The current screenwriters’ strike has brought Hollywood to its knees. Films have been rushed into production and any film that didn’t have a complete script was put on hold. The reason for the strike; that screenwriters want their fair share of DVD and internet residuals for films. Christopher Kyle, playwright and screenwriter of films such as Alexander and K19: The Widowmaker says that the studios have, “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”.
The writers feel that they are fighting for a worthy cause, and they are against the picture drawn by the studios which portrays the average screenwriter as a greedy millionaire. Kyle says “this image of the 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”.
Kyle himself says that he regrets the strike but feels that it is necessary for the creative good in Hollywood. Kyle tells me that “the strike has placed me in the uncomfortable position of having an independent feature close to a green light but not being allowed to do any revisions on the script if it happens.”
Richard Shepard, writer and director of The Matador and The Hunting Party also agrees with the strike but again, he makes it obvious that he believes it’s a shame it has come to such a standoff: “As a creative person it’s extremely frustrating that I can’t work on my creative projects because of the greed of others. This strike is incredibly painful to so many people. Not just writers, but all the people who make a livelihood off of film and television.”
There is a glimmer of hope on the horizon, the Writers’ Guild is meeting with the studios again on November 26, and there is a slim possibility of an agreement. Kurt Sutter writer of the television series The Shield and forthcoming Punisher sequel is positive, though wary, of these arrangements. He feels that, “We need to continue to encourage our leaders to approach these resumed talks with a fair and open mind. We want the best deal we can get. We want a deal that protects our future revenue. We want a deal that gets us back to work. None of that will be possible without a civil and humble attitude.”
Although some writers in Hollywood are highly paid (such as Akiva Goldsman, who was paid $4 million dollars for Angels and Demons, the sequel to The Da Vinci Code, which was ironically cancelled due to the strike) most are middle class workers trying to pay off the mortgage. Half of the writers’ guild is unemployed at any given time and they need the residuals from their past films to live. However unlike most A-list actors and directors, who get a large portion of DVD profits, the writer currently only receives four cents from every DVD sold. With the huge explosion of the internet and faster downloading speeds, more and more people are downloading films, and the writers won’t get paid for this new media.
If the strike continues it will have more and more of an impact on the entertainment industry. Already, television series are grinding to a halt and most chat shows have stopped because of the scripted comments needed for their hosts. Shepard warns that the strike will affect everyone “this goes on much longer people may lose their homes and worse. That said, I think the writers guild is correct to fight for their share of new media profits”.
The writers have seen a lot of support from within the entertainment industry, with actors and directors rallying behind their cause. They are aware, however, that it’s difficult getting across their message to the general public. As Kyle puts it, “The issues can be complicated to explain, so we need all the help we can get from the media– especially media that isn’t owned by the companies we’re striking against.” The Writers Guild though, does appear to have the support of the public, as a recent poll showed that 63% of people supported them, whilst only 4% were behind the studios.
Whatever happens in the next while, the film and television industry will feel the repercussions for sometime. Many films have been pushed into production in a rush and the average cinema goer may or may not be subjected to films that are sub par because of a truncated pre-production period. We can only hope that the studios come to their senses and that the writers receive their just financial rewards, and that the strike will end sooner rather than later.
This article first appeared in MovieScope Magazine in 2007.