On Monday, I was elected to the board of directors for the Writers Guild of America, West. I’ll be serving a two-year term.
Huge thanks to everyone who voted, and the folks who encouraged me to run.
At one of the campaign mixers, I had the chance to speak with some writers who had only been in the guild for a few weeks. It got me thinking back to the first time I voted, about 20 years ago. I remember going through the campaign booklet, reading every statement, and marking each one on a scale of one to ten. Then I’d go back through and pick the six or eight candidates I was going to vote for.
I took it really seriously, and I still do.
What’s funny to realize is that most of those candidate statements from 20 years ago could have been written today. They were talking about many of the same issues: late payments, improving diversity, free rewrites, protecting our health plan. And it’s easy to see why: these are some of the fundamental objectives of the guild. The WGA exists to make sure our members get paid and protected.
We’re always going to be fighting these fights, whether it’s through negotiation or enforcement. It’s always been the same.
That’s not to say nothing has changed in 20 years. Things are changing quickly. And that’s why I decided to run this year.
Through this site and Scriptnotes, I get the chance to talk to a lot of writers, both in features and TV. Established writers, aspiring writers, everyone in between.
And the consistent thing I’m hearing is, huh. Nothing is working the way it used to, or “supposed to.” There’s a ton of TV being made, but the seasons are short. Features are being figured out in writers rooms, and no one’s quite sure when the “writing” begins, or how we should figure out credit.
We’re in the middle of a disruption. The industry is shifting to some new form, and none of us know what it’s going to become. No one in the guild, no one on the studio lots in Burbank. We’re all flying blind.
Maybe it will be great for writers — like the start of home video, or cable, with new opportunities and new revenue streams. We’ll all be getting fat paychecks to write VR experiences unlike anything we’ve seen before.
But maybe we won’t.
What keeps me up at night is that second possibility, that we’re facing a future where it becomes almost impossible to make a living as a professional writer in Hollywood. I worry that those new WGA members I talked to at the mixer won’t be working 20 years from now because the industry will become unrecognizable.
For me, these next two years are not about a negotiation, but an investigation of where we’re at and what our priorities should be. We elect the board to be trustees of the guild. And part of that is making sure there is still such a thing as a professional writer.
But while we keep an eye out for future dangers, we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can for writers today.
From late pay to unpaid rewrites to exclusivity clauses, there are many areas where members are looking to the WGA to take action.
Some issues can only be addressed through negotiation. But I believe better enforcement is key to improving the day-to-day life of writers — and screenwriters in particular. I talk with feature writers trapped in an endless fog of development, hostage to a paycheck that never comes.
We need to make sure the WGA represents writers not just collectively at the negotiating table, but also individually when employers abuse their power.
I want to believe I’m approaching the work ahead with an appropriate blend of idealism and realism. As I said in my campaign statement, many of the issues we face are structural, historical and/or intractable. But the progress we’ve made in recent negotiations points to our ability to address new problems with new solutions. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing along with the new board and officers.