Strike!

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Well, the writers’ strike is on. And as tempting as it is to pontificate on the role of the director as the real authorial voice in filmmaking, or to suggest various roads to amiable compromise, I have to say go writers. That screenwriters are still being compensated for video sales at a compromise rate agreed to when home-video was still a rental market seems unjust to me, given the profitability of DVD sales — and demands for royalties on Internet-distributed content that outpace what they originally got for VHS are morally defensible from a won’t-get-fooled-again standpoint if nothing else. It seems disingenuous to suggest that the content industry won’t be able to monetize the freaking Internet. (See Jon Stewart, above.) Big Corporate versus Organized Labor — this is how the system is supposed to work.


That’s not to say I’m excited about all the production that’s going to

go dark in the interim, especially if this ends up being a long-term

strike. Lots of different people have livelihoods that depend on their

regular work within this industry, and of course a lot of us value it

highly in other ways. So here’s hoping that, by flexing its power, the

WGA will help resolve this stalemate quickly, amicably — and with at

least a few more concessions that its studio bosses weren’t willing to

give before the walkout.

Critic David Thomson argues provocatively

that what’s really hurting screenwriters is their work-for-hire

arrangement, which assigns copyright on their work to the studios that

produce their scripts. Can you imagine the impact on film history if

writers owned their work, and thus directors and producers and studios

were not allowed to make sweeping changes to the scripts they shoot?

I think David Poland is often completely nuts, especially where Oscar prognostication is concerned (The Phantom of the Opera? Lars and the Real Girl?), but he has an interesting analysis:

one reason movie studios are so resistant to indulging the writers’

demands is that they’ve been placed over a barrel by the deals they’ve

been making with producers and actors — the above-the-line costs that

vastly reduce the potential profit on a given studio project. As his

first commenter points out, this means simply that, for several

decades, the studios have been making bad deals that compromise their

ability to make the most of their investments. Writers — often far more

crucial to the success of a film project than producers or actors — deserve a shot at the same kind of crazy money, and the way deals are structured today, they don’t have one.

Ben Grossman, at trade publication Broadcasting & Cable, says the television industry is in a similarly bad position, arguing specifically that the “new fall season” model of debuting new programs en masse

is long outdated. He hopes the WGA strike can “completely reset the

mechanism,” leading to programs being launched as they’re ready,

year-round, rather than being ejaculated all at once and then

scrambling simultaneously toward the elusive ovum for their one shot at

fertilization.

Can a painful WGA strike shine a light on bad

business models that are keeping the content industry from being even

more lucrative? Sure. Can it catalyze real change? Unlikely. For that,

we have the Internet — and that’s why it’s smart for the WGA to go on

strike now, to prevent unfair precedents from being set and

compromising the earnings potential of generations of writers to come,

as whatever becomes of the Internet almost certainly supersedes

traditional broadcast as the mass-distribution medium of choice. Go writers. But please, come back soon.

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