In order to feel productive and continue my quest to find out more about the industry, I decided to head down to Walt Disney/ABC Studios to join the writers on the picket line this morning. It was my first time on an organized picket line (unless you count that time in college when our fraternity decided to organize a picket/boycott of Real Chili) and it was actually quite a bit of fun. I participated in chants and waved a sign – saw a bunch of showrunners (the guys who make LOST, and Ugly Betty, and Grey’s Anatomy) and of course the press that inevitably followed. Passersby often honked their support, and surly studio employees fit the stereotype to a T. There were a few dozen of us there – including the cast of Scrubs who were there marching to support the writers (in fact, the show’s star Zach Braff is also a member of the Writers’ Guild). Jay Leno even slowly drove by honking his support in a car that must have been from about 1915. I guess he does that everyday in a different car, and yesterday he brought donuts.
A little background on the Strike or Why you will be watching reruns and reality shows all winter and spring: The Writers’ Guild of America (WGA) represents the writers who are the most underappreciated part of the industry. Here’s a quick anecdote and example. Aaron Sorkin, who is most well-known as the creator of and head writer for The West Wing – a top show for half a decade – was once a young writer. And, as a young writer, he wrote a little play called, “A Few Good Men.” This play became quite successful and a couple years later, Sorkin wrote the screenplay for a film called, “A Few Good Men.” However, when the film was released, it was billed as “A Rob Reiner Film” and the director (Reiner) and the actors such as Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson got the entirety of the spotlight. But, without Aaron Sorkin, there never would have been a “YOU CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH!” speech. Most writers don’t really mind this, but at least pay them a fair share of the enormous revenues that such projects generate!
Anyway, the WGA essentially wants two things from the studios/producers: 1) a raise in the writer’s share of DVD sales from 4 cents per DVD to 8 cents per DVD. Sounds quite reasonable to me. 2) Payment of some kind (right now there is NONE) for shows broadcast on the internet. The studios/networks make money off these shows but refuse to pay the creative minds behind them.
The Producers have really held the power in Hollywood for a long time, and as of now, they have shown little to think that they will budge, so this strike may be even longer than the last one which lasted for 22 weeks almost 20 years ago. Already shows have been shutting down production which not only means no work for writers, but also actors, directors, set designers, carpenters, wardrobe people, caterers, etc. – the whole town is starting to be affected. And the Directors’ Guild and the Screen Actors’ Guild will be paying close attention as both Unions have contracts with the Producers that expire in June, 2008.
Thus, I may not have picked the best time to venture out this way, but boy did I pick a fascinating time to be in Hollywood...