When the writer strikes!

I’ve been keeping a desultory eye on the gathering strike by the Writer’s Guild of America, which is the screenwriters’ union — where “screen” means movie screen and television screen.

One of the points at issue is whether computer screens and iPhone screens also count as “screens”, that is, the writers want compensation for works of theirs that are distributed on the net, and, as I understand things, the other party doesn’t want to give it to them.

As a person who has made his living as a writer, kinda-sorta, since April, 1980, I find the notion of a writer’s union intriguing and somewhat baffling. It’s hard to imagine a technical writer’s union negotiating terms with Sun, Microsoft, or IBM. But why is that, exactly? Screenwriting is a much more solitary endeavor than technical writing, so on the face of it, one would expect screenwriters to be even less likely to unionize than technical writers. But then again, the stakes are higher in Hollywood, where the difference between an OK screenplay and a good screenplay is measured in millions of dollars at the so-called bottom line. So writers have more clout, is what I’m trying to say.

Recently my friend the Hollywood actor/producer/script-doctor has been making some noises about pimping the movie rights to my novel Acts of the Apostles. (It would make a great movie, by the way!) I have no understanding of the craft of screenwriting; nor do I have any free time not taken up by the day job & so-called life. So I’m not a very strong candidate to try my hand at writing a screenplay of my book. On the other hand, I’m not in the Guild, and, given that it is a guild— meaning that it’s hard to even gain admission to it— I’m unlikely to be in it anytime soon. So maybe I should go for it.

Act one, Scene one: Exterior. A dark and stormy night. . .


  1. While the WGA officially traces its history back to the Authors’ League of 1912, its real impetus came from the 1930s and the Screen Writers Guild. That was a time when there was a genuine, old-line left — mainly members and sympathisers of the Communist Party — in Hollywood who were committed to unionising all aspects of the film business. The key negotiations which led to an industry-wide contract took place in 1939-1942, when the Hollywood left and progressive forces in general were on the upswing (and trade unionism in the US was at its apex generally). McCathyism and blacklisting took a lot of the wind out of the WGA’s sails, and they’ve been playing catch-up against increasingly bad odds ever since.

  2. Greg,

    Thanks for the history lesson; that is interesting.

    From analyses that I have read, the television studios plan to ride out the storm by filling up airtime with “reality” shows and old movies and similar. I can’t see how that kind of stuff will keep happy the audience for Mad Men, The Wire, etc. This is the so-called golden age of television, everybody keeps telling me. And it’s not because of American Idol.

    Certainly the Writers Guild is taking a risk, with a lot to lose if they don’t prevail. But according to one report that I saw, the last writers’ strike cost the industry $500 million. There presumably is some nervousness on their part too, I would think.

  3. I heard, probably from a screen writer’s shill, that producers, directors, actors, and just about everyone else gets a cut of the royalties when a movie or t.v. show is sold to DVD or put on the home box, all except for the poor, lowly writer.

    Sounds like RIAA tactics to me. The last person to get paid is the artist (or in this case the songwriter).

    Roll on, oh corporate elite, roll on.

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