Writers Put Down Their Pencils

By Carol Gronner

The whole country pretty much knows by now that the Writer’s Guild is on strike. To most of them, it just means all of a sudden there’s only repeats of Letterman on, and why do those fancy-pants rich writers need more money, just give us our shows back. But to the members of the Guild (and for those trying to be in the Guild, ahem), it really is about Respect.

Last Friday saw a phenomenal gathering of writers (and those who support them) come together to show their force, their solidarity, their wit, and their UNION - in every sense of the word. The call went out to meet at the Fox studios in Century City en masse, on Day 5 of the Writer’s Guild Strike. The call was answered, by the thousands. As writing is a mostly solitary endeavor, it was extremely moving to see so many come together (even as many squinted from being unused to the sun).

I soon figured out that it was a BIG deal ... first, from how far away I had to park, and second, from the many helicopters hovering over the site (which I later found interesting that it didn’t seem to be covered in the "news" - much like the national peace protests ...hmm).

People decked out in the strike colors of red, black and white, streamed from all directions towards the growing roar from Century Park East. I weaved my way through the dense crowds, looking for faces I knew, but it didn’t really matter if I found them, all the faces were friendly. Even the cops.

Yes, this was not your May Day in L.A. protest, to be sure. The Fuzz (some of them even Hot) were super-polite. Reps from the agencies in town and other guilds had people going through the ruly crowds with snacks on trays - oddly, mostly churros - and bottled drinks. There was a lot of laughter. It was evident that rubber bullets were not about to fly. About the only thing in common was the principle of it all, and that the Bat (Night?) Signal had gone out from both to The Nightwatchman.

I squished through the picket signs and bodies just in time to hear The Nightwatchman belting out his "Union Song" ("Standing UP, and standing STRONG!") to the cheering throngs. Then half of Rage Against The Machine (Tom and Zack) performed an acoustic version of "Bulls On Parade"! Trust me, it is still as powerful, if not more, unplugged. The image of the docile writer was shattered then and there - the place was PUMPED.

Then the Rev. Jesse Jackson spoke, throwing down some good old fashioned call and response. He too enjoys a good strike/fight. WGA President Patric Verrone spoke to the fired up crowd, as did Chief Negotiator John Bowman; WGA Executive Director David Young; SAG (Screen Actors Guild - a strong presence and ally) President, Alan Rosenberg; the television legend, Norman Lear; and Seth MacFarlane (Family Guy) gave a humorous speech, ending in the voice of his character, Stewie, shouting, "Victory will be ours!"

And that has to be true. Because it’s not about some wealthy TV writer that makes $200,000 (the number being thrown about for some reason) and wanting more, because all those "Hollywood People" are greedy. It’s about stories, and the people who create them. I still don’t at all get why, but writers have not been properly respected since the earliest days of film and television. There’s even jokes about it (which I won’t perpetuate here). Without the writers, the $25 million per picture movie star would have nothing to say. The Hot Shot director would have no action to shout over. Every last person that makes this a "Company Town" would have no company, because the company would have no content .... Dig? You can already feel the wells drying up all over town. After one week.

People can gripe about the "selfish" writers, and how they’re "causing" other people in the industry to be laid off from their jobs, and all that. But that’s what happens in a strike. Hotel workers know that rooms will not be cleaned if they strike, and that loses the Hotel Owner money. Airline workers know that flights will not depart without them, and that will lose the Airline Companies their money. It is a desperate tool, for desperate circumstances, and one of the few things that can work. Strikes are ugly, which is why they should be prevented through fair bargaining in the first place. That did not happen in this case, so any who want to blame the writers for anything, really need to look at the bigger picture, the bigger pockets = The Studio Heads.

In 1988, Writers, well, bent over. They agreed to a deal that screwed them royally on cable and video royalties, while the studios made BANK. They’ve whimpered about it, sure, over the years, but now that their last contract ended, and there’s a whole new and future world of DVD’s, internet, and whatever comes next (Brain chips for movies on demand when you shut your eyes? You never know ...) they’re just not going to make the same mistake twice/thrice. As one of the speakers said, even if the studios/corporate Man agreed to EVERY point the WGA is going for (which would never happen, that’s why they’re The Man), it would still not come close - as a whole GUILD - to what the Corporate CEO’s take home. And what did they create?

In a drastic analogy, it’s a bit like our soldiers out there, busting ass for little pay amid holy hell, trying to create a new country out of the remnants of Iraq ... to come home to shoddy benefits, meager pensions, little respect for an unpopular (and, um, illegal) war ... only to see the heads of Halliburton robbing our treasury blind to fatten themselves up even fatter. Only writers are trying to create a new idea, new stories (amid development hell) that will entertain and inform (I exclude, of course, people that contribute to the likes of "Nacho Libre" and its ilk) the entire world - but the studios who earn BILLIONS can’t cough up an extra 3 cents per DVD (just one crazy example among many) to the person/s who created the entire thing out of their imagination, alone at their writing desk. It’s disgusting. And ridiculous.

When you start to think it’s a fight between a bunch of spoiled babies ... consider the writer, who let’s say DID make $200,000 per project (not the majority of the Guild, p.s.). Judging from my own personal experience at how maddeningly LOOOOOONG it takes to get anywhere NEAR your project getting made ... if they made that on one job, and it takes them, oh, five years to get the next thing made - then they’re not living off very much to feed, clothe, and educate their families, to drive, go to a movie someone else wrote (grrrr!), get a new computer to replace your ancient one that always crashes before a deadline ... necessary life stuff that makes the residuals and tiny rate bumps EXTREMELY important.

I realized while standing up the other day for a Guild I’m not even a part of yet (YET, People!), surrounded by all the cool people who make up your favorite shows, who wrote that line from "Caddyshack" your husband always quotes, who made you cry like a little kid, laugh til you almost wet your pants, feel pride, feel angry, simply who made you FEEL - that they could be substituted for WE. Our whole country is being/has been taken over by CORPORATIONS. The middle class (most of whom present at this rally are part of) is disappearing. It is increasingly a scenario of Rich vs. Poor. But not if we can FINALLY Stand UP! Stand STRONG! DEMAND CHANGE! Together.

Posted: Sat - December 1, 2007 at 07:23 PM