26 Nov 2007

Screenwriters on Strike

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There is something inevitably risible about millionaire Hollywood writers leaving their Malibu mansions and climbing into their Bentleys and Ferraris to play “striking worker” and walk the picket line. Even the liberal New York Times was moved to report sardonically on what it described as the “curious spectacle of a glamour strike.”

Joss Whedon, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Jane Hamsher approvingly reports, was stung by the Times’ condescension. After all, the workers’ land and bread are at stake.

We’re talking about the stories that define our nation’s popular culture – a huge part of its identity. These are the people that think those up. Working writers.

“The trappings of a union protest…” You see how that works? Since we aren’t real workers, this isn’t a real union issue. (We’re just a guild!) And that’s where all my ‘what is a writer’ rambling becomes important. Because this IS a union issue, one that will affect not just artists but every member of a community that could find itself at the mercy of a machine that absolutely and unhesitatingly would dismantle every union, remove every benefit, turn every worker into a cowed wage-slave in the singular pursuit of profit. (There is a machine. Its program is ‘profit’. This is not a myth.) This is about a fair wage for our work. No different than any other union. The teamsters have recognized the importance of this strike, for which I’m deeply grateful. Hopefully the Times will too.

Joss Whedon, and some of the compatriots in the writing trade he mentioned, are a spectacularly talented bunch of people who have provided some very admirable entertainment. In the nature of things, these people individually possess extraordinary and highly negotiable talents, which are not easily replaced. People like Joss Whedon, when corporations fail to cooperate, can readily turn producer and become corporations themselves at will.

Fox mistreated Whedon’s Firefly Sci Fi series, and Whedon responded with a hit movie demonstrating just how stupid Fox Television executives really were. Presumably the guy who decided to drop Firefly and kill Angel is now selling insurance in Omaha.

Successful screenwriters are not in the least short of leverage in negotiating with the studios, and it is all just business anyway. The appropriate deal is just a matter for negotiation. There is no such thing as an abstractly “fair wage.” Multi-millionaires squabbling over shares of remote residual marketing rights are a long, long way from working for wages, and no amount of rhetoric will elicit a lot of sympathy from the rest of us.

2 Feedbacks on "Screenwriters on Strike"

Chas S. Clifton

For every Joss Whedon, there are probably 20 guys (and gals) trying to make the rent on a studio apartment with what they earn.

Writing for a living is a buyer’s market. It wouldn’t kill the studios to pay them royalties when the product — the movie or TV episode — is released in a new format.

As you might have guessed, I have friends who are full-time freelancers, and I did it myself for a time.

Bully for Joss Whedon, but he does represent the median-income screenwriter, I suspect.


Yeah…I’m not a fan of unions, but I don’t see why the execs can’t just give the writers what they want and get on with things. (I admit that I naturally sympathize with writers, even asshole writers who make a lot of money.)


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