Wednesday, November 07, 2007

I Have A Soapbox, I Might As Well Use It

Los Angeles, CA

Like many people in this town, I know folks who are, either now or in the future if it goes on too long, going to be affected by the WGA strike. Not just writers. Actors, directors, technicians, agents. If the strike goes on too long, the whole magilla is going to come crashing down and put a lot of people, a lot of people who are living hand to mouth, out of work.

My friends broke and out of work makes me unhappy. Mostly because I'm expecting an invitation to a poker game where they can take all my money (again) any day now.

For the record, I'm not a member, have never been a member, will probably never be a member. In fact I'm not a big fan of unions in general.

That said, the problem here is NOT the WGA. They are trying to create something resembling security for the future of their members. Right now, writers (except in the case of animation and reality - they get nothing) get a small fraction of the profits from syndicated television and film, but not from any of the sales of DVDs or, and this is crucial, ANYTHING ON THE INTERNET.

That $1.99 episode of Lost you've been watching on iTunes? Yeah, they get nothing for that. Normally, they'd get, what not even a cent? Hope you lubed up, Mr. Writer Man, because it's time to grab your ankles.

The internet is the future and the AMPTP knows this. They would like nothing more than to reduce the writers to mere cogs in a wheel that they can hire and fire at will. This is not speculation. If you look at animation and reality, this is exactly what has happened to Micah Wright.

So, Nickelodeon quickly filed suit against our petition for an election, and set about trying to ferret out who the "ringleaders" were. In the meantime, they canceled the show that I had created 4 episodes into an order of 26. Then they fired the 3 writers who'd been working on my show. Then they fired 20 more of my fellow writers and shut down three more shows, kicking almost their entire primetime lineup for 2002 to the curb, and laying off 250 artists.
And why did Nickelodeon do this? Why were they so eager to decimate their own 2002 schedule, fire 24 writers, break multiple federal labor laws, sign a union deal, and to even bring back the fucking blacklist? They did all of that to prevent us from getting the same whopping $5 residual that the actors & composers of our shows get.
Five dollars. But wait, there's more.
Ahh, but my episodes run about 400 times a year worldwide, though, so obviously Sumner Redstone (Salary in 2001: $65 million dollars) and Tom Freston (2001 salary: $55 million) were right to do what they did... myself and those other 23 writers might have broken the bank, what with each of us going to cost them another TWO THOUSAND DOLLARS each! OH NO! That... that's... FORTY EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS!


Oh, and in case you don't want to do the math, that comes out to about 96 cents an hour (40 hours a week, 52 weeks, 24 people)

Now, for television writers, that 96 cents an hour can be crucial. Most of the writers (and actors, techs, etc.) are living on pretty narrow margins. It's not like you're getting a steady paycheck. When a show is over, it's over. Time to move onto the next gig. When it comes down to it, the people who are really getting screwed here are the techs, but that's a different topic.

So, 96 cents an hour to keep you going through those lean times while you're looking for another job. And it's not like you're getting that 96 cents every week, like a regular paycheck (which would be a whopping $38.40, anyway). The studios are notorious for not paying on time.

Hope you don't get sick, or your car breaks down. What? Kids? Boy, you are screwed.

And don't fucking tell me they should just go and get a "regular" job. Aside from the fact that some people are really not wired to function well in any other vocation, how would you feel if you found out that you couldn't afford to continue in your chosen career, the one you went to school for and invested thousands of dollars in, or spent the last ten years honing and growing into?

When it comes down to it, the WGA is asking for the same deal with internet video that they've been getting with syndicated television. No one is more crucial to a production than the writer. If you don't have a script, you don't have a show. Period.

I have no hope that some member of the AMPTP is going to look at this and say, "Hey, you're right. What the hell have we been thinking? Jeeves, pull this ingenue off my distended cock and take away my mountain of blow. I need a writer! Stat!"

But I do hope that someone in the WGA will read this and know that there are people, amid all the noise and bullshit, who support you.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Good post, Stephen.

John McFetridge said...

"When it comes down to it, the WGA is asking for the same deal with internet video that they've been getting with syndicated television."

Didn't they have to go on strike to get that, too? And to get a piece of the video and dvd sales?
There's a great book called "The Inquisition in Hollywood," by Larry Ceplair and Steven Englund that's mostly about the HUAC trials and the blacklists of the 40's and 50's, but it's also got a great history of the relationship between Hollywood and writers. Worth reading.