April 12, 2001

The Rant: The Screen Strikes Back

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The Writers’ Guild of America is threatening to go on strike when their contract expires on May 1. However, unlike other organized labor strikes, this one has the ability to impact our moments of leisure here in isolated Ithaca. Although they may be few and far between, most of us enjoy filling these moments with the products generated by these writers of the entertainment industry.

The gist of their completely substantiated and understandable grievances is as follows: comparatively inadequate compensation and general exclusion from the production and post-production processes after selling the rights to their scripts. This exclusion includes, but is not limited to, participating in the filming of scripts and having the opportunity to attend trivial, but glamorous, premieres.

Now you may ask, how are the studios responding to this? Well, for the most part, they couldn’t care less, as long they are still making money.

First of all, they already own the rights to enough scripts to hold them over until Spring 2002, especially for daytime soap operas and feature length films (assuming that they can resolve other disputes with the Screen Actors Guild). Furthermore, they can always produce more “reality-based” shows along the lines of Survivor and Big Brother, as such programs obviously don’t require writers.

Even a low-budget film generally has a multi-million dollar budget. Is it really necessary to spend millions of dollars to destroy props for blockbusters like Gone in 60 Seconds or to produce awful movies along the lines of Last Action Hero simply because a star liked the script? Can’t at least some of this money be used to increase writers’ wages?

No other type of artist would stand for being excluded from parts of the production process, so why should screenwriters? Just picture building plans being turned over to and substantially modified by structural engineers and construction workers without any input from the architects about the changes? Let’s not even go into how painters and sculptors would react to being excluded from their own openings …

Unfortunately, the faltering economy is only making matters worse for the WGA. The writers will most likely end up being further shafted because of the studios’ diminished financial forecasts. But, these same financial fears aren’t preventing Hollywood’s better-compensated denizens from buying new oceanfront homes in Malibu.

The current problems arise from the need for business interests to control an area of the arts because of the exorbitant costs of producing a film or television show. The majority of entertainment products, whether good or bad, could never be produced, let alone marketed, without the writer’s original vision and labor.. Since finance and film cannot be separated under the present circumstances, the very least the studios could do is to adequately pay writers and give them the joy of helping their projects come to fruition.

More details are available at http://www.wga.org.

Archived article by Louis Benowitz