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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

More On The Strike: Why Should UK Writers Care?

Many thanks to Dublin Dave who sends in a link to a video today explaining why the WGA are fighting for writers' rights. If you want further clarification of what is going on or why, please watch it so it can help inform your decision and stance on this important issue. Click here to watch.

I've heard that there have been UK writers - though not Bang2writers and mainly through word-of-mouth - delighting in the idea of a strike because it means being native English Speakers, they may have a chance with US prodcos and studios they may not have had before thanks to the dearth of American material. A friend of mine related with disgust that she had heard of one such UK writer boasting that since s/he was not a member of the WGGB or WGA, s/he couldn't care less whether they are banned from either for life; all s/he cares about is getting that elusive US option and/or commission.

Given my friend's inability to name said writer and indeed others failing to be specific too, I'm hoping the existence of these UK scab writers is just urban legend. As the WGGB have been at pains to point out, they negotated good deals on royalties for internet and corporate content and it's only right our American cousins should have the same privilege. Whilst competition is certainly part of this scriptwriting game, going against writers on strike is not competing, it's just low. And as Piers says, simply wrong.

But even if you don't care about those American writers, I urge you to think about your position more carefully if you're contemplating scabbing. Not caring whether you get thrown out of the WGGB or banned from entering the WGA is just crazy. Who knows what will happen next in your career? Do you really want a blemish of this kind on your record? Will others trust you? (And so much in scriptwriting depends on personal recommendation!)

As it goes I'm not a member of either at the moment, I had to let my WGGB membership lapse since I've had a very, very, expensive year for a number of reasons, but there is no way I will be putting my re-membership of the WGGB in the new year or possible membership of the WGA (I might move to America or work on American shows, why not?) in jeopardy. So even if the ethics of this situation don't trouble you at all, it still makes no sense to scab.

Not many of us make loads of money at this writing game. Even fewer of us gets respect and hardly any of us get the recognition we actually deserve for the amount of work we put in. Solidarity then is all we have left. That's why us UK writers should care.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Lucy,

Thanks for posting the link. There would be NO point in a British writer scabbing for any number of reasons. First and foremost you would be banned from the WGA which means signatory companies (ALL the studios and all the networks COULD NOT employ you). It would effectively end any chance of a career Stateside before it had gotten underway. Plus in TV you are hired on by other WGA members -the showrunners. Anyone who thinks they could have a career in the States by doing this understands nothing about the industry out there.

DD

Elinor said...

Hear, hear!

Lucy said...

Welcome DD - like I said, I have big plans and one day will take over the scriptwriting universe, including America, so you can count on me not scabbing ; )

BTW - not scabbing INCLUDES NON-PAID COLLABORATION with your US producers people, don't forget that. And also pitching for specific projects.

anya said...

Wait, wait, I thought Ink Tip said you could still promote yourself during the strike? Getting confused...

Lucy said...

As I understand it, promoting yourself is different to chasing after opportunities and/or actual writing... Having a listing on Ink Tip or a similar site is not the same as scabbing (your listing may pre-date the strike anyway & who's to say who will read that listing... Even if a US prodco does and requests your script, you don't have to send your script if it makes you feel uncomfortable), nor is talking about your work on your website, blog or whatever.

If you're in the UK, we're not on strike but I'm urging UK writers here NOT to approach anyone American, for ANYTHING including unpaid collaboration. But if you're in the US as you are Anya - just don't pitch for anything, sell anything, sign anything or write anything new!

anya said...

No worries on that score - you bloggers distract me too much, lol

Dublin Dave said...

This post from Bill Martell (copied from Done Deal) might help to clarify:

"I think the strike has pretty much closed down every aspect of the biz that has to do with scripts. I have a couple of friends who are readers - and they are not being given anything to read.

There was a huge rush to get scripts for projects already greenlit polished and ready to shoot (even over the weekend). They will be busy making those films over the next few months - and not be thinking much about new scripts. With the holidays only a couple of weeks away, I'll bet development folks are either closing up early or just hanging out on the clock for a couple of weeks before closing shop... until the strike is resolved.

So there is no one to read your scripts.

And no reason why they will read your script.

The strike really doesn't open any doors for non-WGA writers. Sig producers aren't scrambling for scripts - they have plenty. TV has already been stockpiling episodes. The main problem will be the topical shows like SNL and Tonight Show and Daily Show... and those shows are just closing down. Jay Leno was handing out donuts on the picket line today - his writers are *his* writers. He hired them. Probably took him *years* to find those writers. They make him funny. He's not going to just hire some writer off the street to fill in. Hey, he's not in his office anyway - so even if you tried to get a job, there'd be no one there to hire you.

A studio isn't going to hire someone off the street to replace Steve Zaillian. If you are as good as Zaillian you have the same chance of breaking in during the strike as you had before (and as you'll have after). Actually - a worse chance during the strike, because they aren't looking for scripts. It's still about the talent. If you have it, you're going to break in... if you don't, the strike isn't going to help you.

My advice for strike time - write some great specs. That way you'll be prepared for when the strike ends. Then send out the queries - when there will be someone around to read them."


Just to clarify, the LA Times is reporting that the studios are already starting the process of closing down development deals and claiming force majeure. It's batten down the hatches on both sides, kids. If this strike goes on, which looks likely, a lot of people in LA are going to be losing their homes and some writers' careers will never recover. The only way to get it over quickly is by writers showing what solidarity they can with our American cousins.

On a lighter note here's a link to Jon Stewart's take on things:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S719_NtAaZI

"The internet, it's too new!" Lol

DD

Jon Peacey said...

"My advice for strike time - write some great specs."

I am so glad this was stated clearly. I may be in the UK, I may not have gotten anywhere but I'm an Old Labour type and like to know what's what...

BTW: Personally, I can't stand the term 'scab', I prefer 'blackleg' which is more accurate. I believe Scabs to be strike-breaking union members and blacklegs to be non-union members brought in to work when the union won't. I realies that's essentially a minor and irrelevant point.

SK said...

Hm. I disapprove of closed shops on principle, and Hollwood seems to be th eultimate closed shop (and yes, I know that's to do with historical differences in the directions taken by the labour movement on either side of the Atlantic during the twentieth century).

But on this prticular issue the WGA demands seem so self-evidently fair and reasonable that I don't have any hesitation is supporting them.

not that anybody wants me to write for them, but even if they did, I wouldn't.

Steve said...

I agree, SK. Basically when a trade union is doing the job for which they were originally invented -- protecting (or creating) the rights of individual workers -- then they should be supported.

A fair wage is a Human Right per the International Declaration of Human Rights, see this excellent website for all your human rights:

http://www.youthforhumanrights.org/

The videos are great.

Tom said...

Why are the BBC making it sound like the writers are just being greedy and after more money? I'm very disappointed in their coverage so far.

Jon Peacey said...

They should be appearing impartial but that seems to be somewhat thin on the ground especially when compared to Channel Four news.

The two bigger possibilities that I've considered are:
-the BBC look like they need to vastly reduce their own workforce soon and if they appear to back the strikers too strongly they may be accused of gross hypocrisy by certain sections of the tabloid press later,
-they don't want to fall out even further with certain giant multi-national organizations (run by an ex-Australian ex-British tycoon) who would like to see the BBC as broken (privatized) as the Unions and who own newspapers that could do much harm with the politicians and public psyche. Remember Wapping and the NUM?

Well, that's my current suspicions (conspiracy theories). Media politics at very high levels.

Tom said...

Having looked at the Channel 4 news site and the article about Eva Longoria (which happens to mention the writers strike) it looks like they've got it from the same source as the BBC - namely, ITN. On account of it being word for word the same.

But conspiracies are good.

Steve said...

Jon, I was in the print industry at that time as a journo. The closed shop was a very bad thing.

When the company I worked for started to computerise (it was one of the first) we had to pay the typesetters *more* to do *less*.

Of course that was mishandled, these situations almost always are, but it was moronic intransigence on both sides.

Management almost never understands it is nothing without its staff, and "the workers" seem hard-pressed to understand that the company isn't a bottomless pit of money.

Things would be so much simpler without people getting in the way.

Jon Peacey said...

Steve- I managed to cock-up (again!) and get myself misunderstood. I was thinking more of how, during the 80's, there seemed a concerted drive to remove as many Union rights as possible.

I should mention that during the 80's, my formative young years, when the others in my age group were watching Harry Enfield and dreaming of big-cash rewards in the near future, I was watching in horror at baton charges and thinking this can't be right...

(Didn't Murdoch 'secretly' build and equip the Wapping plant then as soon as the print unions went on strike sacked the lot of them and replaced them with a different union's workers and so the strikers were already out of work when I saw them? I'm possibly misremembering- it was a long time ago!)

It is quite probable that partly because of this when I see picket-lines now I remember those days and fear the worst now. And there ARE some very powerful indivuals and companies who don't have a desperate desire for Unions to exist at all. When I see the future that some would like, I see the lines of workers from Metropolis...

As for closed-shops, I understand where they came from maybe a hundred years ago (as the only way to protect worker's rights through total unity) but now they do seem somewhat wrong and unfair.

However, my original (ostensibly throw-away) remark was meant as a reference to the desire to neuter worker's rights rather than a defence of any particular practice on either side of the 80's arguments.

My curse is that I can see both sides of most arguments while still holding an ingrained opinion that still sometimes struggles to come out: I strongly suspect this could send me insane before I die! And when it does come out it's usually expressed clumsily and gets me into trouble. I really wish I could have the opinions of, for example, either a Guardian reader or a Daily Mail reader rather than being able to see the validity of all viewpoints at the same time! :-)

Please, forgive my lack of clarity.

Tom- the Tuesday Channel 4 evening news did a 5 minute piece on the strike with interviews with such people as Jay Leno, John Oliver (The Daily Show) and various others. Nothing with Eva Longoria though.

...and conspiracies are good. Mind you, mine fall by the wayside when I remember that certain people would like C4 privatized as well!

Hopefully I'm all clear and free now! :-)

SK said...

Me, I'd keep quiet about the writers who 'make [Jay Leno] funny'. If we're talking the writers who come up with jokes of the standard seen on talk shows and things like 'Saturday Night Live', then maybe they don't deserve to be paid. At all...

riboflavin said...

Writing should have performance-related pay now? Audience satisfaction or your money back? Quips aside, those Jay Leno writers do the work, they should be paid. That's like saying if you don't like how a sandwich tastes, the workers in the cafe or shop who made it should be financially penalised. If people don't like it, don't watch it.

anya said...

I agree Riboflavin. There are plenty of shows on TV I dislike, but that doesn't mean their writers should be out of a job - even if NO ONE watches. They do the work, they should be paid - simple as that (tho of course if no one watches then the show will likely be cancelled).