A few minutes ago, the WGA announced plans for the strike. Barring dramatic progress in negotiations over this weekend, it’s happening.

pencilI’ve largely avoided talking about contract negotiations and the strike,1 because I have no particular insight. I’m not on the WGA Board, nor the negotiating committee. But because I’m one of the higher-profile screenwriters, people give whatever I say unwarranted authority. And you know, I’m all about authority.

Now that we’re at the 23rd hour, I can clarify a little bit more about what’s going on, and where I stand.

Last night, I went to the largest WGA meeting in history, held at the Convention Center downtown. The negotiating committee explained the progress (and lack of progress) in negotiations with the AMPTP, and confirmed that a strike would be occurring. Representatives from helpful allies, including SAG and the Teamsters, also spoke. I was encouraged by the thoughtfulness of the negotiating committee, who are dedicated to achieving a fair deal without unwarranted suffering.

If you know absolutely nothing about the issues — or if you have to explain it to your grandmother, who’s upset that her favorite soap opera is off the air — here’s my very short summary of the situation.

  • Writers for film and television are paid a small fee when the things they write (movies and television shows) are shown again on re-runs or DVD. These are called residuals, and they’re much like the royalties a novelist or a songwriter gets.

  • Residuals are a huge part of how writers are able stay in the business. These quarterly checks pay the mortgage, particularly between jobs.

  • There’s widespread belief that the rate paid to writers for DVD’s is too low. It was set 20 years ago, when DVD was a nascent and expensive technology. DVD’s are now cheap and hugely profitable, yet the rate remains fixed.

  • Downloads will eventually supplant DVD’s. That’s why it’s crucial to set a fair rate for them now, and avoid the same trap of “let’s wait and see.”

  • There are other creative and jurisdictional issues (such as animation and reality television) which are also on the table. According to the AMPTP, residuals are the major stumbling block, however.2

Yesterday’s Variety and Hollywood Reporter featured this ad, in which showrunners from almost every drama and comedy on American television made it clear that they and their staffs would be doing no writing during a strike. Television will feel the impact of a strike long before features, because the season is only half-written.

But if there were an equivalent ad for feature writers, I’d sign it. As would every feature writer I know.

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.

After that, I’ll turn my attention to the 100 other things going on in my life that don’t involve movies, television, or 12-point Courier.

Over the last five years, the craft has become a smaller proportion of my daily life. I’m a father, a technology nerd, and a trustee of my university. I’d like to get married. I’m helping to raise money for the new School of Cinematic Arts at USC. I’m starting an American arm of FOMO to help the orphans of southern Malawi.

I also write a lot of things that aren’t movies or TV shows. I really enjoyed the magazine writing I did this past year, and plan to do more. I wrote a play that I need to workshop. And I have this website, which is desperate for some re-tuning.

So I’ll be busy. And when the strike’s over, I’ll be excited to go back to the job I love.

  1. At least now we can retire the term “looming strike.”
  2. Nick Counter: “The companies believe that movement is possible on other issues, but they cannot make any movement when confronted with your continuing efforts to increase the DVD formula, including the formula for electronic sell-through,” he said. “The magnitude of that proposal alone is blocking us from making any further progress. We cannot move further as long as that issue remains on the table.” Link to Variety.