Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Hollywood's All Hallow's Eve
in Hollywood, the writer meant nothing. They were paid well, but the moguls never saw any real difference between their writers and the carpenters who built the sets. - L.A. Times"
So tomorrow, everybody here in the business is expecting the Writer's Guild of America to go on strike. This means all of us who make our livelihoods in the word writing side of the business will stop getting checks and delivering pages. Karen has a synthesis of issues and links at her site here. The issues are very real in this conflict and basically come down to greed on the part of the studio/networks who have been for years finding new technology ways to profit on the work of writers without having to pay for the privilege. It isn't right, and it has to stop. But I am not hopeful for the negotiations because I have been in rooms where Greed was the other silent presence in the room, and it is a presence which neuters and obstructs every rational argument.
This past Fall, I was a party in a negotiation with a producer who was screwing a writer, completely in breech of a contract that we all had in front of us. And in between the agent's well-constructed pleas, and the producer's blustering distortions, the writer kept holding up the contract and shaking their head at the producer, "Just do the right thing." Finally, the producer began screaming the F-word in feigned horror that his ethics could be in question, and everyone in the group just walked away. (BTW, the producer here is a Christian...) It was ugly because it was so transparent that the producer was fighting for, in the words of Fargo 'just a little bit of money.'
My experience is that there is a weird thing that happens when people get money in their bank account. Especially if it is money that is due to be remitted to other people. As soon as the money comes in, people start to imagine it is their own, and that to pay it out is an act of charity and personal discretion. When it isn't. If it is due to others, the money in your bank account doesn't really belong to you, and they are either going to get it the easy way or the hard way. This is why so many of us run for our lives from deals that are predicated on this proposition: "As soon as we sell it, we will pay you $______." I always think when I hear that, a) You might not sell it, which means I will have worked for nothing. AND b) If you do sell it, you might not be able to let go of the money so as to pay me. (Think I am kidding? Just the other day one of our alumni turned in a script to a production company which then announced to the writer that they no longer had the money to pay for the script but that they would "eventually." There was a contract, and there had been money given for the script. But it got spent once the script deal was signed, and now the money meant for the script was gone. Oh well. We're sorry you can't pay your rent dear writer.... Did I mention that this production company too was run by Christians?)
Back to the strike...My sense is most folks outside of the business are secretly enjoying the idea of spoiled, overpaid Hollywood narcissists in a war against themselves. But the truth is, lots of everyday people will suffer in this huge industry, as the wave of production gradually moves towards a halt. It will take several months before the viewing audience starts to feel the effects of the strike. By the time most of you start to get fed up with one more super-extended week-long extravaganza of Deal or No Deal - the models will probably be close to topless and in G-strings by then - the most struggling people in the business will already be in foreclosure on their homes and selling off their furniture piece by piece. As with any sad situation like this, the top-tier people in Hollywood - the one's Christians are really thinking of when they call this place evil and poisonous - will not suffer too much from the strike. It's always the poor who take the hits when the sh*t hits the fan.
To try and put some kind of a hopeful spin on this, perhaps those of us who care about the cultural demise, can pray that the writers will spend these next few weeks or months of strike as a time of retreat and reflection. Pray that while they are having to stop writing, the writers here, who have so much power, can be moved towards eventually writing things that will be good for the world.