Script writing is unusually politicised at the moment. I’ve just been reading two fascinating articles on the Writers Guild of America script writers strike.
Two points stand out:
“If we strike… in many ways, it’s akin to a prison riot. We’ll kill a guard or two, light some mattresses on fire, a few snitches will get lynched… but after the smoke settles and the SWAT team is done, we’ll be back in our cells, and the Warden will still be in charge… Nevertheless, come what may, I’m with my union. Even though we rich guys get pilloried (while our dues fund this entire operation), I’m with my union. Even though we public dissenters get accused of shilling, selling-out, undermining and Disloyalty To The State, I’m with my union.”
And from http://johnaugust.com/archives/2007/pencils-down
“I’m contracted on two scripts right now, but they’ll be sitting unopened in their folders until the strike is resolved. I have a deal to write a spec for Fox, but that will also have to wait. Pencils down means pencils down. I’m not writing any features or television until there’s a contract. So what will I do in meantime? First, I’ll man the picket lines…”
Loving the loyalty. Script writing needs that kind of passion.
I also take the point about the prison riot, because do strikes ever really work out? Lech Walesa might disagree, but we had a thing called a miners strike over here, which many see as having led to an all out attack on our civil liberties that shows no sign of going away.
But in general I’m just so envious that American writers are loyal enough, and the union is strong enough, that they can actually have a strike in the first place!
Forget what happens, just the fact it’s possible speaks volumes.
A strike in the UK? Yeah, right.
I know a hundred script writers who’d bite your hand off for the offer of that kind of organised protest – collectively we have a list of grievances a hundred miles long – but there’s not a chance we’ll ever get organised enough to make it happen.
Failure of our union? Probably. There seems to have been progress in collective bargaining in the last couple of years, but over the long term it’s been nowhere near as active or aggressive as it needs to be. I stopped being a member a while back, because, sadly, there just seemed no point.
Failure of ourselves? Definitely. And I think it comes from our script writing style. Though we all love and revere certain American shows I think a lot of us, particularly the older guard, still find team writing reeks of creation by committee. I don’t know many writers who really enjoy big story conferences. (I feel the interesting stuff always gets washed out by the end of the day.) Most writers I know hold their freedom to write on their own very dear. Personally I hate it if a script of mine gets ‘polished’, and if I get through to the end I treasure knowing I did every word of every draft.
Team writing bonds and strengthens writing relationships, and turns out some stupendous television in the USA.
Solo writing divides most of us, makes paranoics of many of us, and, as the writers still mostly aren’t show runners, our high volume shows can still feel like they’ve been assembled by a rather dull committee on a wet Thursday.
So. It’s all too clear, isn’t it?
Divided we fall, time after time…