Sunday, November 11, 2007

Strike Two

Just thought I would link to a couple of strike related videos. Both of them are pretty widely posted, but for those of you who consider me your source of information about the entertainment industry, here is a video that does a good job of explaining the writer's strike. It uses charts and graphs and other assorted graphics that make the point better than I could on my own.

And here is a video of the writers from The Office discussing the strike from the picket lines. Everyone has made a big deal about Steve Carell backing the strike as a supportive actor, but it's seldom mentioned that, as briefly referenced in the video, Carell is a writer (and thus, Guild member) himself. In fact, he was the credited writer on this week's episode.

The "promos" excuse is pretty flimsy, but I think it is especially lame when you consider how the industry treats piracy. If watching a full episode of a show can be considered a "promo," how is that different from someone watching a full episode from Bittorrent? Couldn't that be considered free advertising? It's generating interest in a show, and the network doesn't even have to pay for bandwidth! Only in that case the networks and studios would insist that their content has value and that someone should not be able to watch it without them receiving money for it. So why doesn't the writers' content have value when the network re-uses it? Their stance on when content has value online is completely hypocritical and self-serving.

One argument I've heard, and which honestly made me think, is that none of the below-the-line crew on TV shows and movies makes any residuals for their work. They do a day's work for a day's pay and that's that, yet they suffer when writers strike for residuals that they will never receive.

I really had to think about this: Why do writers deserve residuals? On the most basic level, what Steve says is true; no one is really entitled to anything more than people are willing to pay. But why do writers have a legitimate argument for receiving residuals?

I guess what it comes down to is that our society has decided that artistic work and related intellectual content has value, and that a person who does creative work should have certain rights connected to the content they create. No one would dispute that musicians and songwriters should receive more money when they sell more music. Most people think it's unfair that record companies take as big a cut as they do. Yes, it takes a lot of people besides writers, actors and directors to make a show or a movie. But many people, from manufacturing to promotions, have a hand in making a record a hit, yet they don't receive royalties either.

Now, I'm sure this comparison is not quite fair. Plenty of crew contributions to a show, from art direction to set design to prop building, involves a certain level of artistry and creativity, yet for some reason their contribution is not considered "creative." But in any case, that line has been drawn somewhere, and it hardly seems an argument for making the creative contributions of writers ineligible for the rights afforded other artistic creations.

On a more practical level, writing is an unstable profession. Writers spend tons of time writing things on spec for no money at all before they can even get a job in the first place. And then again between jobs. So it's helpful, if you've actually had some success, to have money coming in while you write for free between jobs.

For me, of course, this is all theoretical. Residuals are something that I only hope I will collect someday. But the thing about this battle is that if the writers lose, they'll pretty much never get paid residuals ever again. The internet is the future of content delivery, and the studios and networks need to admit that they have to figure out some way to pay writers for it. If they don't figure out a way to make money from it, the industry has no future anyway -- not paying writers is not the factor that is going to make or break that. Either there is money to be made on the internet or we'll all starve together.



Akela said...

One of my writer's assistant friends brought up the fact that with all the bellyaching about "we're not making any money! There's nothing to be made!" then why don't they just go ahead and give the writers...NOTHING. I mean, if they really were making nothing then it shouldn't be such a big deal to give the writers nothing. 2 percent of nothing is still, guess what, NOTHING. And you haven't lost anything. And I completely agree with you on the whole illegal downloading thing, the networks and studios bitch and moan about that but they're turning around and doing the same thing.

Steve said...

I still say it's not a moral issue. The writers think they're getting paid less than their economic value, and the producers think the writers are getting more than their economic value. The strike is a dust-up to determine who's correct. So if the writers end up with a deal that leaves them better off in the long term, they were right to strike.

I do feel bad for the grips, but they don't have a right to the fruits of the writers labors any more than the producers. Also, if the writers really are getting paid less than their economic value, in the long run good writers will leave the industry. (Or the potentially good writers will never enter the industry - they'll go to law school instead.) This means less movies or worse movies will get made, which means there will be less money available to pay grips. And billions of people who miss out on the excellent movies that might have been.

Of course, if the writers really are overpaid like the producers think, in the long run they'll end up with a worse deal, much like when the grocery workers went on strike a few years ago and found out that working a cash register isn't such a unique skill.

Obviously I'm hoping for the writers to win. But I don't think they have a moral right to victory anymore than I think a sports team I'm rooting for does.

Tammy said...

This is probably a stupid question, but I've been wondering... can't residuals just be written into the contract when a script is sold? You can write anything legal into a contract and its completely enforceable. If the person buying the script thinks they can make some money off of it, then part of the price paid for it can be in an agreement regarding residuals. If its not worth it to the buyer to agree to those terms then maybe the initial price can be adjusted, etc... I'm rooting for you guys, don't get me wrong! I've just been wondering why residuals can't be written into indivudal contracts.

cyshas said...

This was pretty good. since you are my source of information...though I guess I heard about it first from Ryan. But I didn't get the details. Keep us up to date.