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Thursday, November 22, 2007

 

Hollywood writers strike

Linked to from John Scalzi's blog, here's an extremely funny little skit from the picket lines of Hollywood.

Novelists have a much better deal than scriptwriters. Because we each produce pretty much all of the art in any given book (illustrated ones aside), it's harder to lose us in the crowd. In effect, novelists are the writer, director, producer, locations manager, cast, crew, costume department, special effects team and tea lady of their own book; we work with editors and copy-editors to refine the content, typesetters, proof-readers, designers and printers to produce the actual physical object, but still, a novelist is so much closer to the production of the book that it's much more difficult to treat them as overpaid typists who should remember their place because there's a million rising wannabes out there who'd be happy to do their job for even less money, and wouldn't we be sorry then, eh?

Screenwriters, on the other hand, are in at the process so early, and the process is so long, that by the time payday rolls round, there's a tendency to think, 'John Writer? Does anyone remember that guy? I dunno, he can't be that important - I haven't seen his face around here for ages.' And besides, everyone's been working on the script so much that it's pretty much turned into background; it would be like paying the foundations of the building. It's very easy to overlook a writer's contribution, for a simple reason: you don't actually see them working. Everyone can hear the crew hammering and the actors talking and the director yelling through his loudspeaker, but a writer simply goes away, out of sight out of mind, and comes back with a script. For all anyone's actually witnessed, he might just have had a long nap while the script bred itself like microbes on a petri dish; after all, writers very seldom look like the kind of people who might have done the stuff that's in the script. And even if he did write it, it's not as if it was difficult - I mean, how much force does it take to lift a pen?

Critics, consumers and employers are all, in their different ways, prone to taking the phrase 'the script wrote itself' rather literally; nobody really likes feeling that the work of art unfolding in your mind as you read is entirely the product of a single individual's effort. It messes with the suspension of disbelief. Even if there isn't money at stake, the more convincing a writer's work is the less convinced people become that they actually wrote it - so imagine how hard it is when there ismoney, and large amounts of it at that.

And writers tend to take it, because writing is a vocation. If you want to write badly enough to actually write, you'll accept pretty much any terms when your work first gets accepted. You'll buy my work for a packet of biscuits? Hooray, I'm a writer! And once you've taken the packet of biscuits, found that it's quite difficult to live on and would like some rent money as well next time, it gets harder to up your terms - because by accepting the biccies, you've acknowledged that it wasn't a stupid price for your work. Maybe next time you get a packet of biscuits plus a sticky bun; when you're going up in increments, the starting price is going to be hard to escape. Even if the buyers are making billions off your work, for you, unless something drastic happens to change things, it's always going to be biscuits plus one.

So my sympathies to my colleagues in Hollywood who being dragged out of their nice comfortable studies to wander the pavements asking to be paid for their work. Personally, I could wish it wasn't happening - it's a pretty safe bet that the people currently developing the script of my book will be out on the picket lines as well, which means no development till the strike is resolved, hence no possibility of a green light and more money for Kit. And I won't deny that I could use the money. But as that seems to be pretty much the same point the striking writers are making, I think we're on the same side here.

Here's hoping for good weather out on the streets of Hollywood, and a rapid change of heart from the corporate moguls therein, who I'm sure are nice people really, so everyone can get back to normal.

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