Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Questions about the strike

I kept asking people this on the picket line yesterday and nobody knew a complete answer so I'm going to post it here and see what people think.

Best Week Ever and The Soup are still on the air. Why? Best Week Ever ignored the strike completely this week, but The Soup's Joel McHale mentioned twice that the producers should cough up residuals so the writers could go back to work, so clearly he supports the strike. But he's at work. I don't get it.

Myspace is holding some kind of short film contest. A guy emailed me yesterday asking me to vote for his movie which mocks reality television. He says it's a way for him to support the strike because if he wins he'll forgo the development deal that may come with the prize, and in the meantime he's poking fun at the networks.

I'm not really sure how his winning a contest is a boon for striking writers. I think the guy may be trying to make himself feel less like a scab if he wins. Which brings me to my next question, is that scab work? If you have a finished film and you sell it to a studio, does that qualify as crossing the line? It's not writing work, it's selling a completed piece of work. Then again, it is filling time for the networks.

I know the Disney people have worked out the kinks in their fellowship, but what about other contests? What if a contest includes a development deal or a studio first look as a prize? What happens to the winners now? Does the prize get put on hold until the strike is over or do you have to become a scab to claim your winnings?

And what about Ellen? From what I gather about the situation she's in a hell of a bind. She's a member of both the WGA and AFTRA and while WGA expects her to strike AFTRA has a no-strike clause in her contract. So how can she possibly do the right thing?

There are many topics. Discuss.

EDIT: For more info on The Soup and Best Week Ever in relation to the strike, go here.


  1. Those are great questions. I will check back in case someone comes by with some good answers.

    I love both Ellen and The Soup, but I feel duty bound not to watch them right now.

  2. Good questions indeed. Unfortunately I don't have answers ... rather I have an additional question :)

    I am not a member of any guild, nor am I a working professional in the entertainment industry . . . yet ;)

    So is it wrong for me to continue working on my scripts as long as I don't intend to do anything with them until the strike is resolved?

  3. My guess is that they are non-guild shows. I know many cable nets are not guild signatory. A friend of mine who I ran into on the lines the other day has written for a ton of sitcoms, and is currently doing a show that is soon to air on Comedy Central, but he said he can keep working on it because it isn't a guild show. Similarly the older former producer I met on the lines told me his son works for BET, and that they too are non-guild signatory.

    It's just my guess, but ti would make sense.

  4. It's a writer's strike. Not everyone in Hollywood is a writer.

    Many shows are still in production. Shooting episodes of scripts that have been written that won't be aired until some time in March or even later.

    Talk Soup... does it really need writers? It shows clips of Talk Shows and makes remarks on them. I'm not belittling the writers... my point is the format of the show works even without super witty comebacks. The Talk Show clips are innately funny by themselves.

    "I am not a member of any guild, nor am I a working professional in the entertainment industry . . . yet ;)

    So is it wrong for me to continue working on my scripts as long as I don't intend to do anything with them until the strike is resolved?"

    Short answer: No.

    Long Answer: No. Why would you even think it does? You aren't selling your writing. You don't belong to the guild.

    The place where you'll have to watch yourself is if someone actually WANTS to BUY your writing (or PAY you for it).

    If it is a SIGNATORY, then you'll be scabbing.

    If it isn't then they aren't governed by WGA policies.

  5. FYI it's The Soup, not talk Soup anymore. Now they make fun of everybody. But the jokes for both shows are definitely written and several of the comics on BWE are guild members.

    I guess you must be right, Joel BWE is on VH1 and The Soup is on E! Are those signatories?

  6. Disclaimer - these are all my humble opinions. I have a union card in a non-entertainment union, and just a tiny smattering of a clue about how the entertainment industry works at the hands-on level.

    Maybe Joel McHale is non-union, under threat of losing his job if he pickets, or just plain hungry. Were I him, I'd have qualms over it. Does "Best Week Ever" use a union crew?

    MySpace was recently purchased by Fox, wasn't it? Sounds like a backdoor effort to break a strike - albeit a weak one, since it will generate only one winner. Winning the grand prize, then not taking advantage of it to poke fun at the networks would work - were it not for the fact that most of those contests allow for the contest holder to determine a redistribution of prizes and to be the final arbiter of who wins. It's not like the Oscars where you can refuse your award in protest of some war or poor treatment of some racial group - they'll just drop him and pick another winner.

    Contests like that aren't technically scab work. There are usually stipulations that you can't be a pro to participate in the first place, and it's a contest, not a paycheck. But when it comes down to accepting a development deal while writers are picketing, well - scabbing or not, I'd prefer not getting involved with the contest. So I guess it's not the entering that bad, but the winning.

    As far as Ellen goes, she has to decide where her loyalties lie. In her shoes, if I held a card in both unions, I'd at least have to consult AFTRA about the situation - I'm sure she's not entirely unique by holding more than one affiliation, and they must have rules about it. If it came down to it, I might have to join the WGA picket even if it meant risking my AFTRA membership.

    I remember a story Jerry Lewis told on TV about working in the biz. He hated the idea that if he wanted to move a chair with a mic on it on a stage, he needed two different union guys to do it. Eventually, he started getting union memberships in about forty-odd entertainment unions - some paid, some given honorarily. The paid memberships were costing him hundreds of dollars a year, but he felt it was worth every penny.

    I'm guessing he'd be in a quandry over any union strike, if many of the other unions have no-strike clauses to contend with...

  7. Some cable shows can continue to air because they do not use WGA writers.

    If you sell a finished film to a studio you are not a scab because you are getting paid for the film, not the script. Yes this does fill in the networks’ schedules but it’s no different than a reality TV producer putting something on the air. Even the writer’s don’t want the networks to go dark.

    A first look prize could still be awarded, but the script could not be purchased until after the strike happens. Development deals are tricky because the longer the strike goes the tighter the budgets get at the studio. We are already seeing some networks dropping development deals in order to save some dough.

    If you follow the strike rules, those people (like Ellen) who straddle different lines (also like showrunners) can still work (and they have to if they are covered by a no strike clause) but they are not allowed to do any writing. The producers of those shows can’t pay them for writing or asking them to do any writing either.

    To Larry…keep working on your scripts. Most of those writers working the picket lines during the day are working on spec scripts at night. They know once this strike is over there is going to be a big need for new scripts.


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