On NRP's Weekend Edition Sunday, I heard a story about the Golden Globes having "become the biggest, high-profile casualty
of the ongoing Hollywood writers' strike." The emphasis was on how much the Los Angeles area lost in business opportunity in ceremonies, advertising, services, and parties - $80 million, in the estimate the show decided to use.
It would be easy - and I'm sure there will be those who do so - to use this as an example of how writers are hurting everyone else by being stubborn and selfish. I supposed you could look at it that way, but I prefer to turn that view upside for a moment. if the writers can keep that from happening, then, to at least some degree, the writers make all that possible - actually a drop in the bucket when you consider all the money made by producing and exhibiting the entertainments themselves. None of this, of course, is solely due to the writers. But, as one quickly sees, none of this happens without
the writers. this is not commodity work that can easily be farmed out to the firm of Tom Dick & Harry. In fact, writers are perhaps the least replaceable people in the entertainment industry. Different actors, with varying degrees of success and appeal, can undertake the same characters. Different directors will offer different visions of the story. But the underlying tale, the dialog and plot and conflict, come from the writers. Change the writer, and you have something that is completely and irrevocably different as steak is from a fish fillet. Both may offer excellent meals, but you won't find someone eating one and mistaking it for the other.
There is no need to seek pity for writers. All of us, no matter what medium of expression we choose, do this of our own volition, even if we're of the type unsuited to any legitimate and honest form of employment. (Please note the intended irony.) Working as a stock broker or traditional business owner or even entertainment executive can pay far better. Oh, some writers are stars in their own right and do command enormous sums.
But most struggle to one degree or another to find enough work, to pay insurance costs and put some aside for retirement, to pay for lessons for the kids and upkeep for the car, all with far less guarantee of having gainful employment next week than even those in the most turbulent high tech start up. Writers are expected to pitch ideas, provide spec scripts in Hollywood, underwrite all costs of doing business, find ongoing projects, deal with taxes - in short, to take risks that would seem enormous to anyone brought up only on experiences of being employees. When you invest and risk, you want reward.
In this case, writers aren't asking for the world. They are asking for some return commensurate with their investment. They want a little security, continuing revenue from projects that, themselves, continue to provide revenue to others in the industry. Society as a whole has recognized that such expectations are reasonable. That's why the US Constitution recognizes the need for protection of intellectual property, why everyone "knows" that book authors are supposed to get royalties, and why the television and movie industries have institutionalized additional pay in the past.
That is why having payments for web use of material is only right. perhaps the studios have been taking a chance on the medium, but they also read the writing on the wall. They invest because they must, and they expect some payoff for every use. That's why they come down so heavily on those who post clips on Youtube: because they don't want others to make money off their investments without their say or their participation in the profits. Because writers are hired on a temporary basis and can strike, there is a legal fiction that they are employees. They are not; they are solo practitioners and businesspeople. They also make possible enormous sums that cascade throughout, profiting institutions and people directly and indirectly. For all they do, a small cut of the Internet revenues is not greed, but, rather, a business necessity. It is also right.
Labels: movies, strike, television, WGA, Writers Guild