Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A Writers' Strike Roundup

Today's day sixteen of the Hollywood writers' strike. Many blogs have done a superb job covering it, and it's been nice to see at least a few conservative blogs among the supporters. If you haven't been following all of the story, I hope this post will bring you up to speed.

Here's "Why We Fight," which lays out the basic issues. In a nutshell, the studios make immense profits, but still want to pay writers miniscule royalties — or none:

Here's "Voices of Uncertainty," which examines some of the studios' skullduggery (via Crooks and Liars):

This is Not the Daily Show, but made by its writers, it's fantastic:

As Jonathan Schwarz notes:

If I were Viacom, it would be worth a lot of money to me to get them to stop making fun of me this effectively… and not to get all political on you, but there's a sense in which "paying them a lot of money to not make fun of Viacom" is exactly what the Daily Show is.

Here's another one of my favorites, a piece that imagines "A World Without Writers":

"The Office is Closed" explains the exploitation of telling writers to write "webisodes" for no compensation:

(That WGAAmerica account hosts a number of great videos.) Telling writers to work for free to provide web content is hardly isolated. Brian at Incertus relays Battlestar Galatica showrunner Ron Moore's account of the same damn thing. It's nice to see BG's fans turn out to support the strike. As Bradley at Incertus notes, "I've been to comic book conventions, and I can assure you that an army of pissed off nerds is more powerful than you can possibly imagine."

NPR's had some pretty good coverage, including "Costs High for All Sides in Hollywood Writers Strike" early on (11/5/07). They've also been good to note that the public backs the writers.

For some historical background on previous Hollywood strikes and related issues, check out Digby's piece "Solidarity," and LA-based NPR station KCRW's show The Business, most of all Monday's show "What Happens Next: A History of American Screenwriting, Part 1." I found both extremely educational about some lesser-known Hollywood history.

Of course, there's always room for shallow, asinine coverage. Here's Slate's Jack Shafer, complaining that the coverage is slanted in favor of the writers, and this (assuming it's even true) is apparently bad or something. It's a silliness dutifully picked up by Howard Kurtz both in his blog column and on his TV show. Perhaps the most painful bit is Kurtz expressing surprise that Hollywood stars would join the picket lines. (Sigh. And remember when Michael Medved was just a crappy film critic, and not also a crappy cultural critic and historian?)

But fear not! LA-area bloggers come to the rescue! Digby skewers Shafer and Kurtz' ideas on the media coverage. Besides the propensity of big media for anti-union guests and hosts, there's LA-station KNBC. As an anonyomous writer asks:

You're telling me when 4,000 people show up in the streets of LA, shut down a main thoroughfare in the city, a laundry list of celebrities are on hand, Jesse Jackson addresses the crowd and the subject is an industry-wide strike some experts say could cost the local economy hundreds of millions of dollars, such an event only warrants 15 seconds at the end of the newscast?

Sure, when, as the same writer notes, "KNBC is owned by one of the companies on the other side of the negotiating table." Oh, but some more media consolidation will clear that right up!

Also from LA, Skippy sees the back of John Edwards' head at the strike, and has been closely following this story. You might also want to check out the November archives of these writers' blogs, Ken Levine and Kung Fu Monkey (especially "Why We Strike II", with a host of other great links).

Via Kung Fu Monkey, here's producer Marshall Herskovitz explaining why and partner Ed Zwick won't be producing for television in the foreseeable future. Via Blue Gal at C&L, here's Larry Doyle in The New Yorker and 93-old screenwriter Irv Brecher on how some things just haven't changed. (Blue Gal's on the coast too, if you count Alabama as one of the coasts.)

The key site, though, is United Hollywood, and there's also Writer's Strike.

What can you do? You can send a box of pencils to media moguls. (Via Skippy. They're even environmentally friendly pencils, since writers care about that stuff). Media moguls are among those Hollywood people, as Larry Beinhart put it, don't write, but tell the people who do write what they should be writing. Still, this isn't about asinine creative interference (as opposed to useful creative input); this is just good ol' fashioned exploitation. Not that all media moguls are brain-eating zombies or anything. Just some of them.

Naturally, as a writer and a theater and film guy, I'm in complete support of this strike. (Come to think of it, when I was in college some classmates and I made a doc about a workers' strike that occurred at our school.) The strike doesn't even address a myriad of other forms of abuse of writers in Hollywood, but that's another post (or just read/listen to William Goldman's accounts). While this strike may be cosmetically different than some others, it shares with them the key, eternal dynamic: exploitation perpetrated by the powerful. Especially in the digital age, content is key, and if the studio is making millions or even billions off of that content, it's only fair they adequately compensate the people who create it.

Every so often, I've run into someone who decries that unions are even allowed to exist — as some of those idiots and scoundrels on the airwaves are blathering now. Honestly, I don't think I've ever seen a strike where the workers weren't forced to it reluctantly. Recapping the entire history of the labor movement and why workers' rights are important is beyond the scope of this post, but since we're talking about film and television, here's some films that make for a nice introduction. John Sayles' Matewan (1987) is fictional, but dramatizes many of the key issues coal workers and other laborers faced back in 1920, and boasts an impressive cast. (Of particular note to me is how the company uses race to divide and conquer; more on that in another post.) The documentary features Harlan County, U.S.A. (1976) and American Dream (1990) both won well-deserved Best Documentary Oscars (and the director of both, Barbara Kopple, is a very cool, sharp, talented woman). In American Dream, Hormel (perhaps best known for making spam) decides to slash workers' wages despite making record profits, just because they can. Meanwhile, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005) is yet another reminder that companies just cannot be trusted to do right by their employees, their shareholders or their nation when left to their own devices unchallenged. Hell, let's also throw in Norma Rae (1979), Our Daily Bread (1934) and The Grapes of Wrath (1940). I'll also link one of my favorite newspaper features of the past several years, from a Pulitzer-winning NYT series on race, "At a Slaughterhouse, Some Things Never Die." (I'm long overdue for a post on it.) None of this occurs in a vacuum.

For the last word, let's go to Bill Lawrence, creator/showrunner of Scrubs. I heard Lawrence say the same thing at a talk a few weeks back, but from The Washington Post's TV chat last week:

Washington: Would a long-term strike impact the conclusion of "Scrubs" this year? Not all the episodes are written, so if this does drag on into April or May, could viewers be left without any closure (given that Bill Lawrence, Zach Braff and NBC want to move on)?

Lisa de Moraes: Bill Lawrence said he refused to turn the last episode he wrote into one that could serve as a series finale and that he would write the series finale the way he wanted to, even if he had to call everyone on the phone and read it to them. All 20 of his viewers. What a guy!

If it comes to that, I'll be one of 'em! Now, off to send those pencils…

(Cross-posted at The Blue Herald)

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