Let Them Strike

The Writers’ Guild strike was justified and productive

Tuesday night, after the Writers’ Guild of America West reached a contract agreement with the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, Hollywood’s writers voted to end their 100-day long strike. Writers may begin work again as early as Monday morning—and without shame, at that. The much-discussed Writers’ strike proved a win for the Guild.

When the strike began on Nov. 5, 2007, writers received flak for their so-called selfishness in wanting higher salaries. What many Desperate Housewives and Mad Men—as well as all other aggravated viewers—failed to appreciate, however, was that although a glamorous Hollywood scene surrounds writers, they are not necessarily a part of it. Writers are paid in the form of residuals, or contractual payments that writers receive when their work reappears in various media. In 2006, according to a report from the Writers’ Guild of America West, movie residuals made up only .04 percent of the film industry’s income. The remainder of income goes to brand-name stars (think Brangelina), directors, and producers. In November, writers wanted a new formula for calculating these residuals not only for traditional products like DVDs and television shows, but also a guaranteed share in internet residuals. Given that without writers, no new shows can air—only hours upon hours of American Gladiator and Survivor 3,452: Missouri—these are not unreasonable demands. The shows, whether aired on television, DVD, or on the internet—as many networks now do—are fundamentally a product of the screenwriters’ work, and the residuals for all forms of media ought to reflect that.

Fortunately, the strike did accomplish most of what it set out to achieve. Under the three-year contract that union leaders and production companies agreed upon this week, during the third year screenwriters’ residuals will be calculated as a percentage of “distributor’s gross receipts”—a formula that has less accounting uncertainty than the one dependent upon “producer’s gross receipts” that was used previously. This means that writers will receive more money for their movies and shows online than they did under past contracts. Michael Winship, president of the Writers’ Guild of America East, articulated that sentimenet of success in an e-mail to Guild members, saying that “while this agreement is neither perfect nor perhaps all that we deserve for the countless hours of hard work and sacrifice, our strike has been a success.”

That this writers’ strike was irritatingly inconvenient for those of us not striking (who wanted to watch Lost, darn it!) only illustrates that screenwriters form some important thread in the fabric of American society. But, hopefully, this strike will serve as a reminder of the importance of communication between different branches of industry, for when traditional avenues of communication between labor and management break down, labor has a right (some might even say a responsibility) to pursue its ends through new means. In the words of Leslie Moonves, chief executive of CBS, “The lesson is, [writers and Hollywood executives] shouldn’t meet once every three years.”

The Writers’ Guild was justified in beginning a strike, and perseverant in sticking with it until a fair agreement was reached. We as viewers are glad that the strike is over, and happily anticipate enjoying the fruits of the writers’ labor upon their imminent return to work. In other words: Goodbye, re-runs. Hello, McDreamy.