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
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.