Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Our friends in need are friends indeed.

I didn’t plan to blog much about the Hollywood writers’ strike. But I feel increasingly motivated to do so.

On behalf of my fellow scriptwriters, I want to thank every actor who joined us on the picket lines today. Particularly three familiar faces I marched alongside at Warner Bros. Studios: Anne-Marie Johnson, Anne De Salvo and Len Lesser. Thank you, guys!

They carried signs blazoned with the Screen Actors Guild logo and these words: “Unions Stand Together.”

Actors aren’t standing with us because they’re so damn grateful to read our magnificent poetry. They stand with us because their own contract with the studios will expire in six months. And the deal we make – to share in Hollywood’s new Internet revenue streams – will surely be the template for SAG’s next deal.

As of now, the studios and networks share with us none of their income from digitally downloaded TV shows and streaming episodes on the Web (for which they sell advertising).

Why do writers and actors deserve a little piece of that money? Because for nearly half a century, the industry practice has been to pay “residuals” for the re-use of our creative work.

An episode is repeated in prime time, the credited writer gets a nice residual check.

Episodes are rerun in syndication or on basic cable, and the writers get a little something-something.

When TV series are sold overseas, writers receive a (tiny) “foreign residual.”

And when episodes are packaged and sold on DVD, we get a (too-small) taste.

The future is online. We just want our fair share.

But power cedes nothing without a demand. And the bosses are willing to put everyone through the pain of a strike rather than sit down and hash out a decent deal.

They must think we’re weak.

They’ll find out.

Some interesting drama took place today a few blocks from the Warner Bros. lot. Veteran comedy writer Bill Prady, who’s running “Big Bang Theory,” stumbled upon a location shoot for “Desperate Housewives” on a residential side street. He contacted a Writers Guild strike captain, and pickets were dispatched to the location. I was among them.

As police officers stood by, we marched and chanted and raised a ruckus and totally disrupted the day’s shooting on “Desperate Housewives.”

When you’ve got comedy writers working a picket line, you’re bound to hear some clever chants. Here were some of today’s best:

“Eva! Longoria! Who’s gonna write your storia?”

“Marcia Cross, don’t cross the picket line! Marcia Cross, don’t cross the picket line!”

“Nicollette! Sheridan! We can’t think of one for you!”

And this one I’m still feeling:

“We’re finally getting some exercise! We’re finally getting some exercise!”

Even a couple of cops smiled at that one.


Andrew said...

It must be every comedy writers dream to find a place where they can make horrendous puns and not feel the least bit ashamed of it. Good stuff.

Good luck with this strike. Based on everything I've read, the studios are being completely unreasonable. It's only been two days and half the sitcoms have already shut down, so you guys are definitely making them feel it.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thanks, Andrew. The news of those sitcom shutdowns certainly fired up the troops today.

J.K. Mahal said...

Thinking good thoughts for you and all the writers on the picket line.

dez said...

Which sitcoms shut down? I can't find anything online about it. Thanks!

SJ said...

I watch Arrested Development online every now and then...do the writers get no money from the ads being shown there? That would be unfair.

Undercover Black Man said...

Jen: Much thanks!

dez: No details on which shows. They just told us that six were shut down today.

SJ: Indeed, zero. I myself downloaded seven eps. of season-one "30 Rock" via iTunes. That's what, 14 bucks, right? Writers and actors get nothing, not even a few pennies.

The other side's starting position is that streaming episodes online are "promotional."

Andrew said...

Here are the sitcoms that have been confirmed to be shut down: The Office, New Adventures of Old Christine, Back To You, 'Til Death, Big Bang Theory, Rules of Engagement, and 2.5 Men. So far The Office is the only single camera show, but the others can't be too far behind.

Thembi said...

UBM, I had no idea how unfair things were. I'm behind you guys.

And I LOVE Anne-Marie Johnson, lol.

Undercover Black Man said...

Thembi: Ann-Marie has paid her dues, ain't she? She's done it all.

Andrew: Thanks for that info. I should have also mentioned that Julia Louis-Dreyfus showed up to work the picket line this afternoon. (Her husband is writer Brad Hall.)

susie said...

Hey Dave -

I heard that Desperate Housewives shut down production for good. I hope the writers can stay resolved for the long haul. I hope even more that "the companies" get real and acknowledge that new media is not some unknown source of revenue. It's pretty much the only avenue left.

As someone who hasn't watched a commercial in two years - I LOVE Tivo - I know that the only place advertisers can still force me to watch is on the internet.

Today I was remembering you talking about character payments and I pondered what happens when a character from a film or a TV show is featured in a video game? Do you know if the writer gets anything on that?

Hang tough.

ItAintEazy said...

B-but I watched the news programs owned and ran by the self-same head honchos that are the subjects of this strike, and they tell me that the media companies have VERY good reason not to hand out residuals from alternative media to those greedy nerds.

Was the sarcasm too much?

Veronica said...

As an aspiring writer and one that still can't fathom how unappreciated writers are, I'm hoping that the strike yields everything you all deserve and then some. Without writers, no movies, no actors, no books, no magazines, nothing.

LA said...

I saw the Desperate Housewives picket on the news last night (KABC in LA). I don't work in the industry, but I completely support what you guys are fighting for. It harkens back to the day when actors didn't get residuals for reruns, and you'd hear stories about beloved old actors living just above the poverty line while you just watched their old classic show yesterday. It's gotta help that productions are grinding to a halt. Good luck to you.

Anonymous said...

Motherfuckers think they can wait us out? We're writers! We're USED to waiting to get paid!

dez said...

The other side's starting position is that streaming episodes online are "promotional."

Speaking of which:


They wrote webisodes for NBC and they get shafted on payments for repeat viewings. That sucks!

RC said...

Good luck with your quest UBM. I have been doing my part since 1973 by not owning and never watching the TV.
Or maybe, that hasn't helped you so much, come to think of it. But at least, momentarily and serendipitously I am currently in solidarity with you! Now, shut the TV off and go get some more exercise.

Edshugeo The GodMoor said...

I watched the "New Odd Couple" with Lamont from Sanford & Son and that guy from Barney Miller during the last writers strike. Wasn't that many Black people on TV back then.

I'd wish you good luck, but you guys don't really need it. People need TV now less than they ever did. Cutting writers out of internet revenues will make networks and producers even more vulnerable to the competition (net, video games, life).

The writers are gonna win this.

memomachine said...


1. A few years back one of the really interesting things out there was the use of computer game engines, particularly first person shooters such as Quake, to make videos. The technique is called "Machinima" or, when mispelled, "Machimina".

People would use the available tools to make or modify scenes and toons, as in "cartoons" with the short version used in relation to computer games, to fit a script. Then they'd script out a series of actions and toon movements to fit the script, render the output and save it to video.

This same technology has transformed in recent years into a method for creating low-cost computer generated anime and animation. As an example South Park uses a similar system where the character Cartman is actually a 3-d object that is manipulated according to a specific script and then the scene is rendered through special rendering software to give it that flat look.


The reason why I bring this up is that there are so many tools now, and so many more tools that will be available that one of the very few really valuable parts of content will be the script. And that scriptwriters instead of handing their products to other people may in the future create the product themselves.

btw Machinima, or Machimina, is interesting. I'd suggest checking it out.

Inside the Machinima

What Is Machinima?