Variety paints a gloomy picture of the WGA strike, as talks have stalled and the vitriol level is rising:
Three months of harsh negotiating rhetoric — combined with widely differing interpretations of the contract talks — have fueled resentment on both sides. And it’s started to poison relationships in a town where connections are the coin of the realm.
“Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane touched a nerve Friday when he elicited perhaps the angriest response among the 4,000 attendees at Friday’s WGA rally at Fox Plaza. Invoking the image of the companies as schoolyard bullies, he recounted that all “Family Guy” assistants had been fired by Fox on the third day of the strike.
“Instead of negotiating, they lashed out at the little guy,” MacFarlane added. “What a classy move.”
Some fear that the strike will allow studios and networks to employ a scorched-earth approach to cut expenses and punish those who have fallen out of favor. Force majeure terms provide opt-out provisions in the event of an occurrence beyond the control of the parties. While top producers often have clauses in their deals that preclude them from being discharged under these terms, smaller producers and writers are vulnerable.
But Nikki Finke thinks there is a glimmer of hope. Let’s hope she’s right. In our ever so humble opinion, the studio heads had better hope so too. This one is different. Start with the idea that the internet is not a future profit center for the studios. That’s just hooey. But as Damon Lindelof pointed out yesterday, the stakes are high for everyone, since the delivery methods for entertainment are shifting on an almost daily basis.
Twenty percent of American homes now contain hard drives that store movies and television shows indefinitely and allows you to fast-forward through commercials. These devices will probably proliferate at a significant rate and soon, almost everyone will have them. They’ll also get smaller and smaller, rendering the box that holds them obsolete, and the rectangular screen in your living room won’t really be a television anymore, it’ll be a computer. And running into the back of that computer, the wire that delivers unto you everything you watch? It won’t be cable; it will be the Internet.
This probably sounds exciting if you’re a TV viewer, but if you’re in the business of producing these shows, it’s nothing short of terrifying. This is how vaudevillians must have felt the first time they saw a silent movie; sitting there, suddenly realizing they just became extinct: after all, who wants another soft-shoe number when you can see Harold Lloyd hanging off a clock 50 feet tall?
User created content has already made serious inroads in studio-created content, although user “managed” content may be an accurate phrase. And as writers hit the picket lines, the nets will be relying on their own “user created” content via more and more “non-scripted” “reality” shows. As the late night talk shows go dark and the once-bright spots of TV — LOST, 24 — go dark or fail to appear, viewers may find other things to occupy their time. This isn’t like hockey and baseball, where the playing field is literally the same. By the time everything gets back to normal, normal will be something no one expected.
Meanwhile, as we predicted, LA coffee shops and other places where writers once congregated have all but cleared out.
Over at the 18th Street Coffee House, a favorite of screenwriters (including some Oscar winners), a barista said the strike was a “very real concern.” Although no dramatic change was yet visible at the coffee shop, where about half a dozen screenwriters were staring into laptops, the normally laid-back vibe was slightly more tense. There was talk of the picket lines and of WGA “goons” who might be prowling around, looking to nab scabs. When Steve Waverly, a WGA screenwriter, was asked what he was working on, he said robotically: “I’m working on nothing and I will be picketing.”
As some have foretold, many screenwriters are taking this opportunity to finish up those lingering comics projects:
“As a writer, this is what you do. You have no other way to truly express yourself,” said screenwriter John Ridley, whose credits include “Undercover Brother.” “You may be able to go to cocktail parties and talk and talk and talk, but it’s not the same as writing.” Ridley counts himself lucky. Before the strike, he finished the screenplay for “L.A. Riots” for Spike Lee and now has extensive research to do for a film on the Tuskegee airmen for George Lucas, plus a series of graphic novels to begin along with minor editing on a just-completed novel. Like many writers, Ridley also is blogging online about the strike.
PS: Russian posters taken from this super cool site Museum of Russian Posters.