Thursday, February 14, 2008

Striking observations.

When I woke up this morning my internet news pages were full of articles heralding the return of Hollywood writers to their long, strike vacated jobs. It's terrific to have them back but frankly, did you really care that they were gone? Did you're favorite TV shows collapse in the creative whoosh of a vacuum that was left behind as the creative types were sucked out of the process? Did movie theaters board up the box-offices for a lack of new releases? Without the barrage of news stories would you have even remembered they were MIA? So what's all the excitement about?

The fact is, it was difficult to stay on top of an industry issue as big as the Writer's Guild Strike, while there is such a pervasive glut of badly written and (in the case of reality shows) not written at all filler, passing as television entertainment already saturating the airwaves. On the movie side of the equation, the missing writers were even more of a non-issue as the script production lag never caught up with the realtime lack of new product flowing in. Now, as the strike fades into nostalgic headlines, there is a flood release of new material for studios to choose from, evidence of lots of strike hours spent "spec" writing, now poised to hit the production market.

So what was it all about? Some valid and serious issues that determine the fair sharing and distribution of the tremendous revenues generated by the television and film industries open up a large enough resource that the writers, the first step in the process if you will, should indeed be fairly and justly compensated. Just as DVD's opened a new source of profit requiring the restructuring of compensation for writers, the internet and the increased feasibility of digital download purchases/rentals should also merited consideration. The ultimate distribution of these new found and increasingly significant streams of income, over the various resources studios utilize to create product, was an inevitable topic of discussion. The outcome of that debate, just now resulting in a return to work by the WGA, was also inevitable. One does not exist without the other, and cannot, in the future of this multi-billion dollar business. So the talks would have to happen, the settlement would have to be arrived at and the agreements would have to ratified. Most importantly, the writers would have to go back to work and the studios would have to maintain new production. The shame of the situation is the very fact that there could be no other outcome than an agreement and ultimate resolution.

So while (according to AP reports) some 10,500 writers and basically 6 major studios were playing hardball and passing out picket signs, here's who really noticed that the writers were on strike - all of the related crafts and services involved in the daily business of making television and movies.

Lighting and sound technicians, make-up artists, set designers and carpenters, painters, electricians and grips, wardrobe fitters, seamstresses and designers, drivers, animal wranglers, truck movers and delivery services, caterers, servers and food providers, studio services, runners, security personnel, equipment rental companies, special effects houses and all of their support businesses. The list is as long as those credits you never sit through. And then there are the indirectly related businesses, the local restaurants, the courier services, location permits, hotels and airlines. Add in the businesses where writer salaries are usually spent and the impact begins to take on sobering dimensions. The New York Times reports that the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation  is estimating a 3.2 billion dollar loss to the LA's local economy. A business that generates billions, spends billions. Just ask those economy whiz kids scratching their heads in Washington right now.

So if an agreement between studios and Hollywood writers was a forgone conclusion and the time for debating the issues the only variable, should we be congratulating the industry on reaching their strike resolution or should we be angry that these two sides took so much time to ultimately do what both knew they must? Is this simply an exercise in American business or is this an example of selfish and stubborn stupidity. Should we congratulate writers for standing up for their rights, (even as many continued to produce work in the background) or should we point at both writers and studios and call the callousness of their actions irresponsible and unappreciative to all of those who, like themselves, could shut down an industry that depends on them. I hope the members of the WGA and the executives and financial structure of the television and movie industries have very, very long memories. So forget the slaps on the back and self important rhetoric and do what you should have done months ago. Get back to work. Here's hoping your audiences don't picket you.

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