For the Want of a Nail…
I’ve earned my living as a writer much of my life, just as my father and uncle had before me. I wrote some novels and business books, but it was junk mail that paid the bills.
As a non-union writer, I follow the Writers Guild of America’s strike against the motion picture and television industries with fascination.
Imagine! An unheralded collection of faceless individuals—whose behind-the-scenes creativity is the engine responsible for generating billions of dollars in revenues—has brought the entire industry to its knees.
This column is about the Writers Guild Strike and the Mexican standoff that has become so expensive that no matter what the final settlement is, everybody is a loser for years to come.
At the same time, in the back of every businessperson’s mind is this nagging question: could one or more unhappy people walk off the job and wreck my business?
The Writers Guild Strike
Writers have struck the entertainment industry before. In the November 25, 2007 issue of The New Republic (see hyperlink below), Mark Evanier reports that this is his fifth such action since he joined the Guild in 1977 and calls himself “a novice compared to some. I picketed with a guy who’d walked off a job writing for Phil Silvers. One hates to think how many signs he’s carried.”
Yet this strike seems especially damaging, because just about everybody is hurt, right on down to thee and me:
* The Writers. It’s about royalties—or residuals—payments for work done in the past that is making money in the present and deserving of remuneration, particularly in new and uncharted media. The Guild has made a list of 26 issues that includes double the current residuals for Internet use, DVDs and home videos, as well as residuals for such exotica as streaming video, Webisodes and mobisodes (short episodes created for viewing on mobile telephone screens). “I am not saying that writing television is not a lucrative business,” TV writer Bradford Winters told The New York Times. “It can be for those who are good at it and hit it big. But for a lot of us, it is very hit or miss. You ride the edge of the knife. A show gets picked up, it gets canceled, and then you are back looking for your next job.” The strike began November 5th and is in its 11th week. With the average annual income for a union member being $60,000, that means the average writer has lost $12,700—more than 20% of a year’s income so far. For some, the situation is dire. Bradford Winters hasn’t had a paycheck since last February when a series he was working on was canceled.
- New Republic