Why Screenwriting Is a Bad Career Choice from a Labor-Negotiation Standpoint

strikebanner2.gifI am admittedly writing mostly from ignorance, but I can’t see any way that the strike by the Writers Guild of America will succeed unequivocally.

Yes, the writers that generate talk-show monologues, awards-show banter, and television and movie scripts will likely get some concessions from Hollywood, and will end up in a better place financially. But it will be virtually impossible for them to get their fair share — what they deserve.

One given for this short essay: Union members do not presently get residuals commensurate with their contributions to the creative process. (Confused about terms and issues and stakes? Go here.) It’s cool if you disagree with that assumption, but I don’t want to hear about it here; this isn’t about that.

The fundamental problem is that writing is a front-end task of a long production cycle. Unless the union and the writers combined have the emotional and financial fortitude to strike until Hollywood runs out of product — including finished movies — they won’t win.

Of course, talk shows have already been shut down, and I suppose there must be people who are really, really angry that Jay Leno is taking such a long vacation this fall. And I know there are people who struggle to survive without fresh weekday doses of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

But those are disruptions of habit rather than a loss of destination viewing. When fresh episodes of folks’ favorite shows dry up in early 2008, consumers will be genuinely disappointed, and the writers will be negotiating from a stronger position.

In 1988, the writers’ strike lasted more than five months, and if the work-stoppage lasts that long this time (which would take it into April), Hollywood — and especially television — would be hurting.

It won’t be enough.

Screens won’t go dark. Reruns and reality shows will still provide content to people who must ... watch ... television. Hell, a few dozen folks might even find a new show on HBO called The Wire, and then figure out that it’s not so new after all. The point is that there will still be shit to watch delivered by the same devices to which consumers are already attached.

To grab Hollywood by the balls — in other words, to get the money they deserve — the writers need to seriously disrupt the movie industry, down to the consumer level.

Studios recognize already that a strike of several months would put their 2009 slates in jeopardy. That’s apparently not enough, either.

The writers must spread the pain. If there are no movies to release, or if that bleak prospect begins to appear inevitable, exhibitors will get beyond antsy, and put pressure on the studios.

And if the strike extends into 2009, the public will understand the critical role that writers play, and the concrete consequences of having no writers. And I think that’s what it’s going to take for the writers to get a genuinely fair shake.

But that’s more than a year away. Few screenwriters are rich, and there are only so many tables to wait in Los Angeles; I don’t think the scribes can hold out that long. So when they finally end their strike, they’ll be better off, but they’ll still be getting screwed, mostly because they chose a profession at the wrong end of the process.

I agree 100%, Jeff. They gotta “grab Hollywood by the balls.” I just saw how much writers really make... and it ain’t much. http://writerspay.hollywoodstrikes.com

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