Write Off

November 6, 2007 at 8:58 am 1 comment

So as we all tuned in to John Stewart, expecting to hear the requisite jokes about Election- Day-tomorrow-but-we’re-not- voting-for-president-yet, instead we hear “Happy Halloween!”

That’s right, the Writer’s Guild of America is on strike, and so we head into the barren wasteland that is reruns. That’s okay with me though. I’m a big fan of Unions generally, and in this case the writers are definitely getting shafted.

Writers have always been the red-headed stepchild of the motion picture industry. In reality nothing gets done without them, but for some reason studios have always treated writers as essentially unnecessary. I think that the majority of studio heads figure that worst case scenario they can yank someone off the street to slap together their latest project.

This is really a very strange attitude, though, and seems to me to be a fairly recent development. Prior to the arrival of motion pictures, writers were definitely the most important part of any production. At the end of a successful play, the crowd doesn’t chant “Producer! Producer!” or even “Director! Director!” No, they chant “Author! Author!” We all remember William Shakespeare’s name, but who knows the name of the Lord Chamberlain who was the troupe’s sponsor?

For some reason with the advent of motion pictures suddenly the producers and directors were thrust to the front. Have you ever wondered who those schmucks were who got up to accept the Best Picture award at the Oscars? Those are the producers of the film. Essentially, the bankroll. Even the Best Director gets his award closer to the end than the writers. But without the script there wouldn’t have been anything to direct or produce! Why do they get all the glory?

And now the writers are getting shafted again as the industry changes. Just like the music industry, motion pictures can’t figure out what to do with the Internet. All that anyone seems certain of is that there’s money to be made, and the studios don’t want to cut the writers in on it.

But if the writers can’t make their money through the industry, maybe they’ll start self-producing. I think the main reason producers became so important was that it used to be really expensive to produce a professional-looking film. Now there are lots of quality films that are being produced for (relatively) little. If the writers can make as much or more working for themselves as for the studios, they’ll do it.

All of this brings to mind the origins of the industry. One of the earliest motion picture cameras was invented by Thomas Edison. Edison was extremely possessive of his inventions, and held many patents and rights to the technology that he exercised with an iron fist around his home base of New York. Because of the excessive fees he charged for use of his patents, many early filmmakers sought somewhere they could make their films away from Edison’s influence. Hollywood provided that refuge. Note that New York is no longer considered the center of the film making universe.

So I’m with you, my brothers! Stand fast against the Hollywood Hegemony!


Entry filed under: Movies.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. stegan  |  November 7, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    I’ve been reading a lot about this lately, and it seems to me to be a pretty pivotal moment in the US labor movement. If the people who create entertainment for millions and millions of people can’t get an honest wage for an honest days work, then what hope do the rest of us have? It’s a little depressing actually. Although I’m hopeful that at least some of their demands will be met.


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