Pop quiz, hot shot, what do the following have in common: Barney’s Existential Journey, Bill and Ted’s Hella Cool Trip to the Library, and as much Reality TV as you can stand? The answer: This is what you can look forward to if the Writer’s Guild of America (WGA) strikes after May 1.
The WGA has been in negotiations with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) on and off since last summer and talks have restarted recently. Both sides are scrambling to find a solution before the May 1 deadline in hope of eliminating any chance of a strike. The WGA is asking for several things, ranging from an increase in the percentage pay from residuals (money generated every time the television episode or movie is shown or sold) to more credit for their work.
The credit issue is a hot topic and a sore spot for pretty much anyone who’s ever tried to make a living by writing. The writing industry itself is hard enough to break into, but doubly so for those interested in writing for the screen, big or small. For writers who’ve made it into the spotlight, it’s still an unrewarding career; most of the credit for creating the movies we know and love goes to the directors, or even worse, the actors. That’s not to downplay the importance of either directors or actors, but the credits they receive are usually 10 times larger and easier to spot than those for the writers.
Specifically, the WGA is asking that writers be included in things like press meetings, events for the cast and crew, interviews, etc. It’s a fair thing to ask, and the AMPTP should give it to them. Writers are a huge and vital part of the creative process. Movies like Titanic, American Beauty, Braveheart and Shakespeare in Love all had to start somewhere, and it’s a damn shame that the recognition for their creation gets falsely attributed to people who donated little or nothing to the script itself.
The other big issue involved in giving credit where credit is due is the elimination of the possessory film title. These are those three little words, “A Film By,” that you see at the beginning of movies. The use of such credits, originally employed in special situations for directors with an impressive body of work, is now commonplace among Hollywood suits hoping to rake in an extra buck with a big name. The WGA wants the possessory credit restored to its original use: for example, credits like “A Film By Steven Spielberg” or “Stanley Kubrick” would fly, but “A Film By Joel Schumacher” would be rightfully shot down. For everyone else, one credit per job. Simple as that.
If things don’t get resolved in the next week or so, you can count on a strike. Studio execs have been stockpiling scripts and flooding the airwaves with Reality TV in an attempt to prepare for the worst. It’s a sign that the AMPTP isn’t willing to budge, which is a tragedy. This security blanket won’t hold out for long. If it takes a strike for writers to get what they deserve – better pay and more credit – then so be it.
The last big strike by the WGA was in 1988; it lasted five months and delayed the start of the fall television season. The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) is also considering a strike over similar pay issues when their contract expires in another month. If the WGA strikes along with the SAG, grab a good book, rent an old movie and hope that the AMPTP pulls their heads out of their asses. I think that if we have to put up with another season of Survivor, Boot Camp and movies based on ’70s sitcoms, we should all take a trip down to Hollywood and green light a foot up some executive backside.
Steven Ruszczycky is sophomore English major, biopsychology major and Nexus columnist. You can catch him at home on Saturday nights watching reruns of “Mamma’s Family.”