I’d like to call your attention to Howard Michael Gould.
For those of you who don’t know anything about Howard, I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version. Howard has worked for years in both television and screen and stage. He’s been a rookie and a showrunner on hit sitcoms, and he’s been a rookie and an accomplished screenwriter on his own. In that sense, whatever your experience has been as a professional writer, he probably shares it in one way or another.
Howard was also on the 2007 Negotiating Committee, and it was his service on that committee that brought him to a lot of people’s attention.
If you’re thinking, “Oh, if this is a guy Mazin supports, then he must be some kind of anti-strike sellout”, I suggest you watch this video of Howard speaking at the big Convention Center meeting prior to the strike.
It was that speech that brought writers to their feet in a standing ovation, and it was that speech that made people consider that it wasn’t only radicals and strike-happy militants who backed the strike.
Now Howard is running for the Board, and I think it’s critical that we elect him.
Howard and I don’t agree on everything (what a shocker). But there’s one thing we definitely agree on, and that’s that WGA’s current lockstep leadership has become monolithic, lazy and disturbingly unrigorous.
Howard has a great post about that here, but I’ll quote just a bit to give you the idea.
The current monochromatic Board simply doesn’t disagree. 96% of the votes they did take were unanimous or near-unanimous. 96%. And because the Board already knows it won’t disagree, it doesn’t even insist on its deliberative role. It’s apparently content to let the president set policy (consulting, presumably, with paid staff more than with the Board itself).Howard’s argument is pretty elegant: during the wartime period of the strike, the Verrone Board (in which every single person was endorsed by Patric…even the Board member who ran against him for President) voted far fewer times than the prior Board, of which I was a member. Not only did they not argue about stuff…they didn’t even decide as much as other Boards.
Of course, if Howard’s only point were that someone ought to be disagreeing a bit in the deliberation room, he wouldn’t be much of a candidate.
Here are some major issues that I think Howard is right about. Remember, if he is not elected, the following points of view will not be heard in the Board room. Will not. At all.
(Ed Note: Well, almost. MARK GUNN, an incumbent, is running for reelection, and he’s backing these positions as well. I recommend voting for Mark as well)
Enforcement, Enforcement, Enforcement
Howard believes that all of the struggles and sacrifices to get a better contract for writers aren’t worth much if we don’t have the capacity or will to ENFORCE the gains we win.
Ask any writer who has trouble collecting residuals from the companies how they feel about the WGAw’s ability to enforce our MBA. Currently, it’s awful. If the WGAw determines it’s going to bother doing anything at all, companies request arbitration, and the cases can languish for years.
YEARS. When I was on the Board in 2006, there were open enforcement cases dating back to the nineties. The prior DECADE. And why?
Because the bureaucracy simply isn’t designed to KILL. They are designed to slowly grind out compromises or stalemates over time. Compare the WGAw’s ability to enforce against late payments or demands for spec work (aka free rewrites) or violations of creative rights with the DGA’s pitbull-like interest in the wellfare of its members.
When I directed, I was visited on the set on my first day of shooting. I was a rookie. You know what the WGAw gives rookies? A call demanding the initiation fee, and that’s it.
Editors get more enforcement protection from frickin’ IATSE than writers do from the WGAw. Our track record here is dismal. We need to reshape our Legal Dept. into a zero-tolerance gang of legal thugs willing to hold the AMPTP’s feet to the fire over every single violation, no matter how small. We should be throwing haymakers and going for knockouts, not lightly jabbing in a quest for a 15th round split decision.
We should be aggressively enforcing against the smaller companies, who are often the most egregious violators. The Board doesn’t even GET a report on those cases…just the ones open with the major studios, and our track record there is depressing.
There is no excuse. Our Guild has shown a willingness to spend money on all sorts of adventures. Well, here’s something well worth it. Howard is the ONLY candidate who is making enforcement a centerpiece of his campaign, and I think he’s the only one who can start this critical transformation within the union.
Like most writers, including me, Howard wants reality writers to be represented by the WGAw. However, he doesn’t share the current lockstep leadership’s obsession with the failed strategy of shaming the companies into “giving” us reality, nor does he wish to broaden the definition of “writer” to “editor” or “P.A.”
Patric Verrone wants reality under our MBA because he thinks that will strengthen our strike threat, and that’s exactly why the companies have completely refused and will completely refuse until the sun goes nova and we’re all consumed in fire.
But Howard’s observation is that we did pretty darned well without reality in our last strike, despite Verrone’s statement that without it we’d be a “toothless dog.”
Verrone was wrong, and we’ve all been participant in and witness to that fact.
Howard wants to stop martyring reality writers on the pyre of “strengthening our strike threat” and start working on getting them under a separate MBA…just as we have PBS writers under a separate MBA and newswriters under a separate MBA. There’s no sense in adhering to the old strategy. It’s been an expensive loser for nearly four years now. Does anyone honestly think we’re going to get American Idol because the WGAw is putting on silly shows outside the auditions?
Of course not. It’s beyond quixotic.
But we’re not the only ones paying for this expensive failure. The reality writers themselves are stuck working unfair hours under unfair conditions for unfair pay because the lockstep leadership is unchallenged.
There are a few things inevitable in this life. And just like death and taxes, you can complain about the DGA all you want…but it’s not going anywhere.
Time to start dealing with them.
The fact is, our inability to deal with the DGA leading up to the strike has made things even worse. Why?
When the companies went around us to make a deal with the directors, they locked in expirations dates such that the DGA’s contract now expires before ours.
And it will continue to expire before ours not only three years from now or six years from now…but FOREVER. They will ALWAYS go first.
(Ed. Note: Our contract expires two months before the DGA deal. However, because the DGA traditionally negotiates well in advance of their expiration, often six months prior…or even earlier, the two month window means that, in effect, we’re behind the DGA. When their contract was expiring a year after ours, we had a shot at being first. Now? No chance at all…unless we do something very un-WGA-like and negotiate really really early ourselves. I doubt that will happen, and I doubt the AMPTP will want to settle with us if they know they have the choice of dealing with the DGA instead. Thus, while I was technically wrong here, my point is still valid--we have ceded the first bite at the apple to the DGA, and thus we must figure out a way to get them to listen to us.)
Communication between the lockstep leadership and the DGA was dismal in 2007, and it remains dismal now. Yes, it takes two to tango. No, the DGA is not the union perfected. Yes, often times when we fight with the DGA, we’re right and they’re wrong.
Congrats. Let’s all enjoy our frickin’ trophy while they get set to negotiate a deal in 2011 ahead of us…and remember my simple rule: once the AMPTP closes a deal with one union, they can never ever ever allow another union to do better.
Howard understands the need for detente with the DGA. It’s more critical now than ever. Without him in the room, you’ve got a monolith saluting the “screw the DGA, they’re assholes” philosophy…and so we continue to cut off our noses.
With Howard in the room, we’ve got a chance at ending the cold war and maybe…just maybe…working with the DGA in such a way that they can leverage us and we can leverage them into a good deal that doesn’t require striking.
As someone who has served on the Board and served under two very different Presidents, I can tell you that not everyone in the room matters. The President matters. One or two outspoken and long-serving Board members certainly matter. Three or four passionate, argumentative, challenging and critical voices will matter.
Most of the rest of the people fill seats and vote the way their political godfather demands.
I fear the balance has shifted waaay in favor of the seat fillers. And I strongly fear that we are missing those critical, challenging, passionate voices who would prefer to call bullshit and make a case for change than simply get along to go along.
Howard is one of those guys. And that’s why so many members of the Negotiating Committee are endorsing him--writers like Neil Baer and Carlton Cuse and Bill Condon and Ron Bass and Carol Mendelsohn and Ed Solomon and Larry Wilmore…
No pushovers there. These are tough writers who fought the companies tooth and nail.
Watch the above video, read his statement carefully, and then strongly consider granting Howard your vote.
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.
Been working on getting a draft done. Deadlines and so forth.
Well, it’s done…and I’ve got a decent backlog of stuff to talk about, so expect an entry every three days or so for about…umm….six days or something.
Believe it or not, the next post is about screenwriting.
This email was just sent out…
To Our Fellow Members:
We’re pleased to inform you that ballots have been tabulated, and members of the Writers Guilds, East and West have overwhelmingly approved all three proposed amendments to the Screen Credits Manual. A total of 1,619 ballots were cast with the following results:
Proposal #1 – Arbiter Teleconference – 90% in favor of adopting the amendment (1,455 yes; 154 no).
Proposal #2 – Elimination of Relaxed Standard – Percentage Requirements to Receive Screenplay Credit – 86% in favor of adopting the amendment (1,387 yes; 219 no).
Proposal #3 – Rules for Production Executive Teams – Elimination of 60% Rule – 83% in favor of adopting the amendment (1,344 yes; 268 no).
The amendments are effective immediately, and will apply to any project for which a Notice of Tentative Writing Credits is submitted on or after August 1, 2008. The text of the amendments may be found on each Guild’s website at www.wgaeast.org and www.wga.org.
Thanks to all of you who participated in this important referendum, yet another indication of our continued, growing solidarity. Special thanks to the members of the Credits Review Committee for their patience, commitment and hard work.
Michael Winship President, WGAE
Patric M. Verrone President, WGAW
Those numbers are very high for credit proposals, so it’s a resounding success. And now that we know we can agree on credit changes…we know we can agree on credit changes.
Sounds silly, but that was part of the point.
A big thanks to Patric and Michael for backing these proposals. We couldn’t have gotten these numbers without their support. In the West, we were aided by Tony Segall, Leslie Mackey McCambridge, Sally Burmester, Jennifer Burt and many others. Thanks to the East staff as well.
And of course, a big thanks to the committee itself, which figured out a way to find consensus in even this, our most contentious of subjects.
The Committee will be going back to work in a month or so. The next round will likely be a bit more radical, but ultimately, the approval rests with the membership.
Lastly, I’d like to acknowledge that despite my strident criticism of much of what WGAw leadership has been doing, Patric and the Board have been gracious enough to allow me to continue serving as co-chair of the CRC (no sarcasm…it is very gracious, for the committee serves at the pleasure of the Board). For all our disagreements, they are not personal, and I appreciate that there have been absolutely no repercussions sent my way. I care deeply about our credits guidelines and procedures. It’s an honor to have served, and it is an honor to continue to serve.