A Piece of My Mind: The Writer's Strike and You
Bennet Pomerantz

All I saw was signs and stories that the (Writers' Guild of America) talks broke off, I never saw the stories about the thousands of people behind the scenes, who are under so much stress. It just saddened me too much, you know?
~ character actor Gil Smith

This fight is for our survival. If we don't take a stand, we're never going to make any Money at all.
   ~ screenwriter Stuart Beattie

What does the writers strike mean to you? If you write novels or short stories, you may assume this strike will not effect you directly. However, it will affect you as much as it would a screenwriter. You may not realize this now, but it will.

For those who you who been buried deeply writing in your novel, under a rock, or missed the news since November, let me recap this news story in a nutshell. To put it plainly, The Writer's Guild of America (WGA to its friends) who writes most of your movies and scripted televison shows (everything from the TV show House and jokes for Late Night with David Letterman to the Academy Awards adlibs that on the prompter for the actors to say) went on strike for better conditions. Their last contract dispute was the 1980's, so it was time

The WGA strike does not effect the writing of news, talk shows (like Larry King, Rachel Ray, Oprah, or Dr. Phil, but does affect David Letterman, the Tonight Show, etc. since they also use comedy writers.  Jay , David,Conan are going back to work in January, but with no comedy writers), reality based shows (like American Idol, Dancing with the Stars, Survivor, Amazing Race, etc.), sporting events, animation (like the Simpsons, Cartoon Network, etc. because they fall under the animation guild) and for the most part, game shows. This guild does not affect play writing, just scripts.

What this means is, many live-action movies and TV shows that are not in the can - being directed or in the editing stages of production - are shut down. Many of the scripted TV shows you love (like my favorites House, NCIS or Heroes) or newly started films (like the DaVinci Code prequel where the script needs work) are on hold until the strike is over. Many people, from actors, directors, camera men, and grips down to the food catering services, are affected by this strike. Some actors can afford to be out of work, most cannot.

There are some films and shows (The Screen Actor's Guild awards is one) that have special waivers to allow a WGA writer to help the award show with a script. However, Hollywood is a studio town. As we head into award season, most actors will not cross picket lines.

For those trivia buffs, in the 1980's when the last writer's strike happened, actor and producer Jane Fonda asked for a waiver to make a film with two screen legends who were in ill health. She was given the waiver to make her film without protest from the Writer's Guild. Her father Henry and Katherine Hepburn were able to film On Golden Pond. It won the only Oscar Henry Fonda ever would receive for acting.

Now, lets get to how this may effect you in the future. One of the WGA's issues on the table is intellectual property on the Internet. Yes, many films, television shows and clips are placed on the 'net. At this moment, you can go to many web sites and read scripts of TV shows and films already produced. Many times, the writer is not paid for these labors that are posted FREE. This includes clips posted in You Tube, My Space, Hula and many other web sites. One could assume in the future that books, novels, articles and other literary intellectual properties will be placed on the net. Copywrites may be in jeopardy. I would hope that I would be paid for my work.

Another issue is due to electronic media. You must understand, the last big writer's strike was in the 1980's. DVDs, cable TV and the Internet were not an issue, as they are today. Scripts could not be viewed on the net. All these issues need to be addressed. Also this needs to be backdated for older films, which are being released to DVD and the writer is getting NOTHING.

One of the issues is financial, they need to be paid for their labor and they aren't. A good writer can get usually two to four cents for one DVD box set. Now let us put this in perspective.  The House (I did say I love that TV show, didn't I?) season three DVD box set goes for say $40 - and a writer gets FOUR CENTS of this. Do the math, it does not figure out.

One of the highlights of the future... Late Night talkers Jay Leno, David Letterman, Conan O'Brien , Jimmy Kimmel and others are going back to work without writers in the beginning 2008. However, according to many in Hollywood, most of the TV shows like House and Heroes are done for this TV season and are already renewed for next year or when the writers come back to write, whichever comes first. Television networks are trying to fill holes with reality shows, news programs and repeats from network cable outlets (like Monk, Dexter, Burn Notice, The Closer, Law & Order Criminal Intent, etc.). Note, a jeer to NBC network, they dispatched the Criminal Intent show to their cable outlet USA network and now with the strike, NBC has to bring the show back to NBC to fill scheduling holes.

Will the writer's strike be over? Will this be fixed soon? I can't say. I pray it will for the sake of video entertainment.

Until next time, reach for the stars!

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About the Writer:

Bennet Pomerantz is a media review columnist in 175 newspapers with his weekly column AUDIOWORLD. His fiction and reviews have appeared in the pages of Affaire De Coeur, Gateways, Mystery Scene, Power Star, The Hot Corner, Washington Entertainment Magazine, and many others. He is also known for his review appearances on the MCN Forum. View his web site at Audioworld.