Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 6, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE BUT YOUR RESIDUALS....My friend Jay Jaroch, a writer for Bill Maher's HBO show Real Time, is braving the harsh 60-degree weather in Studio City today to man the picket lines in the WGA strike. He files this report:


Kevin, ever the champion of the working man — even when that work isn't the type that inspires John Mellencamp — thought it'd be fun to get a report back from the front lines of the writers' strike.

Now, I'm not on the actual front lines. Those are in the negotiating room. I was simply one of the thousands of writers in New York and Los Angeles who held a sign outside a studio yesterday.

But oh, hold a sign I did. And walk in a circle for four hours, which is probably the most exercise any of us have gotten in years. And we'll be out there again today, even though the news channels have already gotten everything they need — namely footage of us holding signs and walking in a circle, which they can then replay ad nauseam whenever they cover the story again. (Think terrorists and monkey bars.)

But it was a good day for two reasons: one, because turnout was incredible (3,000 strong in Los Angeles, though I'll skip the part about how it's virtually mandatory) and two, because there wasn't much in the way of chanting. And it's not because we're not serious. It's just that writers are a universally cynical bunch, and getting them to chant something that rhymes with "Hey-hey, ho-ho" is like sort of like trying to get Ann Coulter to eat. But that doesn't mean we don't want to be out there, or at least on strike. It just means we've got some fucking dignity left, for Christ's sake.

And who among us wasn't touched when regular Americans started rising up and joining us outside the studio? Okay, those were just fans of Dancing with the Stars getting in line, but still.

Now, if you're really interested in what the issues are....

....they're fairly lengthy, though not complex, and if I typed them all out here you'd fall asleep. Plus, you can get it all over at Arianna's site, which has been overwhelmed by the big regional news the same way Drudge goes batshit each time there's a hurricane anywhere near Florida. (I believe the scientific name is a "Killstorm.")

But if you're wondering why this should bother you, other than not being able to get your Conan-Colbert-Maher-Stewart-Letterman fix, or because the torture on 24 suddenly seems tired, instead of invigorating and spontaneous like it normally does, the reason is simple, and it's the same reason why Kevin is always telling you about CEOs and wages and the declining bargaining power of American workers: because corporations like this growing trend where they get to bring in more and more revenue and then give less and less to the people who helped generate it. And that sentence went on far too long.

So in a way, sort of, it's about those same pink houses Mellencamp sings about, just in a different city.

And I'd make a joke there, but I want my pal Andrew Sullivan to link to me.

I would add, however, that even facing the prospect of months without paychecks, as well as negotiations with six corporate giants and their virtually limitless pocketbooks, only 10% of WGA members didn't vote to authorize the strike. The stakes are that obvious. Unless you're the type of writer who is friends with Kathryn Jean Lopez, and then they're not, because you just emailed her this:

I am officially on strike. I was one of the ten percent who voted against it. Big mistake on the writers part. I spent last night watching football, The Next Iron Chef, and Law and Order re-runs. I can live without writers so I'm sure the rest of America can as well.

Which would almost make a tiny bit of sense if football hadn't been running against scripted television since the days of FDR and compensation for the re-runs of TV shows like Law & Order wasn't exactly what we're fighting over. But it has, and it is, which makes him/her look both silly and uninformed at the same time.

And he/she is a friend of Kathryn Jean Lopez. Who would have thought?

Kevin Drum 12:51 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (49)

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Comments

A writer wrote to KJL saying he/she didn't need writers. I think there is some irony in that somewhere...

Posted by: Bill on November 6, 2007 at 12:58 PM | PERMALINK

And we'll be out there again today, even though the news channels have already gotten everything they need — namely footage of us holding signs and walking in a circle, which they can then replay ad nauseam whenever they cover the story again.

The words re-run and syndication comes to mind.

Posted by: JeffII on November 6, 2007 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

Seriously, if Kathryn Jean Lopez is your role model, how good a writer can you be?

Posted by: mmy on November 6, 2007 at 1:09 PM | PERMALINK

The writers should be fired, and replaced with those who don't have unreasonable demands. Have you seen network TV lately? How hard can it be to write that shit?

Posted by: Al on November 6, 2007 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Why was he speaking of Ann Coulter one moment and chanting "Hey Hey ho ho" the next?

Oh, the poor babies, having to carry placards must be so so difficult for those weak little hands which have only ever typed on a computer keyboard with one finger. It must have been a shock for them to step outside and experience real sunlight for the first time in their lives.

See, writing humor is easy. It's having to put up with the corporate people that requires compensation.

Stick it to 'em!

What do those writers get paid, maybe $50K? Can they live under a bridge on that much money or do they have to live on the streets and sleep in doorways?

Hey hey ho ho!

What exactly are the issues? Oh wait, I don't really care unless it's exciting and visual.

Somehow I'll bet it has to do with money and actually paying someone for their work. THAT is the kind of thing which is NEVER allowed on t.v. It's too revolutionary, too shocking.

Stick it to 'em.

Posted by: MarkH on November 6, 2007 at 1:11 PM | PERMALINK

No more Daily Show and Letterman? The same effect as Mush has had against TV in Pak without suspending the Const? Sounds like this strike was ordered by Dick Cheney....

Seriously, though, hard to care about rich people striking against the very rich especially when all we lose is the pablum that keeps USAmericans from paying attention to the condition of their own lives.

Call me when Walmart "associates" go on strike.

Posted by: Disputo on November 6, 2007 at 1:16 PM | PERMALINK

It'll be a sad day if Americans are ever deprived of television to watch in the evenings. Might have to exercise, read a good book, volunteer for local charity work, play with their kids and help with the homework, talk to their spouse, fix any one of a million things falling apart or broken around the house, yard and vehicles, write letters or make phone calls to friends and relatives they're guilty of ignoring or any of dozens of other activities neglected for the sake of Miami C.S.I. Hmmmm, seems like everything on that list is stuff no one "has time for" when queried around the water cooler at work. You know, after an evening of watching television.

Posted by: steve duncan on November 6, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

KJL has friends?

Posted by: ET on November 6, 2007 at 1:22 PM | PERMALINK

Go Writers. They been screwed by Hollywood for so long it seems almost hereditary. Too bad Art Buchwald isn't around anymore to remind them what happens when they stand up. Hope Harlan Ellison is on the line.

Gotta love the studios using the same line they used to screw the writers on DVDs to screw them on downloads.

Solidarity guys and gals.

Posted by: Martin on November 6, 2007 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Doesn't this post belong in the Party of the Rich one?

Posted by: Brojo on November 6, 2007 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

Even if it's in jest, it still riles me when people complain about how much striking workers get paid. There's no way to win with those complainers. If the writers (or longshoreman, or auto assemblers, etc) got paid $9/hr and went on strike, they'd make fun for not choosing a higher-paying career.

Posted by: American Citizen on November 6, 2007 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

How hard can it be to write that shit?
Posted by: Al

Based on the shit you post here on a regular basis, moron, it seems easy. Perhaps you should offer your cut-rate services to the studios.

Posted by: DJ on November 6, 2007 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

It riles me when people try to pretend that striking writers or baseball players have anything in common with striking longshoremen or auto assemblers and then cloak that pretense in a strawman.

Posted by: Disputo on November 6, 2007 at 1:58 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno, I'd expect that with 3,000 professional writers walking around, someone ought to be able to figure out some good chants for them to be yelling instead of "hey hey, ho ho, [subject of dispute] has got to go."

Posted by: Kit Smith on November 6, 2007 at 2:01 PM | PERMALINK

DJ-- I already have a script sent in to Law & Order, 24, and Battlestar Galactica. I'll post here if anything pans out.

Posted by: Al on November 6, 2007 at 2:04 PM | PERMALINK

DJ-- I already have a script sent in to Law & Order, 24, and Battlestar Galactica. I'll post here if anything pans out.

I don't think they will take submissions written in crayon.

Posted by: DJ on November 6, 2007 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

DJ-- Mocking me for a lack of creativity and then following up with the "in crayon" cliche is, perhaps, an accomplishment in irony unmatched in the history of the liberal blogosphere.

Posted by: Al on November 6, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Way to go DJ.

Posted by: avahome on November 6, 2007 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

It riles me when people try to pretend that striking writers or baseball players have anything in common with striking longshoremen or auto assemblers and then cloak that pretense in a strawman.

Longshoreman: Paid by corporations to do work from which the corporations make more money than he does.

Baseball player: Paid by corporations to do work from which the corporations make more money than he does.

WGA writer: Paid by corporations to do work from which the corporations make more money than he does.

Right. There's no similarities whatsoever. It's all strawmen.

Posted by: collin on November 6, 2007 at 2:10 PM | PERMALINK

I already have a script sent in to Law & Order, 24, and Battlestar Galactica. I'll post here if anything pans out.

I've read it. The choice part is when Jack Bauer goes on trial for torturing people he claimed were Cylons.

Posted by: mightygodking on November 6, 2007 at 2:12 PM | PERMALINK

Collin:

Longshoreman: Paid by corporation to do work, and make more money than he would without the corporation (otherwise, he would work for himself).

Baseball player: Paid by corporation to do work, and make more money than he would without the corporation (otherwise, he would work for himself).

WGA writer: Paid by corporation to do work, and make more money than he would without the corporation (otherwise, he would work for himself).

There's a reason you don't see longshoreman, or baseball players, or writers working without a corporation-- it's a mutually advantageous relationship.

Posted by: Al on November 6, 2007 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

LOL at the idea of Al writing for Battlestar Galactica. You are aware that the show is a post-modern take on our national security situation, right?

Posted by: mmy on November 6, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Al, did you send the same script to all three?

Posted by: Bob on November 6, 2007 at 2:14 PM | PERMALINK

Bob-- Of course not

mmy-- Actually, the show is about how difficult decisions are necessary for survival. President Roslin and Adama are Bush and Petraus. Roslin, in particular, share's Bush's ability to make tough but correct decisions in impossible circumstances.

Posted by: Al on November 6, 2007 at 2:16 PM | PERMALINK

Why thank you, Al, for agreeing with my point that all three workers are basically the same, with the same issues. I'm happy that we see eye to eye on this at least.

Posted by: collin on November 6, 2007 at 2:17 PM | PERMALINK

Al, didn't Roslin choose not to steal an election?

Posted by: Jon FD on November 6, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Al, gotta question Bush on the 'ol correct decision front. I do know one he can get right, though. He decides to take a nap in an enclosed garage and deliberately leaves the car engine running before nodding off.

Posted by: steve duncan on November 6, 2007 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

President Roslin and Adama are Bush and Petraus [sic].

You mean Bush and Petraeus are polytheists? Al, why do you hate God -- and America?

Posted by: Dobby on November 6, 2007 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

I've got contacts at a local TV station and can give some tips you probably already know.

First TV is VISUAL so you need to give them a powerful image. People marching with signs is good enough. I'm not serious, here, but TV cameras LOVE fire . . . Then you need a spokesman who can explain things in good sound bites in a couple minutes.

Next day it starts all over again. You need some new visual image. Even a plane flying a banner is good enough. New picture - new talk. It is a pain to deal with the insatiable maw that is TV news but ya gotta do it.

Posted by: Tripp on November 6, 2007 at 2:55 PM | PERMALINK

*

Posted by: mhr on November 6, 2007 at 2:58 PM | PERMALINK

Thumbs down on Bill Maher.

Posted by: luci on November 6, 2007 at 3:13 PM | PERMALINK

I don't understand why some of you (mhr and think all these striking writers are rich. By and large, screenwriters are not rich. They are lucky if they're well-to-do. Most of them are happy just to have (or share) an apartment.

The $2 million payout for a Die Hard-esque script you sometimes hear about is the exception, which is why you hear about it.

Kevin, you might want to do some education here.

Posted by: Chris on November 6, 2007 at 3:35 PM | PERMALINK

It riles me when people try to pretend that striking writers or baseball players have anything in common with striking longshoremen or auto assemblers

Really? So, if they don't actually wear a blue collar, they don't worry about healthcare, pensions and the like? So you support management in this action? The Teamsters union doesn't.

Posted by: TJM on November 6, 2007 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

A very good rundown of what's going on, and why the writers have a valid beef, is at Kung Fu Monkey.

Posted by: Neil B. on November 6, 2007 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

It riles me when people try to pretend that striking writers or baseball players have anything in common with striking longshoremen or auto assemblers and then cloak that pretense in a strawman.

Why? The typical longshoreman probably makes more than the typical screenwriter.

Posted by: heckblazer on November 6, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

I dunno, I'd expect that with 3,000 professional writers walking around, someone ought to be able to figure out some good chants for them to be yelling instead of "hey hey, ho ho, [subject of dispute] has got to go."

Check out the LA Times Show Tracker blog coverage of the strike. The writers are doing just fine with the slogans:

"Hey, ho, management can't write the show!"

"Webcast, DVD: You can't have it, not for free."

"We write, you wrong."

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/showtracker/2007/11/striking-writ-1.html

Posted by: Jordan on November 6, 2007 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Do you give your plumber a cut when you sell your house?

Posted by: studio functionary on November 6, 2007 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Take the first sensible offer dudes. There are endless abominable reality show ideas out there for the networks to outwait you with. America's next bad parent, My talented pet, 6o ways to cheat on your spouse, you get the idea.

Posted by: aline on November 6, 2007 at 8:37 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,
You are a reporter for CBS, so we know where you stand. When Ron Paul raises a lot of money, you say "big deal." When Hillary or Obama raise a lot of money, I'm sure you jump and click your heels together.
You are apart of the "old media," and your future is bleak. Readership of newspapers and viewership of network television is dropping fast. Ron Paul raised his money on the internet from regular "real" people, not from questionable Chinatown fund raisers. But, you wouldn't know about that because CBS News never reported on it, though it was all over the net.
Ron Paul has signed onto the American Freedom Agenda which is designed to protect and maintain the constitution, something which the "Bush-Clinton" administration has worked to weaken over the last 20 years.
No one wants a Clinton vs. Guiliani election, but the big network news outlets are shoving this down our throats.
Lastly, I commend you for finding "uncompromising" a negative quality for a presidential candidate.

Posted by: Jeff on November 6, 2007 at 9:32 PM | PERMALINK

To claim that the screenwriters have no business striking, or to claim that their strike is insignificant because they're not blue-collar longshoremen and/or steelworkers is romanticized horseshit at best, and simple snobbery at worst. All workers have the right to strike when they're being unfairly used, and when you start jeering at them for their (entirely alleged) huge salaries, just think for a micro-second what Julia Roberts commands for a single movie. And don't bother with the argument that she puts fannies in the seats, because without screenwriters she'd just be up there on the screen goggling like a fish out of water. And she makes more in an afternoon than the average writer does in a lifetime.

Posted by: jprichva on November 6, 2007 at 9:40 PM | PERMALINK

OT

...braving the harsh 60-degree weather in Studio City today

Considering that the high here in the Twin Cities didn't crack 40 today, harsh 60-degree weather makes me chuckle, Kevin.

And the 88 degree January day I experienced when I did live, only a few miles away from you back in 2003, was just wrong! ;)

Posted by: Paul on November 6, 2007 at 9:56 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like the Ronbots are trying slip in anywhere they can. Moderator, time to break out the Troll-B-Gon and give a quick spritz. Oh, and don't forget mhr, above, when you do.

As far as new visuals go, just get some TV/movies stars out on the line to attract the cameras:

http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/11/05/arts/20071105_STRIKE_SLIDESHOW_2.html
http://www.nytimes.com/slideshow/2007/11/05/arts/20071105_STRIKE_SLIDESHOW_5.html

Posted by: Calton Bolick on November 6, 2007 at 9:59 PM | PERMALINK

To claim that the screenwriters have no business striking, or to claim that their strike is insignificant because they're not blue-collar longshoremen and/or steelworkers is romanticized horseshit at best, and simple snobbery at worst. All workers have the right to strike

It's amazing that every single member of the writers' union posting on this thread responds with a strawman.

Hey doorknob! Nobody said that you don't have the right to strike. (In fact, I am quite glad that you're striking. Less boobtube crap to bedazzle the hapless masses can only be a good thing.)

What we're saying is that we have the right not to give a shit when a bunch of overpaid, overpampered crybaby hacks strike.

You may now go back to composing picket line chants.

Posted by: Disputo on November 6, 2007 at 11:35 PM | PERMALINK

Okay, here's a non-strawman explanation.

Residuals are not "bonuses" or "mansion money" as they're sometimes described. They are the manner by which the studios deal with the rather odd situation of reusing material which, under (literally) centuries of copyright law, is actually owned by we writers. If you are one of the chimps screaming "but the studios already paid for that material", then you don't understand or care about copyright law, intellectual property law, etc. etc. Good for you, and enjoy living in a country where those don't function.

Residuals are essentially, and I am simplifying here but close enough, the equivalent to royalties for musicians and novelists.

Now, most writers work only intermittently. Gigs tend to be .. spread out. Roughly about 5% of the WGA members are working at any given time, with slightly LESS than that percentage ever, EVER making the six figures. You know -- bank manager money. Real Estate agent money. Totally crazy un-American sums.

The majority of writers live off those quarterly residual checks they receive when the studio reuses their material. This allows a middle class of writers -- both figuratively and literally. The bonus here is that the careers of many writers are extended, so late bloomers like David Chase can create hits later in life that not only entertain fine audience humans, but also drive one of the only industries in America with an international trade surplus. Creating, literally, hundreds of thousands of jobs.

But back to the current strike. It came about because right now writers are not paid any residuals for re-use of their material on the internet. Zero. Nada. Seeing as the internet will soon be the primary transmission medium for all entertainment, we wanted to rectify the situation. We asked for a residual rate slightly less pathetic than the one we currently have for DVD's, which is .3%.

Yes, that's a decimal point. We make slightly less per DVD than the guys who print the box art. Viciously overpaid.

The studios not only insisted that they had to "study" the situation for a few more years, paying nothing, they proposed a series of punitive rollbacks which would essentially kill all current residuals as well. No matter how many deal points we dropped from our proposal, the studios refused to bargain in good faith. And so ... strike.

Hope that clears it up. And yes, while you "have the right not to give a shit when a bunch of overpaid, overpampered crybaby hacks strike", I would note --

-- we are paid what the free market deems us worth (yay capitalism), and the majority of WGA members are stolidly middle class

-- I don't think I've been over-pampered, but I do get the occasional lunch bought for me. Seeing as it takes on the average ten to fifteen years of work to become an established screenwriter -- for the thousand or so who pull it off out of the tens of thousands who try -- it seems a fair trade.

-- we're only crying now because the studios forced us to strike after bailing on years of negotiations and discussions on these subjects.

-- ... well, yeah, a lot of us are hacks. Got me there.

Now that you have a factual basis for your simmering resentment of people who type for a living, you can return to reading Proust, or whatever you do that elevates you above the hapless masses bedazzled by the boobtube crap.

Posted by: jonrog1 on November 7, 2007 at 1:02 AM | PERMALINK

Hey now! As a print designer, I take... Oh. You were talking about printers. Yeah, they are viciously overpaid.

Posted by: bobo on November 7, 2007 at 1:46 AM | PERMALINK

There's an important rule of life at stack here in this comment thread, with ample illustration:

Never engage a professional writer in a battle of the written word.

This goes double for a professional comedy writer. It's only slightly less important than "never start a land war in Asia"

Posted by: Doctor Jay on November 7, 2007 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

Oh, the poor babies, having to carry placards must be so so difficult for those weak little hands which have only ever typed on a computer keyboard with one finger. It must have been a shock for them to step outside and experience real sunlight for the first time in their lives.

See, writing humor is easy.

Writing humor may be easy - making it funny seems to be something you haven't mastered yet.

Posted by: R on November 7, 2007 at 12:59 PM | PERMALINK

I'm not even sure on which side of the argument that last post falls.

Posted by: jonrog1 on November 7, 2007 at 6:26 PM | PERMALINK

The writers should be more creative on the picket line. How about:
"Truth? You can't handle the truth!"
"We're mad as hell and we're not gonna take it anymore."
"It's Chinatown, Jake."
"Make us an offer we can't refuse." (?)
"Oh, man, if I wasn't stoned there is no way you would have talked me into this."

Posted by: JIm Bartle on November 8, 2007 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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