Archived posts from this Category
Archived posts from this Category
Today is the final day of voting for the WGAw. If you’re eligible to vote, please do.
Below, reprinted in its entirety, is an election day message from former WGAw President Dan Petrie Jr.
I’ve always admired the kind of writer who sits down at the keyboard and starts writing the minute they get a cool idea or land an assignment — but I am not that kind of writer. I let things slide until the deadline approaches. That’s why, even though I think the current Writers Guild election is vitally important, I only voted today, at almost (but not quite) the last minute.
Now, if a writers Guild nerd like me waits until four days before the deadline to mail in his ballot, you might not have voted either. If you have voted, you have the immediate reward of not having to finish this e-mail. If you haven’t voted, please read on.
Please, please, pretty please with sugar on top: vote. As John Wells points out at every opportunity, management looks at our voter participation levels, and reads low voter turnout as a sign of weakness. If you are going to vote by mail, dig out your election booklet and ballot and vote right now. In order for your vote to count, it must be in the mailbox of Pacific election services by 9 AM Friday, September 18. For all practical purposes that means that the letter has to arrive on Thursday, which means that if you live in Los Angeles you should mail it Tuesday at the latest. Lost your ballot? You can get a replacement ballot by calling Robbin Johnson at Pacific Election Services at (800) 571-8049 or by e-mailing email@example.com, but remember that by the time they mail the replacement ballot to you, it might be too late for you to mail it back. But that’s no excuse — you can get a friend to deliver your ballot to the annual meeting in the WGA multipurpose room on Thursday, September 17, from 6:00 until 10 minutes after the end of the meeting. And, if you go to the meeting yourself, you can obtain your replacement ballot on the spot, vote in the voting booth and put your ballot in the ballot box, and you don’t even have to attend the meeting if you don’t want to.
I recommend you vote for…
Why did I vote the way I did? I’ll tell you, but first I better warn you: what follows is long.
Even though you may not have been following the election, you probably could not avoid hearing that there were a bunch of attacks leveled against John Wells. This election had swiftly become the ugliest in my memory, which goes back fairly far and encompasses a fair amount of ugliness. None of the present ugliness, I’m happy to say, was initiated by the candidates I am supporting. Unlike the Writers United campaign in 2005, which was about their vision for the future of the Guild, Patric Verrone and Elias Davis have centered their current campaign from the start on a series of personal attacks on John Wells’s character and prior service. It was appalling to see good and decent people, justly proud of their Guild service, become apparently so convinced of the rightness of their cause that even sleazy personal attacks – attacks they knew to be false – against John Wells were somehow justified. But earlier this month, there was a sudden outbreak of sanity.
At the Meet the Candidates Night on Wednesday, September 2, John Wells and John Bowman opened the meeting by making statements calling the recent accusations by Patric Verrone and John Bowman (to the effect that they knew nothing of John Wells’s back channel communications with the DGA during our strike) a “misunderstanding.” John Bowman’s opening words were, “of course I knew that John Wells was talking with the DGA.”
A misunderstanding. Given the sweeping and vitriolic nature of the accusations, which were repeated in two e-mails to the entire membership and in an Elias Davis campaign statement, and given that John Wells had absolutely incontrovertible contemporaneous evidence to the contrary, John Wells would have been well within his rights to characterize Patric Verrone’s, John Bowman’s and Elias Davis’s false assertions in much stronger terms. They, in turn, could have adopted the standard political tactic employed by those caught making a less than truthful statement of repeating it more and more loudly. It is very much to the credit of John Wells and John Bowman that they came together to adopt a different course.
John Wells’s generosity, his willingness to put Guild unity ahead of an opportunity for political advantage, is entirely characteristic of the man. He would rather lose the election then leave the Guild fractured. And that’s just one of the reasons I’m supporting him for Guild President.
While Writers United did the honorable thing by withdrawing the false accusations, one can’t un-ring a bell. The first Verrone/Bowman letter containing the false allegations was sent in an e-mail blast to the membership on Friday, August 28, timed to arrive with the ballots, knowing that a large percentage of members tend to vote that first weekend. Because election e-mails go through the Guild, any response from John Wells would be delayed to that Monday at the earliest. Moreover, we are all familiar with the phenomenon of an accusation receiving a blaze of publicity, but its subsequent withdrawal getting much less attention.
This Writers United negative campaign has sought to portray John Wells as a kind of management stooge, an Executive Producer (using that term as an epithet) ready to sell us out, or at least be overly conciliatory, in order to get cozy with the company bosses. Of all the appalling things about this false narrative, the most reprehensible to me is that many of those purveying this nonsense know perfectly well, firsthand, that it’s not true. And I’m talking about some people who are friends of mine and friends of John Wells, and who ought to be ashamed of themselves. But I can see how these lies could give pause to members who don’t know John personally. Well, I do, and I can tell you that this characterization of John Wells is a lie through and through.
John Wells is a writer first and foremost. Yes, he has become an exceptionally successful show runner and executive producer, but anyone who knows the television business knows that John’s work as a writer was and continues to be the foundation of that success.
John’s loyalties are to his fellow writers, as evidenced by his extraordinary record of service to our Guild, on the board and on innumerable committees, two terms as secretary treasurer, one as vice president and one as president. His dedication to serving his fellow writers is further demonstrated by his willingness to accept the nomination to run for president now, after a reportedly exhaustive effort by the nominating committee failed to turn up any one else willing to take on the Writers United juggernaut.
The suggestion that John Wells would sell out writers or be overly conciliatory in negotiations is both absurd and contradicted by history. Members should think back to the extremely tough negotiation of 2001, during John’s presidency, in which John’s carefully calibrated use of the strike threat sent the companies into spasms of stockpiling and accelerated production.
But what about John’s public support for the DGA deal? The now withdrawn Verrone/Bowman letters claimed that it undercut our Guild’s leverage. But that assertion contradicts Writers United’s own position. Our deal is the DGA deal, in most material respects; the only differences are those we asked for. Why in the world then would Patric Verrone attack John Wells for praising essentially the same deal that Patric told our membership was our best deal in 30 years?
While Patric’s claim might be disingenuous and contradictory, it is undeniable that many members felt disappointed by the DGA deal. John’s public support of that deal felt to more than one writer I very much respect like “a punch in the gut.” Given that this was the template for the same deal that was later so fulsomely praised by Patric and so overwhelmingly ratified by the membership, why then that strong initial reaction of disappointment?
I have an opinion about it, which, like the rest of this letter, represents my own thinking and not necessarily that of any of the candidates I’m supporting. I think that the membership saw the deal for exactly what it was, a hard-fought, hard-won compromise that, while far more than the companies were initially willing to give, was undeniably much less than we wanted. And we’d been on strike for three months! We’d made enormous sacrifices. We’d hung together and demonstrated our unity, our resolve. We’d been pumped up by our leaders’ rhetoric suggesting that a great victory was at hand. We expected the fruit of that victory would be a deal at least commensurate with our solidarity and sacrifice. And thus it was natural to feel an emotional letdown when the deal proved to be just that: a deal. While our negotiating committee (unanimously) and later our membership (by a huge margin) came to agree with John Wells’s dispassionate analysis that the deal struck by the DGA was a good one that won for us important new media provisions we can build on in the future, I wonder how many members would go so far as to describe our 2008 contract as a great victory, the best in 30 years.
In 2001 I sat next to John Wells across the table from a phalanx of company CEOs when John told them that whether or not we went on strike or they locked us out, at the end of the day the deal we would make would still be “painful for them and disappointing to us.” That was true then, true in 2004 and 2008, and will be true again in 2011.
In 2004 as in 2008 we also learned again what we learned so painfully in 1985 and 1988, the power of pattern bargaining. For good or ill, the creative unions get, to a vast extent, what the others get.
It’s certainly not emotionally satisfying to be making deals that are painful to them but disappointing to us, not if they come at such a cost. It’s even less emotionally satisfying to realize the extent to which we are dependent upon the negotiations of our sister guilds. The rhetoric of Writers United denies these facts even as their own experience reaffirms once again their truth.
What conclusions for our future should we draw from our recent experience? First, if the same deal can be achieved with a strike or without a strike, it is obviously to our complete economic advantage to achieve it without one. Writers United deserves every praise for its management of the strike itself, but less in my view for the rhetorical climate leading up to it. Don’t get me wrong; the strike was at least as much the fault of management as it was ours. But Writers United, intentionally or not, caused the companies to become genuinely convinced that the Writers Guild was hell-bent on striking and uninterested in serious negotiations. John Wells and his running mates can’t rule out having to recommend a strike, of course, but you can be sure they will first make every effort to conduct a serious, hard-fought and principled negotiation.
Second, we learned yet again that the negotiations of our sister unions are key to our own. And in 2011, the Directors Guild will in all likelihood be going before us. Our interests demand a strategic alliance with the Directors Guild as well as with SAG. Like it or not, our relationships with our sister guilds need to be like those between Britain and the United States in World War II: even if, occasionally, the parties see each other as exasperating, even if things get tense, even adversarial, we must find a way to make common cause together. Under Writers United our relationship with the DGA has gone from good to bad to nonexistent. Almost lost in the hullabaloo over John Wells’s back channel communications with the DGA in 2007 is the central fact that we needed John Wells to communicate with the DGA! I appreciate that Elias Davis also wants an improved relationship with the Directors Guild, but as part of the administration that brought those relations to a historic low, I don’t think he’s the best person to achieve that. John Wells is.
I could go on about why I think it’s so important to elect John Wells, but this letter is an epic already. I do want to say a quick word about John’s running mates.
Howard Michael Gould for Vice President. If you were at the convention center in the lead up to the strike and heard his stirring words, you’re probably already for him. A member of the Board of Directors and our 2007 Negotiating Committee, he is a fierce advocate for writers.
Chris Keyser for Secretary-treasurer. As a member of our Pension and Health Board of Trustees, he’s demonstrated the command of financial affairs needed as our Guild faces a financial crisis — a crisis that in many respects was self-inflicted, and which led to the layoff of 10% of the Guild staff. He’s also a lawyer, well aware of our obligations to those for whom we hold monies in trust: he’s deeply concerned about our Guild’s delivery of foreign levies, which after years of steady progress in getting these out to their rightful recipients, has suddenly slowed by an incredible 27%.
For the Board of Directors:
Mick Betancourt’s union roots run deep — to the Chicago Teamsters, in fact — and he is dedicated to furthering better relations with our sister unions. As a successful content creator for the Internet, he’ll bring his expertise in new media to the Board.
Ian Deitchman did incredible service to the Guild as one of the founders of the United Hollywood website. He is also a co-founder of the Internet start-up company Strike TV, so he’ll also bring to the Board his insights into an area that will be increasingly important to all of us.
Jeff Lowell believes we still have an obligation to all those reality storytellers we promised to organize (which the 2005 Writers United campaign said they could do in “a few months.”) The WU all-or-nothing approach, of course, has been a spectacularly expensive failure; Jeff advocates a new way of going about it that I believe has a much better chance of success.
Steven Schwartz, a member of the 2007 Negotiating Committee and a Trustee of our Health and Pension plans, is dedicated to reordering our priorities toward enforcement and service to our members. In addition to blowing the whistle on the Guild’s backsliding on the delivery of foreign levies, he has also revealed the incredible fact that our Guild has not been spending the funds allocated per the MBA by the companies to the Tri-Guild audit. In other words, the companies give us money that we can use to audit them, and we are not spending all that money!
There you have it. I could talk about this stuff all day, so please feel free to e-mail or call me if there’s anything you’d like to discuss. Whether or not my words have persuaded you, please, please vote. You only have a day left to vote by mail, but you can still vote in person on Thursday evening at the Guild.
It’s been a while since the last half-baked theory. My standard disclaimer applies: these are just thoughts I have about writing, I have no more absolute validity than the next guy. Use it if you like it…ball it up and chuck it if you don’t.
This one occurred to me in the shower, though. That should be worth something.
I think we all have lots of theories and internal rules we follow when writing, but we’re probably only aware of a few of them, if any.
Still, when you’re dissatisfied with what you’re writing–not a clear dissatisfaction, but that awful, vague sense that something’s just wrong–it could be that either your unrealized rule is wrong…or perhaps you’re missing a rule where you need one.
I had a moment like this a few weeks ago.
Without going into the specifics, let’s just say that my problem was that I felt it was important to write a scene in which the main character had a minor success…because he had failed in two prior scenes, and it just didn’t feel like he was “growing” enough.
This was a terrible reason to write a scene.
It’s a natural enough instinct. You’re writing a romantic comedy, and two characters meet. They hate each other at first. But in their second meeting, you don’t want to repeat things, so you move the ball forward.
Or perhaps they hit it off instantly, but next, it’s time to put the breaks on in order to create some drama.
You introduce your action hero kicking ass…he’s seemingly unstoppable. Well, that’s not necessarily interesting enough, so let’s avoid that by writing a subsequent scene where he’s challenged by a tougher opponent.
You decide your story requires the presence of a mobster. But you don’t want to write the same old mobster, so you decide you’ll make your mobster really erudite and Ivy-educated.
How you ever heard yourself say “I wrote this scene in this way because I was concerned that…”?
You’re not writing toward something as much as you’re writing away from something else.
Is this a subtle distinction? I don’t think so. Writing something because you don’t want the scene or character to be something else is, unfortunately, substitutive. It’s placeholding. It’s also depriving you of an opportunity to write something…you know…good.
Once I realized that I was writing my scene in such a way as to avoid something, I asked myself the much tougher and smarter question: why should the scene be this way? Why would I want it this way barring any concerns? Why did it need to be this way, regardless of the costs of it not being this way?
And just like that, the scene sort of unlocked itself. Instead of writing so that my main character had a minor success in an endeavor in order to avoid failing again (my initial “write away from” instinct), I wrote the scene so that my character needed to have a minor success in order to feel better about himself…because I needed to then deflate that character’s sense of success in the subsequent moment…because I needed to tweak his competitive nature. And I needed to tweak his competitive nature because the internal conflict between his pride and his cowardice was the stuff that would make it so that I would need to…
…until I found myself writing “The End.”
Simply asking myself to write toward a positive instead of away from a negative opened the whole thing up. I wasn’t solving problems any more. I was creating. Much more fun. And now that scene is integral and about character, instead of formula.
Yeah, good old formula.
There’s nothing wrong with formula per se. In fact, there’s often a lot right with it. Groundhog Day is a pretty formulaic film. Really formulaic, even. It’s a wonderful formula. And this is a source of frustration, no doubt, for screenwriters both pro and amateur. You write something, and you’re told “The problem is that this script is formulaic.”
Oh, is that the problem?
There is a problem, however, when your script is nothing but formulaic.
When you’re writing toward something…be it a thematic revelation, a narrative reversal, or ideally some moment of character growth…that’s what the reader will take away. The script is leading them to a concept or a moment or an emotion.
When you’re writing away from something, then often the only thing reader will take away is the fact that your script is achieving some sense of appropriate, but empty, story-telling.
They’ll call that “formula.” It’s easier to say than “Traditional narrative without a sense of compelling forward motion, earned moments or anything actually interesting happening.” And to be sure, many of the people who comment on scripts aren’t really aware of why they feel what they feel anyway, so they just say shit like “it’s too formulaic.”
If one person says it, who cares? If a lot of people say it, then maybe they’re on to something.
And maybe this is why.
Which one’s the screenwriter?Every weekday in Los Angeles, the ritual begins. Writers pitch their ideas and screenplays and thoughts on rewrites to the gatekeepers. There are more sellers than buyers. The buyers seem to have all the power. It’s not unusual to hear writers describe the near-successes in unpleasant sexual terms.
“I got bent over.”
That’s one of my favorite.
Still, among our many running themes here at The Artful Writer, one of my favorites is this: writers have more power than they think. It upsets me to see so many of my colleagues view themselves in various gradations of powerlessness or victimhood, particularly when I think the truth belies that in a very serious way.
If we’re victims of anything, it’s a con game designed to make us think we’re victims.
I’ve been on both sides of the buying and selling table, and I’ve learned a few things. When I analogize how this business works, I really do try and elevate it all as best I can, but something about Hollywood seems to fit so beautifully with sex.
And so, I offer you my theory on why they dynamics of selling screenplays is not so different from that of animal mating strategies.
In the early 70′s, a sociobiologist named Robert Trivers proposed an interesting analysis of sexuality as it related to what is the ultimate purpose of sexuality–the reproduction of the gene.
Sorry. Scratch that. The successful reproduction of the gene. See, what Trivers noticed was the truth right in front of us. Every time a male had sex with a female, he increased the likelihood that his genetic material would be reproduced. Given the biological circumstances of male sexuality, this could theoretically happen every hour or so, with no real risk to the male.
Females, on the other hand, were in a bit of a dicier situation. If a female had sex with a male, they also increased the likelihood that their genetic material would be reproduced. However, if reproduction were successful, this could only happen once per gestational period. This period could be weeks or months, depending on the species, but always a significant percentage of the female’s overall fertility period. The female would then need to care for the offspring for a certain amount of time, putting her at risk. Furthermore, and most importantly…
…they could die just from giving birth.
Given those immutable facts of life, what would the optimal reproductive strategies for each gender be?
For males of most species, it appears that having as much sex as possible with as many females as possible as many times as possible is the most advantageous strategy.
For females of most species, carefully choosing the most qualified mate is the most advantageous strategy, because if you’re going to dedicate time and energy and perhaps your life itself to your offspring, you want it to have the best chance of survival.
Screenwriters are sometimes made to feel like the wallflower girls at the prom that no one wants. And given the machismo and aggression of studio executives (Swimming With Sharks is a great title for this very reason), it might seem like they’re the males, waiting to screw us poor gals at every possible turn.
But that’s not true.
The truth is that we’re the males, they’re the females, and they know it.
Every time we sell a script, we succeed. Every time. Maybe the script dies in development. Maybe it gets made but the movie bombs. Maybe the movie from our script is so bad, it literally kills the studio (happens every now and then). But no matter what, we get paid.
And while the last script we wrote is being raised by its studio mother, we’re off banging…excuse me, selling…to another studio.
From the studio point of view, everything is about managing risk. They will spend hundreds of thousands in the hopes that this mating will work out. When it doesn’t, they’re worse off than the writer. Every time. Remember, the people who do the buying don’t own the company. We’re not talking about industrial stockholders or Chairmen of the Board. We’re talking about the Sr. VP of Development, a guy who makes $600,000 a year…but who gives writers millions of dollars a year.
If we fail him, we’re on to the next Sr. VP. Oh, and he usually gets fired.
What I’m saying is…don’t think they’re not as scared as we are.
So, whether you’re a male or female writer, you’re still the male for all intents and purposes. And like any male wandering into a bar, you need a strategy.
You could be the seducer. The guy who gets the studios hot and bothered over your sexy pitch, closes the deal, then skips out a few weeks later when the sex gets boring and the rewrites get hard.
But who likes that guy?
The other strategy is monogamy. Long-term relationships. Co-parenting. Partnership. Signal to the female that you’re not looking to just knock them up and split. Let them know you want to bring a movie into the world together (awwwww), and you’ll be with them the entire way…as long as you can keep being a good dad.
Does this mean you won’t get rewritten? No. The animal kingdom has its own version of rewrites. Male lions have harems. They impregnate their females. But if a more dominant male comes along, not only will he steal the females from the first male, but he’ll kill the poor sap. Then to add insult to injury, the females will either abort or kill their own offspring from the first male…precisely so that they can be available to reproduce with the new, stronger male.
This is much worse than getting fired off a second draft by New Line, I assure you.
Still, evolutionary biology shows that in species where offspring are high investment (i.e. gestational periods are long, newborns need special care), monogamy emerges as a powerful strategy. Humans obviously fit this bill. So do those adorable penguins we all saw in that documentary.
And so do movies.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a Lothario. I know a lot of screenwriters who do this and make a terrific living. Sure, I think being a monogamous screenwriter and staying with the project from conception to leaving-the-nest (hopefully on 3,500+ screens) is a better and more productive strategy. But it’s not the only one.
All that matters is that you don’t buy into the lie that you’re the one who’s getting “screwed”. You’re the seducer. They are the choosy ones.
Go get ‘em, tiger.
I have a busy few weeks ahead of me as we get ready for the upcoming release of Scary Movie 4, but I came across this amazing article this morning, and I thought I’d link to it in a quick post.
I can’t wait for some scientist to explain to me that while my movie gets a good verbal response from the audience, their amygdalas indicate that they find the whole thing pedestrian and a bit episodic.
Interestingly, it’s much harder for them to get an authorization than it is for the WGA. SAG and AFTRA require a 75% and 66.7% majority to authorize a strike, while the WGA only requires a simple majority.
I think I like their system better.
Anyway, what’s important is that SAG and AFTRA have fired the first shots in what is going to be an inevitable and essential war for Hollywood labor unions to fight.
In gaming terms, we’ve just spawned. We’ve got good health, one or two simple weapons. Let’s go kill some bad guys.
The actors are making the reasonable case that, among other things, they deserve residuals for the voice-over work they do for the video game producers. The video game industry is enormous, on par with the television and motion picture industry, and if the actors don’t get a foothold now, they may never.
The problem they’re running up against is rhetoric like this from an industry flack:
“People buy games for gameplay, not to hear voices,” counters Finlayson. “And technology creates gameplay, not actors. People who play these games understand that, and in fact, some gamers turn the volume down because (they) find those voices distracting. In film or television, the actor’s performance makes the experience. In video games, it does not.”
Here’s the problem for SAG and AFTRA: this guy has a legitimate point. He’s not 100% right, of course. Splinter Cell’s hero, Sam Fisher, is voiced by Michael Ironside, and his acting is a crucial part of the gaming experience. It’s one of the things that makes the franchise so incredibly satisfying to play.
On the other hand, technology and that interactive phenomenon known as “gameplay” really is the bedrock selling point of games.
I maintain that the actors need to fight this fight, but it’s going to be uphill for the above stated reason. The DGA ought to be organizing the directors of this stuff (because so much in it is directed, especially cut-scenes and cinematics), but it will be uphill for them as well.
Finally, it will be uphill because the video game producers aren’t as organized themselves. There’s no single management unit with which to fight, like Hollywood has with the AMPTP.
The fundamental question to ask about any strike is: how sudden and painful will the impact of the strike be?
I maintain that we, the writers, have the cleanest shot at the heart of these guys. As technology evolves and the graphics and motion approach realism, the continuing driving force behind hit games and the continuing discriminating factor between derivative eye-candy and compelling gameplay will be character, plot, narrative flow and dialogue.
To be precise…screen writing.
While Splinter Cell would be diminished by the loss of Michael Ironside, it would be impossible without a story teller. The entire point of the game is that you’re playing your way as a character through a narrative.
Right now, the WGA has set its sights on organizing reality television writers. This is a smart choice. Reality TV has the most immediate and severe impact on our bread-and-butter…primetime TV…and you have to protect your borders before you go seize other lands.
Once our campaign to organize reality writers is complete (and I believe it will be successful), I feel very strongly that our next battle MUST be to organize video game writers.
The people writing Halo, the people writing Splinter Cell, the people creating the mythos and lore of the MMORPG’s, the people writing dialogue for the announcers in the sports games, the people who painstakingly write entire talk shows for your car radio in GTA, the people who do every bit of character-making, plot-developing, dialogue-writing and scene-creating are absolutely positively essential screen writers who could cripple an industry that in many cases has worked them like dogs, denied them basic quality of life measures, doled out credit per their whim, and given them zero profit participation or residuals for their work.
I’ve seen what we’ve done so far with reality writers. So EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Vivendi Universal, Rockstar Games, LucasArts and all the rest…
…we’re gonna grab our BFG and come for ya.