On the WGA Strike

I’ve been following the news this week on the WGA strike, along with miles of commentary on the issue. You may have noticed that I’ve been linking to an assortment of strike-related news throughout the week: United Hollywood is a great resource with tons of reports from the picket line, interviews, and links to other strike news. You should definitely check it out, if you haven’t already.

As a writer, the WGA strike concerns me because I think it’s important for writers to get paid, and I hate to see the studios jerking people around like this. The fact that writers get paid nothing for content broadcast online is insane. The networks claim it’s “promotional,” which means that they can air the work without compensating the authors, and yet they are making bank off those broadcasts. That’s just plain wrong. It’s a sneaky use of new media, and I don’t like it. It’s obvious that more and more people are turning to the Internet for their entertainment; I don’t even own a television, but I watch a fair number of shows, and I was horrified to learn that writers aren’t compensated when I watch their content online.

I was also disappointed to see the DVD issue dropped from the negotiations, because I agree that it’s time for a pay raise on DVD. The home video industry is hardly struggling anymore, and writers make four cents for every DVD sold. Surely the networks don’t begrudge them four more cents? This isn’t about greed, it’s about making enough money to support families, and to live. Many entertainment writers make a pittance, and around 45% of WGA members are unemployed at any given time, and those residuals are the difference between being on the streets and keeping your house.

As a closeted television fan, the strike is also interesting to observe because it’s going to start impacting television…and it already is. As my friend T pointed out, there are no new episodes of the Daily Show up. Networks are also going to run out of pre-written material for their shows pretty soon, and filming on a couple of shows has shut down entirely, thanks to SAG members striking in solidarity, which is totally awesome. Within a few weeks, new episodes of a lot of shows are going to stop appearing, and people are going to get mighty riled up.

I want to see television grind to a halt, not because I have an axe to grind with television but because television needs to grind to a halt to show the networks that they need writers. And they need to respect creative talent. The WGA appears to be bargaining in good faith, and I don’t think any of the demands are unreasonable, and the networks just look like fools at this point. I think that most consumers agree, and this strike is getting a huge groundswell of public support along with support from other unions.

Even if you hate television, you should still be concerned about this strike, because I’ll bet you like movies, and John August pointed out that:

The blockbusters of 2009 are sitting unwritten. That’s an economic factor I’ve never seen reported in all of this. The next installments of Spider-Man, Harry Potter, and every other movie franchise are unwritten and unproducible until the strike is over.

Or haven’t you heard? Feature screenwriters are also putting down their pens for the duration of the strike.

As a freelancer in a totally unrelated aspect of the writing, er, industry, dropping quill for the duration of the strike wouldn’t really help, although I did consider it. But I can take a pledge, along with other freelancers and writers, to support the strike in any way possible, and that includes not scabbing for the networks, who are reportedly shopping for cheap, non-union labor as I write. It includes writing the networks to show my support, and joining the list of organizations and individuals who stand behind the WGA. Supposedly an action plan is in the works for people who want to show solidarity with the strike. I’m hoping it’s going to be something along the line of the famous nuts campaign to save Jericho, and I definitely post details here if and when they emerge.

Let’s hope the networks pull their heads out of their behinds this weekend and start seriously negotiating, shall we?