Now that the writers’ strike is raging in Hollywood like the Malibu fires from a few weeks ago, blame seems to have been thrown around like pales of water. The writers claim they deserve their fair share of sales from “new media” while the studios are arguing that the writers are already getting enough of a financial reward.
The other week my interview with Christopher Kyle went up online and from what I can tell he’s a straight up nice guy. When my interview went up I emailed him to let him know that it was online. I also asked him about his opinion on the writers’ strike. Again, he was honest and very passionate with his side of the argument.
Kyle, playwright and screenwriter of such films as Alexander and K19: The Widowmaker, states that “The stereotype of the millionaire writer the studios are pushing is bogus. Most writers don’t get rich even when they’re lucky enough to be working– and we have very little job security even then (half the Guild is unemployed at any given time)”.
Hollywood accountants are notoriously good at their jobs and they often make sure that there is very little to share. One only has to look at the recent court battle between Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson and film studio New Line over profits to the blockbuster trilogy.
The reason for the current strike is that writers will not be paid residual fees from the new revenue streams that have been awarded to the studios through new technology. As Kyle tells me the studios have “in so many words, asked us to accept no future participation in our work when it’s distributed over the internet. Since it’s likely that most distribution will move online over the next decade or so, they are essentially demanding we give up residuals”.
Screenwriters like Kyle argue that they already get very little money and credit for the creative work that they do “TV and screenwriters hand over our copyrights when we write for the studios– something novelists and playwrights don’t do– and the compensation for that (at least for the last 40-some years) has been a small percentage of the revenue studios make when they re-use our work in other media”.
The writer has always been on the bottom rung of the Hollywood ladder and they have often been the butt of too many jokes. However, one only has to look at the current scramble to push films into production to see that the work of the screenwriter is under appreciated and vital to the existence of the motion picture industry.
It’s a shame that the writer however, doesn’t get the credit that is afforded to stars, directors and even studio executives. As Kyle points out “The amounts we get are staggeringly small, four cents per DVD, for example, but not small enough for the studios, apparently. To put it in perspective, the amount ALL writers collected from ALL DVD sales last year was $56 million. The amount of severance Paramount paid one executive, Tom Freston, when they fired him? $60 million.”
With so little money afforded to most writers, they need the extra money from previous writing jobs to keep them afloat when there is no work available. As Kyle draws his discussion on the strike to a close he tells me “Residuals from past work are what carry us through the tough times. There is no way we’ll give them up. So the strike will last as long as it takes to get a fair deal. And you can quote me on that.”
This article on the 2007 writers strike first appeared on Collider in 2007.