingent on how good a writer you are. If that's the case, well... I won't go any further than that. And these posts are on the supposedly liberal blogs. Imagine what the Freepers think!

I say "imagine" because I sincerely don't want to know. Don't tell me.

The people who support the strike -- others who will be financially screwed by it -- need to see that the writers will be, too. The Teamsters are risking a LOT if they don't cross our picket line. If we're perceived as not risking anything, why should they put themselves on the line for us?

While big-name TeeVee writers are walking away from the shows they've created, nurtured and protected, this unfortunately doesn't have the same weight as do the financial considerations, because that's all the press talks about. So by interviewing only big-name writers, our cause is done a disservice. And Shawn Ryan talking about walking away from the last episode of "The Shield" EVER doesn't have the heft and weight that it really needs to.

People understand financial hardship. It's as simple as that. And when you see prima donnas elsewhere on the internets whining about how the WGA has basically hard-lined us into a strike, and then complaining that their massive paychecks subsidize the rest of us AND pay for the strike, you gotta wonder where their heads are. Because the way it looks from here is, Big WriterDude is only thinking of himself and being singled out as the internet spokesmodel for the Guild feeds his already healthy ego. So he begins to think of himself as said spokesmodel and begins to bleat that the sky is falling.

I'm talking about one bloviating spokesmodel in particular here, just in case that was lost on y'all.

At this point, we're on strike. And certain spokesmodels seem to think that it matters why we're here. It really doesn't anymore. The only thing that matters is solidarity and support. Regardless of how we feel personally, if somebody's going to be interviews on, say, the radio, they'd better have their shit together. We can't afford to be emotional wrecks. We can't point fingers at the leadership at this point. We have to throw our collective weight behind them and fully support them. This is the kind of crap the Democrats do, when they fight amongst themselves and won't just fucking come together. We need to fucking come together, and if the higher profile writers don't see that, I don't know what's going to happen.

These folks may have been annoyed and irritated by how the WGA leadership handled the negotiations but they have not been hurt and, let's face it, destroyed by it. I was. And I hate and loathe the way they handled this. It took a year's wages away from me. But that's neither here nor there anymore. It's irrelevant. All of this is irrelevant, the politicking, the strong-arming, any of it. It doesn't matter. We can't be irresponsible when we're talking to the press. We can't make it about an individual. It's about all of us, together. And it's even more important than that. It looks like the studios are trying to break the unions. We're the first one on the front line and if we cave, the DGA and especially SAG (which has more in common with the WGA than does the DGA) is fucked. SAG is completely with us and yeah, suddenly, I love actors. Because they know how important these issues are. Although it's about specific issues what's really at stake here is stopping the rollbacks. Because if we don't stop the rollbacks now, then there will be more at every negotiation and eventually, the unions will be completely destroyed.

The studios and the networks already walk all over writers. Imagine how much worse it will get without a union.

So what the fuck are the issues, you ask?

Downloads. What the studios are offering is the same sucky DVD rate for downloads. But the problem is, there are NO manufacturing costs for anything you put on the internets. If they're going to charge the same for downloads as they do for DVDs, they're going to make a lot more from the downloads because of the dearth of manufacturing and distribution. And one of the things they've always been bleating about is how much it costs to make the little DVD thingies and ship them and shit like that. So if you remove that element, the writers should share in a bigger piece of the MUCH larger profit, yes? They say no.

Streaming video and residuals. Normally, when you write an episode of a TeeVee show the show will at some point be rerun, and a writer will get a residual for that second airing. The studios hate this, and it's always up to the WGA to chase down residuals. The studios do not freely hand them over. You have to pry residuals out of their cold dead hands. But what's happening now is, these shows are not being rerun. The studios are streaming the episodes on their websites. Why should a writer get a share of that, you may ask? Because these bad boys have commercials. That's right -- the studios are selling advertising for these streaming videos. If you want to watch an episode of some NBC show on their website, you have to sit through myriad commercials.

Obviously, they're getting money for this and they're delighted because they've managed to find a way around paying us residuals. In order to avoid paying us for the streaming video, they've now said that they don't have to because the use of the video is promotional. It's the same way with streaming movies, or hell, downloaded movies. It's a promotional tool. For what, nobody knows. But that's what they're saying.

If you're not working, and most writers do not work steadily, that green residual envelope keeps you alive. It is not, as the press reports, there to keep your kid in some ritzy boarding school in Gstaad. The green envelope doesn't buy all writers their fourth vacation homes. It's a fucking lifeline.

Now let's talk about DVD for a moment. Most shows are no longer syndicated, and when shows were syndicated in the past, writers got a share of that. But now, shows are being released on DVD. So the syndication market has dried up. Yet another revenue stream that no longer exists. So if the only revenue stream that's going to exist is DVD, writers naturally want a larger piece of that, to offset the loss of syndication. And naturally, the studios and networks wouldn't be putting all their eggs in the DVD basket if it wasn't profitable for them. But they don't want to share, because they think they've found ways around sharing their profits with writers, directors and actors.

It's this ancillary stuff that is saving the asses of people who aren't lucky enough to have written a lame, inexplicably popular parody film.

If you want to take a look at what some writers are saying, check out United Hollywood. Not a ton of posts so far, but it'll give you an idea of what's going on.

np -- The Redwalls, "The Redwalls." Probably a grower like their first album.