Department of Theatre and Film
STRIKE THE SET, NOT THE WRITERS
By Carlos Piepenburg
What does it take to get a little respect and recognition in a cutthroat arena like Hollywood? This past season, it took a walkout by the Writer’s Guild of America, a collective union of television and film writers from across the nation, to reveal the answer. The Writer’s Guild Strike of 2007-2008 put considerable stress on the industry, and these mice that roared garnered much-needed attention during the three-month-long stand-off that only just very recently concluded.
Picketing started on November 5, 2007, soon after negotiations for a new contract deal with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers fell through in late October. In the past, writers had received percentages of DVD sales as recognition of their input. Recently, however, the WGA argued that the standard rate of 0.3% was too low in comparison to producers’ and directors’ respective cuts. In addition, WGA members expected to collect revenue from newer internet-based media distribution and various on-demand sales, but, since the advent of these streamed and downloadable models, the writers had not been awarded their fair share.
This, in turn, prompted these writers to leave their writing duties, which in turn caused an uproar in the television industry. The first noticeable casualties of the strike were late night talk shows like Conan O’Brien and David Letterman, which rely heavily on a daily influx of written material. Soon enough, the face of broadcast television had changed, and most TV fans were left without new episodes of at least one of their favorite shows. For shows like The Office and Desperate Housewives, production was halted and seasons interrupted. Some midseason premieres were left in limbo and the fates of more than two dozen shows were nothing more than questionable.
Soon after they went on strike, the WGA was quickly backed by actors and directors who showed their support by providing food for picketers. Many boycotted awards shows, so many that even the Golden Globe Awards telecast had to be cancelled. This vocal and consolidated effort kept the proceedings at pace, and it was on February 12 that negotiators finally reached a resolution, thus loosing the three-month-long strain on the entire entertainment industry.
It was weird to turn on the television set and be greeted with a wave of reruns and reality shows, being mostly unscripted, these programs became a logical fall-back for networks during the strike. But as the weeks progressed and show schedules began to unravel, you are forced to ask what the big deal is. How can this little pebble of a union create such a devastating ripple in seemingly calm waters? It is actually rather simple. It is the job of none other than the writers to craft the identity of the show, to mold comedy in an appropriate style, and to draft dialogue that would define characters. Those teams of sleep-deprived keyboard hounds pump out entire seasons, indeed, entire series, for their producers, and the strike occurred to ensure some compensation for their tireless efforts.
As the strike dragged on, it seemed as though the sour effects would trickle down in yet another way. Bringing the conflict home, how could an aspiring screenwriter graduating from Bowling Green State University survive in an industry that had just effectively shut down production for an indefinite period? Work in the entertainment field is hard enough to come by as it is; the job uncertainty that arose from the production hiatus would not be desirable in the least. The interesting thing about the strike is that, with the amount of backers that rushed to the writers’ side, it was evident that the situation would end favorably on the behalf of the writers. The industry-wide support garnered for the WGA validated a necessary and powerful member of the entertainment business and reinforced the importance in entertainment writers in the field. At the moment, it seems the Hollywood writer holds a stronger position in the industry, so what better time to come out of school pumping out story ideas than now?
Writers Strike 2007-08