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I dunno. Maybe it’s my fault.
Last week’s edition of LegalDispatch was entitled “Pencils Down?” with a question mark. Was I tempting fate, indicating that a writers strike was a possibility? Feel free to blame me in the comments.
“CRAZY FAR APART”
So by now you know that the WGA is in the midst of its first strike in 15 years. If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter — or are familiar with my run for the WGA board in 2019 — you know that I am a moderate on Guild-related issues. I probe. I question. I even occasionally criticize.
And I’m still all-in on this current labor action.
In fact, I know many people who share my moderate views and they’re all-in as well. The stakes are just that high. I’ll say more on that in a bit, but first: How did we get here?
During the negotiations, there were — as there always are — a lot of rumors about progress or lack thereof. I’m pretty sure I heard every piece of gossip and every prediction short of “aliens are going to land and tell us to make a deal.”
It turns out that all this purported “intel” was — as it typically is — completely wrong.
Shortly after the strike was called, the WGA published a comprehensive list of the writers’ proposals and the AMPTP’s responses (though “non-responses” would be more accurate). You can read it here and I strongly encourage you to do so. It’s remarkably illuminating and makes a very compelling case for the assertion that there was no deal to be made and a strike was inevitable. In fact, reading over this document, my first thought was, “Wow, we are crazy far apart.”
(Note to self: “Crazy far apart?” Be more articulate when speaking with the LA Times.)
And so, with nothing less than a wide chasm of difference between us and the studios, we’re on strike. And like I said, I fully support it.
THE EXISTENTIAL QUESTION
If you read nearly anything about the issues involved, the word you’ll see over and over and over again is “existential.” Writers are striking to maintain writing as a viable profession. It really is that simple. And that dire.
But if you’re not a writer, it’s fair to ask the following question: So what? After all, many (if not all) of the issues we’re striking over are the result of systemic and technological change: The shift from a broadcast model for television to streaming. Aren’t jobs typically a casualty of technological evolution? Isn’t it normal for some professions to be left behind as a natural consequence of progress? Simply put: What distinguishes television and feature writers from the average Virginia coal miner?
I’ll concede that the answer to the rhetorical questions posed above could very well be: “Yes. Yes. And perhaps nothing.” But none of that diminishes the right of writers to rage against the dying of the light. We have a right to do whatever we can and leverage whatever power we have to prevent the diminishment of our profession.
I would also argue that the shift from broadcast to streaming isn’t your run-of-the-mill natural technological evolution. In fact, Hollywood was chugging along just fine, thank you very much, until Silicon Valley invaded with their “move fast and break things” ethos and, unsurprisingly, broke things. Things that we are now trying to fix.
This doesn’t mean going backwards. There are some television jobs that were created in the era of "Peak TV” that, unfortunately, fall under the category of “Springsteen Employment” (these jobs are going, boys, and they ain’t coming back). I’m not talking about those jobs. I’m talking about all the remaining jobs — in television, features, and comedy/variety — that have been victims of systemic and persistent cost-cutting on the part of the streamers. That’s not “natural technological evolution.” That’s concerted and deliberate downward pressure on how thousands of people make their living.
But, you might ask, isn’t that how the game is played? I mean, life is tough in the big city. This is the NBA. Sharp elbows are going to be thrown. True enough. Which is why we’re starting to throw some elbows of our own.
And if you’re not a writer, you should still be supporting us — as many people are — for two reasons, one idealogical and the other practical.
The ideological reason is that a society should support its artists. Art is the vanguard of ideas. Art is the tip of the spear that is social change. Ideas like marriage equality and Black Lives Matter are road-tested, not in the halls of Congress or the courtrooms of the federal judiciary, but on the TV shows and movies that we consume. If you make it harder for writers — particularly those from marginalized communities — to make a living being writers or, worse, threaten to replace them with generative artificial intelligence, you deprive society of the engine which drives it forward.
But here’s the more practical reason why you should support writers in their struggle to — and I can’t believe it’s come to this — exist: Because the next job to be targeted by AI or cost-cutting or corporate efficiency… will be yours.
To the shock of no one, I didn’t have much to work on this week. On Monday (i.e., pre-strike), I delivered drafts of PROJECT MARBLE and Too Dead To Die. The remainder of the week was spent picketing and doing revisions on X-Men: Days of Future Past - Doomsday #3.
That script, I’m not too proud to admit, has kicked my ass in ways that few comic scripts — if ever — have. Because of the nature of the story, this issue had the most “continuity raindrops” to dance between. Those familiar with Days of Future Past and all of its various sequels, prequels, and retcons know that there are some inconsistencies baked in. (Nightcrawler, anyone?) And I’ve struggled with my OCD-based desire to resolve the inconsistencies with telling a story that stands on its own. Luckily, my editors, Mark Basso and Drew Baumgartner, have saved me from my worst impulses.
SOMETHING I LIKE #1
I have two things I like this week. The first is The Roddenberry Archive, a website that allows you to virtually explore dozens of iterations of the USS Enterprise and even some other Federation ships. It’s remarkably well-done and well worth checking out if you’re a Trekker.
The Archive has also posted some remarkable CGI shorts, including this incredible one of Spock visiting Kirk’s grave on Veridian III after the events of Star Trek: Generations.
SOMETHING I LIKE #2
This week, I finished Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin. The title is a reference to the Act 5, Scene 5 soliloquy in Macbeth, but the novel is actually about two videogame designers in the 1990s. Yes, the videogame aspect interested me. And I also got a kick out of the depiction of Boston in the late Nineties which lined up perfectly with my time there. But the true joy of the novel is its exploration of partnership, collaboration, and friendship. It’s truly beautiful and moving and I commend it to your attention.
MORE WGA STRIKE
This article from Vanity Fair — “TV’s Streaming Bubble Has Burst, a Writers Strike Looms, and ‘Everybody Is Freaking Out’” — ended up on my radar. I started reading it and, lo and behold, I discovered I’m quoted in it. (I gave the quote in question months ago and simply forgot about it.)
Be good to each other.