Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Children of the Revolution

Across the pond in the USA the Writer's Guild of America are on strike, and have been since the start of the month. There's various reasons why the writer's union has chosen to picket, but the key factor is - maybe not surprisingly - money.

The writers of America want a bigger slice of the pie when it comes to DVD sales, and a cut of internet download profits (they currently get... well, nothing, and considering the size of the American conglomerates we're talking about, that's just sick and perverse and totally unfair).

If you think that the writers are just being plain greedy, wanting more than they currently get, then you don't understand the reasons behind the strike. Because for every successful writer out there currently employed and earning the bucks, there's somebody else who's not. Somebody who has a family to provide for, bills to pay. And it's those people that this strike is for - the vulnerable who need insurence and trust for the work that they write.

Joss Whedon sums the situation up nicely, commenting that the strike is for future generations who might not benefit from their work and the royalties that spin off from them. Here's a great post that Joss left on his official site:

FROM THE FRONT LINES!

Sick as a dog but proud as a noble and much healthier dog, I made my way to the picket lines outside of Fox studios today. I’m really glad I did. In addition to carrying the banner, it was a chance to talk with other writers, get more perspectives and more information about what’s happening, and to see a surprising number of old friends. David Fury and Mere Smith were there, as well as many non-mutant enemies that I know.

We were all caught in that giddy first burst of solidarity and fear. Nobody thinks this is going to be easy. But everybody there knows that, as things stand, it has to be.

A particularly gratifying and unexpected sight was that of Aly and Alexis, along with Cobie Smulders, marching shoulder to shoulder with the HIMYM scribes. Aly and Alexis even brought boxes of candy bars to hand out to the flagging marchers (actually, I was the only one who appeared to be flagging – even the pregnant writer outlasted me). Mere told me young Boreanaz had also been there earlier that day. I was really touched, but my actor-friends were very matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

They understand that the issues at hand affect the future of the entire creative community here, and that the writers, by virtue of being first, will set a precedent that affects all the guilds. That is why we writers have to be firm, intractable and absolute in our dedication to getting a fair deal. And that’s all we’re talking about: a fair deal. For us, and for generations of artists to come.

Sounds pretty damn pompous, no? “Generations to come…”? Yeesh. But it’s true. Our culture, our government, our corporate structures have all gotten pretty used to taking care of ourselves at the expense of our children and their children. Part of this is simple greed, part is immediate practicality trumping long-view perspective, and part is perfectly understandable fear.

It’s easier to take what you’e given, not protest, not make a fuss. A lot of people will suffer grievously if this strike isn’t quickly resolved, and the men and women who voted for it know that. But like so many things – our eco-system being the most obvious – if we don’t make it work now, what’s to come will be much worse.

Let me be clear on one point: I know I have it easy. I’ve done well, and I’m grateful that I can weather a long winter. Compared to what the studios have made off me my share is tiny and cute, but I’m in no position to complain. But take that differential, apply it to someone who’s just getting by when they deserve better. Now take it and… well, just take it, ‘cause when it comes to the internet and the emerging media there’s nothing there for the artists.

There’s no precedent; these media didn’t exist the last time a contract was negotiated. We’re not just talking about an unfair deal, we’re talking about no deal at all. Four cents from the sale of a DVD (the standing WGA deal) sounds exactly as paltry as it is, but in a decade DVD may have gone the way of the eight-track. We have to protect the rights of the people who tell the stories, however they’re told. I’m never gonna be as articulate as Shawn or Brian (both of whom have been linked here, I believe), but I am just as committed. And a lot phlegmier.

I don’t think of the studio heads as a bunch of grinning tycoons sitting in a smoke-filled club and drumming their fingers like Montgomery Burns. I know some of those guys. I think they’re worried about the future as much as anyone. But they are beholden to their corporations, and that inevitably causes entrenchment and shortsightedness. They can’t afford that.

This is an era of change, and for the giant conglomo-tainment empires, it will either be the Renaissance or the Ice Age. Because we will not stand down. Writers can be replaced, as we are constantly reminded. But so can companies. Power is on the move, and though in this town it’s been hoarded by very few, there are other companies with newer ideas about how to make money off of – or possibly, wonderfully, with – the story-tellers.

Personally, I like things almost the way they are. I truly hope the executives negotiating for the AMPTP make the few simple concessions that will allow us to work with them again. I want to work. I have this idea, for a show about a girl… I even have the actress for it. And if we strike effectively, maybe she won’t have to.

I honestly started this post because of Aly and Alexis and their candy bars. But… well… there’s a lot going on. Huge props to the pizza people. Your support during this strike means more than I can express. (Note to self: picket near Jane.) I hope it won’t be long. I watched my Father strike, back in ’88. It was hard. But I was proud. I’m proud now.

Sincerely, Joss Whedon

That pretty much sums up how I'm feeling right now. It's easy for me typing this over in Britain because it's not my Guild striking; but it is my profession, and they are my colleagues (despite the Atlantic gap). And it's my future they're fighting for; mine and every other writer across the world that hasn't quite made the leap to the mainstream yet.

They are fighting for a better world for writers, directors, actors and everybody else who works in the media. You might be too blindsighted to see that, too concerned that production has stopped on your favourite shows. Well, in all politeness, fuck you. Because these people, who are currently weathering the cold and picketing, are doing it for all of us. They don't demand your respect, but they deserve it.

Joss, Damon, Ronald, Tim, David, Marc, et al - I'm proud of you.
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