Dispatch from the Front Lines (by Tessa):
While Ian has been dealing with wretched dental surgery (bone graft? yuck), I have been walking very slowly up and down Pico Boulevard carrying a large red sign all week. Lucy came with me two days and proved an irresistible photo op for the press. What’s cuter than a striking toddler?
that’s Larry David behind us!
Ian made us super cool t-shirts. If only he applied himself, he could be a real t-shirt talent one day!
Physically, picketing is harder than it looks. My hips are totally locked up. I keep threatening to start Protest Yoga on the sidewalk. I have to believe that 30 people doing sun salutations in front of Rupert Murdoch’s empire would cause some kind of psychic tremor.
Emotionally, it’s a mixed bag. When you’re there it’s kind of cool. You run into people you haven’t seen in ages. You make new friends. You wave like crazy at the nice people honking in support. You’re part of something.
But everyday after I leave, I wither. It’s such a David and Goliath fight. These companies, these mega-machines of entertainment, they just refuse to share the wealth. They’re big and mean and ugly. I am proud to be standing up against them but I hear their cackles of indifference through the ether and it makes me sad.
A number of commenters have asked questions about the strike. Here’s Ian and Tessa’s STRIKE FAQ (feel free to ask more):
How long do we expect this to last?
A long time. Everyone has their prognosis. Here’s mine: Late January/February.
While lots of productions have shut down already – The Office, Desperate Housewives, Two and a Half Men – the networks still have enough in the can to last into December. And then they can fill the airwaves with reruns, reality, sports and holiday hoo-hah for a while.
But because TV works on such a tight schedule, the networks will start to panic in earnest over the holidays. Usually, they would be reading the 100 scripts that were turned in (by, um, you guessed it, WRITERS) and they would decide which 15 to shoot. Sure, they have some completed scripts on hand but they can’t give any notes, and they can’t make any changes. So, I’m betting they’re not going to be willing to spend 3 million dollars on a script that hasn’t been polished.
And then they’ll start thinking about the “up-fronts” in May – that’s when they bring their dog and pony shows to the advertisers in New York – and realize that they have neither dog nor pony.
They’ll start thinking about their export market. “24” is big money in France. “Desperate Housewives” is huge in China. And you can’t export reality shows.
(And while we’re on the subject of reality, I read a fantastic analysis some time ago claiming that reality programming had hit its saturation point. People who watch reality have plenty to watch. People who prefer scripted are not going away. The networks will only dilute their own reality market by programming more reality.)
This is all to say, the producers WILL feel the impact of the strike, but not for a while.
In the meantime, the people who will suffer the most are the crews. This is not their fight. They don’t get residuals. They are astonishingly hard working people who are being laid off. And that sucks. I really wish that were different.
Aren’t the networks dinosaurs anyway?
And the answer is… I don’t know.
We’re in an uber-capitalist juggernaut now in America in 2007. These guys are worth gajillions of dollars.
For some perspective:
Peter Chernin, President/COO News Corporation, parent company of FOX:
Salary, Fiscal Year 2007: $ 8,100,000
Other Compensation ’07: $25,885, 578
TOTAL Salary, 2007: $33,985,578*
*Not including holdings of 10,137,500 stock options.
They have a huge stranglehold on a vast sector of the economy. I am totally happy to entertain that they are dinosaurs but they are not dying any time soon.
And right now, they’re the only game in town. My strike captain (the astonishingly talented Pippen Parker) sent us our strike team list. I had two reactions. One, I was deeply moved to be in such venerable company. And two, wow it’s hard for playwrights to make a living as playwrights, huh…
If you want to write dialogue and support your family, you’re working for one of these big guys. We would love more options and more avenues (and xuxE, under strike rules we can definitely work for the web channel you described and, if our contract demands are met, we can still work for your channel as long you meet the Guild minimums). But until then, we’ve got to negotiate with Fossils.
Isn’t the business model about to change so much that all these negotiations will look dated before they’re over?
Much has been made of the internet being a competitor to television: you know, “as internet content grows, television will become irrelevant.” But when I hear this I get confused. Is television the box… or the show… or the commercials… that drive the industry? I guess I feel like the delivery mechanism will change, but we’ll always have all those things – a screen with original programming and, god love us, advertising. I’ve begun to feel like the distinction between television and internet (2.0 or otherwise) is false.
Also, am I the only one who knows 18 year-olds? They watch TV while surfing the net. Hell, I watch TV while surfing the net. These are not mutually exclusive mediums.
Film was supposed to kill Theater. Television was supposed to kill Film. Now the internet is supposed to kill Television? Not buying it.
How does this strike affect you?
Hmmmm…. We have a script that we’re really proud of that is sitting in deep freeze at Big Guy Studio in valley. We have producers that we respect that we can’t really talk to. We have projects that we should finish but we feel kind of hopeless. After stumbling around for a couple of years, we have a great new agent and a fantastic manager and cool lawyer, all sitting on their thumbs.
That being said, we are a lot better off than a lot of folks. We’ve been hedging our financial bets for a while, so we can weather it. Ian has always kept his journalism contacts, and is working in that arena again. I’m doing some real estate. And overall, we believe in our work. So, all we can do is put in our time at the picket line and hope for the best.
What can I do to help?
Donate to MercyCorps. They do incredible work in Africa, the Middle East and all over the world fighting famine, helping agriculture, even saving victims of Hurricane Katrina. They’re the best. In other words, we get it… this WGA fight is very important to all of our livelihoods, but we haven’t lost perspective.
But if you’ve become remotely engaged in what we’re doing, here are some ideas…
Educate other people. Tell them that the writers just want eight cents for every time you watch their shows in any medium and the companies don’t want to give it to them. This video sums up everything perfectly.
Sign this petition.
Write letters to your editors.
Read this other stuff to keep informed…
The WGA East Strike Blog
The WGA West Strike Blog
The BEST info/gossip site
If you live nearby (LA or New York), come join us! We welcome everyone. Come for five minutes or a couple of hours. Bring cookies. Honk when you drive by. Let me know when you can make it and we’ll meet you!